Questions about relative pronouns - clauses

I've been studying Italian for a while and I'm still confused by the uses of "ciò che", "quello che", "che", "cosa"... All of them can have the meaning "what" or "that" but I can't find a general rule for when to use each of them.

I hope someone can help me with this. Thanks a lot in advance.

February 6, 2019


Che cosa? / Cosa? / Che? are interrogative pronouns, used in direct questions and indirect questions:

  • Che cosa / Cosa leggi? = What are you reading?

  • Non so che cosa / cosa è successo. = I don't know what (has) happened.

Ciò che / Quello che are double pronouns, which include a demonstrative pronoun (ciò is invariable, quello takes inflections for masculine/feminine and singular/plural) + a relative pronoun (che). They translate literally as "the thing(s) that", or "the one(s) that", but in some sentences these are rephrased into "what":

  • Ciò che / Quello che dici è sbagliato. = What (the things that) you are saying is wrong.

  • Dimentico spesso ciò che / quello che devo comprare. = I often forget what (the things that) I must buy.

The inflected forms of quello (quella che, quelli che, quelle che) are never rephrased into "what":

  • Quella che usi è la mia penna. = The one (that) you are using is my pen.

  • Scegli quelli che preferisci. = Choose the ones (that) you prefer.

February 6, 2019

Thank you so much.

Now I understand them a lot better.

February 6, 2019

You are welcome.

February 6, 2019

Are "ciò che" and "quello che" interchangeable? For sentence: "It is easier than I thought.", in one of the Duolingo lessons, only accepted Italian translation is: "È più facile di quello che credevo.", and the same translation but with "ciò che" is marked wrong.

February 7, 2019

Ciò che is used for something undefined, and it is spoken more colloquially as quello che:

  • Ciò che (colloquially: Quello che) sto leggendo è interessante. = What I am reading is interesting.

Quello che is more specifically used for describing something definite:

  • Quello che sto leggendo è il giornale di ieri. = The one (that) I am reading is yesterday's newspaper.  (Ciò che cannot be used)

So ciò che is always replaceable with quello che, but quello che is not always replaceable with ciò che.

In other words, quello che can take two meanings ("what" or "the one that"), ciò che only one ("what").

"It is easier than I thought.

The best translation for this sentence is:

  • È più facile di quanto (io) credessi / pensassi.

Since the sentence compares the degree of a quality (an adjective, facile), quanto is used (literal translation: "It is easier than how much I thought").

A common colloquial replacement for quanto in this type of sentence is quello che, which corresponds to the English "what":

  • È più facile di quello che (io) credevo / pensavo.

Since this is a colloquial change, ciò che is never used.

The change also gives reason for the use of credevo (indicative) instead of credessi (subjunctive).
In a comparative clause, quanto should be followed either by the subjunctive mood or, more colloquially, by the indicative mood.
When quanto is replaced by quello che, only the indicative mood is used.

So this sentence can be spoken in three different ways:

  • È più facile di quanto (io) credessi. (proper)

  • È più facile di quanto (io) credevo. (informal)

  • È più facile di quello che (io) credevo. (informal).

February 8, 2019

Grazie per la spiegazione :)

February 8, 2019
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