Italian Relative Pronouns

These words substitute for nouns and connect clauses

Italian relative pronouns—pronomi relativi—are called as such because, in addition to substituting for the noun, they connect (or relate) two clauses. The clause introduced by the pronoun is subordinate and is dependent on the main clause. The relative pronouns in Italian are chichecui, and il quale. Read on to learn how these important pronouns are used in this Romance language.

The Relative Pronoun “Chi”

Chi in Italian literally means "who." It is invariable, is used in the masculine and feminine singular, and refers only to a person.

Examples below illustrate the use of this pronoun. For all examples, the Italian sentence is presented first in italics, while the English translation follows in regular type.

Chi rompe, paga.
He who breaks (it), pays (for it).

Chi tra voi ragazze vuole partecipare alla gara, si iscriva.
Those of you girls who want to participate in the competition, sign up.

In general, chi functions as subject and object; in fact, it corresponds to a relative pronoun preceded by a demonstrative.

Non mi piace chi non lavora seriamente.
I do not like those who do not work seriously.

Other Uses for "Chi"

Chi can also mean "what," as well as "who," with both uses in the same sentence, as this example from Reverso Translation notes:

Hai sempre saputo chi ero... chi sonoYou always knew who I was, what I am.

Sometimes chi even functions as an indirect complement if it is preceded by a preposition.

Mi rivolge a chi parla senza pensare. 

I was referring to those who speak without thinking

The relative pronouns “Che” and "Cui"

The relative pronoun "che" generally means "that" in English, as the following examples show:

È molto bello il vestito che hai acquistato.
The dress that you bought is very nice.

and:

I medici, che hanno partecipato alla conferenza, erano americani. 

The doctors who attended the conference were Americans.

By contrast, cui, a pronoun that means "which," can take the place of an indirect object, an object preceded by a preposition. Cui never changes; only the prepositions preceding it change, notes Learn Italian Daily, a website that provides free Italian-language lessons. 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.

The Relative Pronoun “il Quale”

The pronoun il quale also means "which" in English. It is a variable, relative pronoun that is mainly used in written language, such as official documents. Indeed, il quale, and other forms of the pronoun including la quale, i quali, and le quali may replace che or cui, as in this example:

Il documento, il quale è stato firmato da voi, è stato spedito ieriThe document, which has been signed by you, was delivered yesterday.

But even though il quali is generally used formally, you can still have some fun with the pronoun, as in this example:

Cadrai in un sonno profondo durante il quale obbedirai ai miei ordini. You're falling into a deep sleep under which you'll obey my every command.