Relative pronouns (Pronomi relativi)
Relative pronouns can be used when referring to persons, animals or things. Unlike in English, where they can sometimes be left out, in Italian they can never be omitted.
They are as follows:
who, whom, which, that che
(to) whom, (to) which (a) cui (object of preposition)
whose il / la/ i / le cui
whom, which, that il / la quale; i / le quali (subject, object or object of preposition)
Chi is used more commonly in both direct and indirect questions, but also see below.
Che is used as a subject or direct object.
A cui is used as an object of preposition.
Il / la quale and i / le quali: As you can see, unlike chi, che and cui these pronouns and their related definite articles vary in gender and number to make it clear which noun they relate to.
La persona che mi ha telefonata sembrava molto contenta
The person who telephoned me sounded very happy
A cui devo mandare la lettera?
To whom must I send the letter?
La signora che mi ha telefonato voleva sapere a cui dovrebbe mandare una lettera di reclamo
The lady who telephoned me wanted to know to whom she should send a letter of complaint.
Il figlio di Anna, il quale ha appena parlato di andare negli Stati Uniti, vuole viaggiare intorno il mondo
Anna’s son, who has just spoken of going to the United States, wants to travel round the world.
La moglie di Stefano, la quale è appena uscita la stanza è una persona molta strana
Stefano’s wife, who has just left the room, is a very strange person.
Ho letto la lettera della quale ha parlato Luigi alcuni giorni fa
I read the letter that Luigi spoke about (or: about which Luigi spoke) a few days ago.
Note that in the above example la quale is combined with the preposition di (about) to form della quale. If the noun to which the pronoun relates were masculine then it would be del quale. It follows therefore that you can use other prepositions with quale.
Il signore che hai appena conosciuto, terrà un discorso su della sua crociera a Norvegia.
The gentleman (who) you have just met will give a talk about his cruise to Norway.
This is an example of a case where you must use the relative pronoun in the Italian but where its use is optional in the English. However, if the gentleman’s name was used then you have to use the relative pronoun in both Italian and English.
Signor Bruni, che tu ha consciuto alcune settimane fa, è andato nel Regno Unito.
Mr Brown, whom you met a few weeks ago, has gone to the United Kingdom.
More about chi
As we said above, chi is normally used as the interrogative who? It can be used either in the singular or in the plural, as in the following examples.
Chi è lui?
Who is he?
Chi sono quelle persone con Angelo?
Who are those people with Angelo?
However, there are a number of Italian proverbs where chi is not used interrogatively, for example:
Chi tace acconsente
Silence means consent (literally: he who keeps quiet, consents)
Chi troppo vuole nulla stringe
He who wants too much gets nothing
Chi di spada ferisce di spada perisce
He who lives by the sword dies by the sword
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