Read this page, then try this practice.

A relative pronoun initiates a relative or dependent clause, a part of a sentence that describes further qualities of a noun or a clause. Examples in English include:

  • The film that I saw last week was interesting.
  • The friends who are coming to visit next week are from Italy.
  • The professor (whom) I was talking to is my Italian professor.
  • I forgot what you asked me to do.

The most common relative pronouns in Italian are che, cui, and quello che. In this context, many textbooks also include chi in the discussion. Read further about their usage and the distinctions among them.


Che means that and which  (replacing things or abstract concepts) as well as who and whom  (replacing people).


Lo studente che ha ricevuto il voto più alto lavora duro. The student who got the highest grade works hard.
Gli amici che ho incontrato ieri seri erano i miei compagni del liceo. The friends whom I met last night were my high-school classmates.
I compiti che devo fare stasera sono molto difficili. The homework that I have to do tonight is really difficult.
È vero la cosa che ci hai raccontato? Is the thing that you told us true?

As you can see from the examples, che can be used to take the place of a noun that functions as both a subject (lo studente) or an object (gli amici, i compiti, la cosa).

Whereas in English, the relative pronoun that may often be omitted (e.g. The book (that) you are reading) the che is required in Italian.


Cui is used instead of che when it appears with a preposition.


Conosci l’uomo con cui parlavo? Do you know the man I was talking with?
Ecco il documento di cui hai bisogno. Here is the document that you have need of.
Chi è l’amcia a cui hai dato l’anello? Who is the friend you gave the ring to?
Qual’ è la ragione per cui hai deciso di cambiare la tua specializzazione? What is the reason that you decided to change majors for?

It is easy to forget about the preposition, because in English we often put the preposition at the end of the sentence (as in the examples above). If you are translating in your head from English to Italian, always go to the end of your English sentence to consider whether there is a preposition that belongs there. You can try altering the word order in your English sentence, to that of an antiquated style, in which the sentence no longer ends in a preposition. Then the word order is identical to that of the Italian sentence, in which the preposition goes right before the relative pronoun. For example:

  • Who is the friend to whom you gave the ring?
  • Do you know the man with whom I was talking?
  • Here is the document of which you have need.
  • What is the reason for which you decided to change majors?

Sometimes the preposition a is left out when used with cui. (e.g. La ragazza (a) cui abbiamo parlato è la fidanzata di Matteo). No other prepositions can be omitted.


Alternatives to che and cui are il quale, la quale, i quali or le quali, together with the appropriate prepositions and contracted, where appropriate. For example:

  • Il mio amico Mario, il quale è venuto a trovarmi qualche anni fa, ha deciso di prendere un lavoro per l’ONU.
  • Giovanni e Paola, i quali si sono conosciuti al mio matrimonio si sposano a dicembre.
  • La mia città natale, nella quale ho passato i primi dieci anni della mia vita, è cambiata molto negli ultimi anni.
  • I miei amici, con i quali (io) sono andato al cinema ieri sera, mi hanno invitato a cena sabato.

These forms are used when the function of the relative pronoun (and the clause that ensues) is to provide additional information which is not fundamental to the antecedent (the word that the pronoun refers back to). Consider the third example again, and we can contrast the use of quale and cui.

La mia città natale, nella quale ho passato i primi dieci anni della mia vita, è cambiata molto negli ultimi anni. My hometown, in which I spent the first ten years of my life, has changed a lot in recent years.
La città in cui sono nato è cambiata molto negli ultimi anni. The city in which I was born has changed a lot in recent years.

The use of cui in the second example is restrictive, that is, essential to the identity of the antecedent (city), in contrast to the first example, wherein nella quale introduces an additional fact that could be considered parenthetical or secondary to the main point made in the sentence.

Il cui

When cui appears with only the definite article before it (il cui, la cui, i cui, le cui), it takes on the special meaning whose in a relative context. For example:

  • Lo studente i cui genitori sono senatori è molto timido.
    The student whose parents are senators is very shy.
  • Il professore il cui nome ho dimenticato ha fatto un intervento molto interessante.
    The professor whose name I’ve forgotten gave a really interesting talk.

Quello che

Quello che is used in cases in which there is no noun in the sentence which the relative pronoun can refer back to. For example:

Non ho capito quello che haidetto. I didn’t understand what (that which) you said.
Mi piace quello che studio. I like what I’m studying.
Quello che fate non va bene. What you all are doing is not right.

Alternatives to quello che include quel che and ciò che. These are completely interchangeable, and it is fine if you always use quello che. It just helps to recognize all of them.


Chi, when used as a relative pronoun, means he who, those who, whoever, etc. For example:

Chi lavora duro, avrà successi. He who works hard, will be successful.
Devo sentire da chi vuole venire al concerto. I need to hear from those who want to go to the concert.

Remember, that chi is also used at the beginning of a question. For example:

  • Chi viene alla festa stasera?
    Who is coming to the party tonight?
  • Per chi hai comprato i fiori?
    For whom did you buy the flowers?

Relative Pronouns: Practice