The word "che" can perform several different functions within a sentence; therefore, it is one of the most frequently used words in Italian. These functions are:
Consider the following sentences:
|1.||I do what I want.||Faccio quello che voglio|
|2.||I saw him running down the street.||L'ho visto che correva per la strada|
|3.||This is the book I bought yesterday.||Questo è il libro che ho comprato ieri|
|4.||I want the book about Michelangelo.||Voglio il libro che parla di Michelangelo|
|5.||I want a book about Michelangelo.||Voglio un libro che parli di Michelangelo|
|6.||He doesn't study, which is a pity.||Non studia, il che è un peccato!|
|7.||He had the same problems as you had.||Ha avuto gli stessi problemi che hai avuto tu.|
- In the first sentence, "what" is equivalent to "the things that" and in Italian should be translated with a relative pronoun: "quello che" and not "che cosa".
- In the second sentence "running" is an adjective modifying "him" and in Italian should not be translated with a gerund, but needs to be translated with a relative clause "che correva". If we translated with a gerund, the sentence would be ambiguous because we wouldn't understand who was running, the subject or the person I have seen. The sentence L'ho visto correndo per la strada in Italian means "I saw him while I was running in the street".
- In the third sentence the "book I bought" does not have a pronoun in English, but we need a relative pronoun in Italian: il libro che ho comprato. "I bought" is a specification of the book I want; I am not talking about just any book, but a specification relative to the fact that I bought it.
- In the fourth sentence, the English preposition "about" can be replaced by a relative clause to better clarify the meaning. In this case, che referring to "il libro" (definite article) and followed by the indicative indicates that I want a very specific book.
- Also in the fifth sentence, the English preposition "about" can be replaced by a relative clause to better clarify the meaning. In this case, che referring to "un libro" (indefinite article) and followed by the subjunctive indicates that I want just any book on the subject.
- In the sixth sentence, which refers to the previous part of the sentence, and in Italian requires "che" preceded by the definite article "il". We can also say "la qual cosa".
- In this seventh sentence, che is the correlative to stesso e medesimo.
|2.||What does he want?||Che vuole?|
|3.||Which book does he want?||Che libro vuole?|
|4.||I don't know what he wants||
a) non so che vuole
b) or non so quello che vuole
c) or non so che voglia
d) or non so quello che voglia
|5.||I don't know which book he wants||
a) non so che libro vuole
b) or non so che libro voglia
In the first sentence what is an interrogative direct pronoun. This expression can be used in an informal setting, when addressing someone in a familiar way, when we don't understand what was said to us. If you don't understand someone you don' t know, you may say: "Scusi, non ho capito. Può ripetere, per favore?". With a certain intonation, "Che?" can have a negative connotation meaning: "What are you saying? What are you talking about? Are you listening to yourself?", etc.
In the second sentence what is called interrogative direct pronoun and the entire sentence is an interrogative clause.
In the third sentence which is an indirect interrogative adjective.
The fourth sentence is called "indirect interrogative clause" and we can translate it in Italian using either the indicative or the subjunctive.
In the fifth sentence, which is again an "indirect interrogative clause", we can use either the indicative or the subjunctive.
|There is something strange about him.||C'è un che di strano in lui.|
|I didn't think much of that apartment.||Quell'appartamento non mi sembra un gran che.|
|Today there is something in the air.||C'è un certo non so che nell'aria oggi.|
In all these expressions, che has a connotation of an indefinite quantity or quality. We can also say "un qualche cosa di strano" or "qualcosa di strano". It is idiomatic.
|1.||He told me that he is American.||Mi ha detto che è americano|
|2.||It's better that I go home.||E' meglio che
io vada a casa.
E' meglio che vado a casa.
|3.||He is so tired that he cannot stand up.||E' così stanco che non ce la fa a stare in piedi|
|4.||It is easier to speak than to write.||E' più facile parlare che scrivere.|
|5.||As far as I know, he is in Europe.||Che io sappia, lui è in Europa|
|6.||Do you remember when we met?||Ricordi il giorno che ci siamo incontrati?|
|7.||I want you to go home.||Voglio che tu vada a casa.|
|8.||Whether you do it or not, I don't care.||Che tu lo faccia o no, non m'importa.|
|9.||He did nothing but crying.||Non fece altro che piangere.|
|10.||There, the cake is coming.||Ecco che arriva la torta.|
- In the first sentence, that is a conjunction, and introduces the object of the first part of the sentence "He told me".
- In the second sentence, that introduces the subject of the expression "è meglio". Notice that we may use the indicative or the subjunctive, depending on the degree of certainty we feel about going home.
- In the third sentence, that is a consecutive conjunction. It corresponds to "so much that".
- In the fourth sentence, than introduces the second term of a comparison.
- In the fifth sentence, as far as corresponds to a limitation and in Italian we use che plus the subjunctive.
- In the sixth sentence, when means the day when and in Italian may be translated with "che", meaning quando, or with a relative pronoun "in cui".
- In this sentence, che follows a command or an expression of will.
- In sentence eight, che has a disjunctive connotation (whether...or).
- In sentence nine, che has a connotation of exception (with the exception of crying...)
|What a beautiful day!||Che bella giornata!|
|What a great adventure!||Che avventura!|
|What patience!||Che pazienza!|
|How lovely!||Che bello!|
In these sentences, che has the meaning of "how big", "how great" "how beautiful", all adverbial expressions.
The accented form "ché" is not to be confused with the above forms of "che" without an accent mark. "Ché" is an abbreviated form of expressions that have a causal or final connotation.
|I am not talking to him because I can't stand his attitude.||Non gli parlo, ché non sopporto il suo atteggiamento.|
|Give him a ride so he wont be late.||Accompagnalo ché non faccia tardi|
In the first sentence, ché stands for perché, or dato che, poiché, in quanto che, per il fatto che. In the second sentence, it stands for affinché, in modo che.