Relative pronouns in Italian

relative pronouns, italian grammar

When we talk, we often need to use some words to connect sentences that have an element in common…this is what relative pronouns in Italian are for! They are very short words, with no meaning when taken by themselves, which however have the very important function of linking our sentences and therefore giving harmony and structure to our thoughts.

Here is an example:

relative pronouns, example

(Yesterday I watched a movie. The movie is wonderful!
The movie THAT I watched yesterday is wonderful)

The element that the two sentences have in common is “il film”.

In Italian there are two kinds of relative pronouns:

  1. invariable relative pronouns, such as che, cui, and chi: these never change
  2. variable relative pronouns, such as il quale, la quale etc: they must be used more carefully, because they change according to the other elements in a sentence.

Let’s look at them in more detail!

The relative pronoun “che”

We can use the relative pronoun “che” in place of a subject or a direct object (thing or person); remember that it never changes!

  • relative pronoun che, example (che takes the place of a subject: the shop assistant)
  • relative pronoun che, example (che takes the place of a direct object: the boys)

The relative pronoun “cui”

We use the relative pronoun “cui” to take the place of an indirect object, that is an object preceded by a preposition. Cui itself never changes, only the prepositions preceding it change.

relative pronoun cui, example

You can also use the relative pronoun “cui” preceded by an article to join two sentences that have an element in common, an element that expresses a form of possession.

relative pronoun cui, example

(Gioia, WHOSE sister has a clothing boutique, is one of my clients)

Note that when you use this formula (determinate article + relative pronoun cui) you must pay attention and always agree the article with the object in possession.

relative pronoun cui, example

The relative pronoun “chi”

The relative pronoun “chi” in Italian is always singular and means “the person / people who”, “all those that”, “people that” and more…

relative pronoun chi, example

(people who have watched the movie are enthusiastic about it)

The relative pronoun chi is used very often in proverbs: proverbs are popular sayings that express what is commonly believed to be true or typical. There are lots of them in Italian:

relative pronoun chi, example

and so on… Proverbs are a great example of the use of “chi” as meaning “all those who”.

Variable relative pronouns: il quale, la quale, i quali, le quali

Earlier we have mentioned variable relative pronouns. We can in fact use them in place of “che” (only when it is a subject) and “cui”. They are: variable relative pronouns, example

variable relative pronouns

The use of these variable relative pronouns is mostly reserved to written language; they are especially used in official documents.

See also:

  • exercises on relative pronouns
  • a song using relative pronouns
  • a comic using relative pronouns

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