Italian Question Words: A Simple Guide

Questions words are also those words that use at the beginning of a question to form a question. In English, they are words like “who?”, What? “When”, in Italian it’s words like Chi, Cosa, Quando, etc…

The table below feature the most common interrogative words in Italian:

What?Che cosa? Cosa? Che?
Who?Chi?
Why?Perché?
Where?Dove?
When?Quando?
Which?Quale? Quali?
What time?A che ora?
How?Come?
How much? How many?Quanto/a? Quanti/e?
Whose?Di chi?
How long?Da quanto tempo? Da quando?
Questions Words in Italian

How to say ‘What?’ in Italian?

There are three ways to say “what” in Italian and whether to use or another depends on the context of the conversation.

  • Che cosa fai? (What do you do?)  
  • Cosa fai? (What do you do?)
  • Che fai? (What do you do?) 

Note that “che cosa?” and “cosa?” are interchangeable in most contexts, but “che?” is only used in informal settings.

How to say ‘Who?’ in Italian

When “who” is used at the beginning of a question, it always translates to “Chi?”.

For example:

  • Chi ha chiamato? (Who called?)
  • Chi viene a cena? (Who’s coming for dinner?)

It’s important to note that when “chi?” is preceded by a preposition, it can have a slightly different meaning depending on the preposition used. For example,

  • “Di chi” means “Whose” as in “Di chi è questa macchina?” (Whose car is this?)
  • “A chi” means “To whom” as in “A chi devo mandare questa mail?” (To whom should I send this email?)
  • “Per chi” means “For whom” as in “Per chi è questo regalo?” (For whom is this gift?)

How to say ‘Why?’ in Italian

“Why” translates into “Perché?” in Italian, and “perché” can also be used to mean “because”.

  • Perché non parli? (Why aren’t you speaking?) 
  • Perché non viene? (Why isn’t she/he coming)

How to say ‘Where?’ in Italian

  • Dove vai? (Where are you going?)

Typically, you drop the last “e” when dove is followed by an essere verb, for example:

  • Dov’è? (where is it?)
  • Dov’era? (where was it?)

When “dove?” is preceded by the prepositions “da” or “di”, it’s used to ask someone where are they from.

  • Da dove vieni? (Where do you come from?)
  • Di dove sei? (Where are you from?)

How to say ‘When?’ in Italian

When translate into “quando?”.

  • Quando arrivi? (When are you arriving?)
  • Quando parti? (When are you leaving?)

When “quando?” is preceded by the prepositions “da”, it means “how long”

  • Da quando studi italiano? (How long have you been studying Italian?)

How to say ‘Which?’ in Italian

“Which” can be translated into “Quale” in Italian when referring to singular nouns, “Quali” when referring to plural nouns, and “Qual” when followed by certain forms of the verb  “essere” (to be).

For example:

  • Quale vuoi? (Which one do you want?)
  • Qual è? (Which one is it?) 
  • Quale colore preferisci?  (Which color do you prefer?)

How to say ‘What time?’ in Italian

  • A che ora inizia la lezione? (What time does the class start?)
  • A che ora parti? (What time are you leaving?) 

If you want to ask about the time in a more general sense, you can use “Che ora è?” or “Che ore sono?” which translates to “What time is it?” in English.

How to say ‘How?’ in Italian

How is typically translated into “Come?”, like in the common question “Come stai?” and is used to ask information about what something or someone is like or how to do something. 

  • Come si fa la pizza? (How do you make pizza?)
  • Come si dice in italiano…? (How do you say in Italian…?)

Like dove?, in “come?” the last “e” is dropped when combined with some “essere verbs”, for example:

  • Com’è andato il viaggio? (How was your trip?)
  • Com’era il tempo ieri? (How was the weather yesterday?)

A common Italian question using come? is “Come mai?”, which means “How come?”.

How to say ‘How much?, How many?’ in Italian

“How much” and “how many” both refer to quantities, and they can be translated respectively into “quanto/a” for singular nouns or “quanti/e” for plural nouns. Note that “quanto” must agree in gender and number with the noun being quantified.

Examples:

  • Quanto sale ci vuole in questa pasta? (How much salt is needed in this pasta?)
  • Quante persone vengono alla riunione? (How many people are coming to the meeting?)

A common question using “quanto” is “quanto costa?” (How much does it cost?)

How to say ‘Whose?’ in Italian

“Whose?” is typically translated as “Di chi?”-

“Di chi?” is used to ask about possession or ownership of something. For example:

  • Di chi è questo libro? (Whose book is this?)
  • Di chi sono questi documenti? (Whose documents are these?)

How to say ‘How long?’ in Italian

“How long” is translated as “Da quanto tempo” or “Da quando” in Italian, and unlike English, it is always followed by a verb conjugated in the present perfect tense.

Examples:

  • Da quanto tempo studi italiano? (How long have you been studying Italian?)
  • Da quando abiti a Torino? (How long have you been living in Turin?)

Note that in Italian, the present perfect tense is used to talk about actions that started in the past and continue up to the present moment.

English vs. Italian

What’s important to take into account is the order of words in these types of questions.  In English the questions words are followed by the auxiliary do, does, did or an inversion verb (why are you here). In Italian, questions words are followed by verbs conjugated in the appropriate subject and tense/mood. For example. 

  • English: “Where did you go?” vs Italian: “Dove sei andato?”
  • English: “When will she arrive?” vs Italian: “Quando arriverà?”

How to ask questions in Italian 

Unlike in English, questions in Italian don’t require the use of auxiliaries (do, does, did can’t be translated in Italian) or the inversion of the subject and verb. To phrase a question in Italian, all it takes is to raise the pitch of your voice towards the end of the question.

For a more in-depth explanation, check out my article here.

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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