This is about how to use CHE, CUI and QUALE. 

We need to learn this to refer to which, whom, whose etc in sentences and create more sophisticated sentences that flow, instead of having to add lots of full stops and create shorter sentences.


  • INVARIABLE it stays the same in the masculine, feminine, singular and plural form.

Only used with the grammatical function of:

a)         SUBJECT (e.g. il cane che ha morso mio fratello (‘che’ is the subject)); or

b)         DIRECT OBJECT (e.g. il libro che mi avevi prestato (‘che’ is the direct object)

Used to refer to:

  • PEOPLE (who, whom); or
  • ANIMALS (which or that); or
  • OBJECTS (which or that).


  • Ecco il libro che mi hai prestato (here it’s the book which you lent me)
  • quello è il cane che ha morso mio fratello (that is the dog that bit my brother);


If a preposition (di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra) is used in the sentence to refer to whom, that, which etc, CUI is used instead of CHE

  • invariabile,


  • Ecco il libro di cui ti ho parlato, (here’s the book that I told you about),
  • la città in cui abito è molto pittoresca (the town in which I live is very picturesque),

I find learning all the various prepositions on of the hardest things and little by little  they stick in my mind.  Some still baffle me.  A constant learning curve!

To say WHOSE

To refer to whose instead of whom etc use


That will be the relevant article for the gender & plurality – il, la, i, le


  • Ho conosciuto una signora il cui marito lavora in Francia (I met a lady whose husband works in France);
  • il Signor Rossi, la cui casa è di fronte al cinema, ha avuto un incidente (Mr Rossi, whose house is opposite the cinema, has had an accident).

Il quale

My teacher tells me not to use il quale (or variations).  Essentially, it can be used instead of che in any instance but apparently it just isn’t used.  However, if there could be any confusion about to whom you are referring then using the gender associated with quale etc could help clear this up (for English speakers failing to understand why there is not more confusion in Italian can be baffling – there isn’t always enough context to make meaning clear, e.g. I am always a little unsure how someone should know that nipote means nephew instead of grandson when it isn’t obvious from the context).


1                 Variabile (i.e. change depending on the gender/plurality).

2                 always preceded by the definite article, which indicates the gender and the number of the pronoun:

il quale masc sing i quali masc plu
la quale fem sing le quali fem plu

IMPORTANT NOTE: this is the what my class found hardest to understand about using quale:

RULE: the gender and plurality referd to but the gender of the person/people/thing “to whom” the sentence are referring (not s/he who knows/did the action with the thing/person to whom the sentence refers).

  • E.g. if you want to say, John, whose parents I met last year, you might think you say “John, il quale genitori ho incontrato l’anno scorso”?   Right?  But wrong. 
  • What you need to say is “John, i quali genitori ho incontrato l’anno scorso”.  It is the parents (masculine, plural) that dictate how the ‘that/which’ is formulated, not John’s gender. 
  • The point about interchangability with CHE is useful here if you can’t get your head around how to use the article/plurality, .e.g “i genitori di John che ho incontrato l’anno scorso” essentially translates as the same thing, but the point about confusion is relevant here because one would be forgiven for asking “did you meet John, his parents, or all of them last year?”.  Using i quali makes it obvious that you met the parents last year.

Conclusions about il quale etc

  • Given the confusion with to whom ‘that’ refers to, quale does have some uses, but in spoken language I’ll be more tempted to use CHE.
  • I understand that in colloquial Italian ;quello/quella/quelli/quelle che’  (literally ‘that one/those ones who’) are often used instead of il quale or la quale, for example: “questa mattina ho incontrato il figlio di Giovanna, quello che abita a Milano” or, if I’m referring to Giovanna, ‘quella che abita a Milano’
  • As ever, it’s useful to understand all of this when reading/listening, even if you’re going to stick to the safer (?) cui/che.
About these ads

2 thoughts on “Che, Cui or Il quale? (meaning ‘who’, ‘which’, and ‘that’)

  1. Pingback: A grammar checklist: knowledge expected of an A-level student | Learning Italian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s