You usually ask a question to start a conversation. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to ask the well-known: “Nice weather today, isn’t it?” You have lots of other possibilities for framing a question. A few simple key words for asking questions are as follows:
  • Chi? (kee) (Who?)
  • Che? (keh) (What?)
  • Che cosa? (keh koh-zah) (What?) (This is the preferred use.)
  • Dove? (doh-veh) (Where?)
  • Quando? (koo-ahn-doh) (When?)
  • Perché? (pehr-keh) (Why?)
  • Come? (koh-meh) (How?)
  • Quanto? (koo-ahn-toh) (How much?)
  • Quale? (koo-ah-leh) (Which?)
To be sure, these single words won’t help you that much in starting a conversation. You may want to have the following practical examples up your sleeve when a chance for small talk arises:
  • Chi è? (kee eh) (Who’s that?)
  • Scusi, che ore sono? (skoo-zee kee oh-reh soh-noh) (Excuse me, what time is it?)
  • Che cosa ha detto? (keh koh-zah ah deht-toh) (What did you say?) (formal)
  • Dov’è la stazione? (doh-veh lah sta-tsee-oh-neh) (Where is the station?)
  • Quando parte l’aereo? (koo-ahn-doh pahr-teh lah-eh-reh-oh) (When is the plane leaving?)
  • Perché va a Milano? (pehr-keh vah ah mee-lah-noh) (Why are you going to Milan?)
  • Com’è il tempo? (kohm-eh eel tehm-poh) (How is the weather?)
  • Quanto dura il volo? (koo-ahn-toh doo-rah eel voh-loh) (How long is the flight?)
  • Qual è l’autobus per il centro? (koo-ahl-eh lah-oo-toh-boos pehr eelchehn-troh) (Which is the bus to downtown?)

Here’s a tiny, but practical, grammar hint. You know that little things in life can change the world. Although not as dramatic, a tiny little accent can change the meaning of a word. You may have already noticed the word è (eh) (he/she/it is) and its accent. This accent distinguishes this word from another little word, e (eh) (and), which looks the same but has another meaning. Needless to say, both of these words are used quite frequently.

è(eh) = he/she/it is e (eh) = and You may wonder how Italians make out the difference between the two sounds. Quite easily! You can see the accent in written communication; however, when speaking, the difference lies first in hearing the pronunciation — the è is slightly more open, as in hell — whereas the e sounds more like the e in gourmet. And second, when speaking, you don’t need to differentiate between the two words because the context tells you which is which. How do you ask basic questions in Italian? Well, Italian interrogative words mean the same as they do for English: who, what, when, where, why, and how. By knowing basic Italian interrogatives, you’ll be able to express your questions, even without an extensive vocabulary. For example, say you’re at a Italian street market and you want find a beautiful antique clock. If you know enough vocabulary, you could say Quanto è questo orologio antico? (“How much is this antique clock?”). But if you don’t know the correct words, you can also point to the clock and simply sayQuanto è? and the seller will understand that you want to know the price.
  • Chi? (Who?)

  • Che?; Cosa?; Che cosa? (What?)

  • Quando? (When?)

  • Dove? (Where?)

  • Perchè? (Why?)

  • Come? (How?)

  • Quante?; Quanti? Quanto?, Quanta? (How much?; How many?)

  • Quale? (Which?)

  • C’è? Ci sono? (Is there? Are there?)

  • Cosa c’è means “What is there?” or “Is there . . . ?,” but it can also mean “What’s wrong?”

In addition to the standard interrogatives, you may also form questions simply by changing the tone of your voice. For example,Avete mangiato bene (You ate well) becomes Avete mangiato bene? (Did you eat well?).

Although most of these examples, don’t’ include the courteous “excuse me” and “please”, you should get into the habit of beginning your sentences withscusi (formal) or scusa (informal), and then adding per favore or per cortesia at the end. Let’s look at some different ways to put these question words into a variety useful phrases.
Scusa. parli inglese? [Informal]; Scusi. parla inglese? [Formal] (Excuse me. Do you speak English?)
Me lo traduce, per cortesia? [Formal]; Me lo traduci, per cortesia? [Informal] (Will you translate it for me, please?)
Può parlare più lentamente? [Formal] (Can you speak more slowly?)
Può ripetere, per favore? [Formal] (Can you please repeat that?)
Perchè fanno così? (Why are they doing that?)
Perchè sei in ritardo? (Why are you late?)
Chi è? (Who is it?)
Altro? (Anything else?)
Desidera altro? (Would you like anything else?)
Pronto! Chi parla? (Hello! Who’s speaking? [Answering your phone.])
Che cosa è questo? (What is this?)
Cosa fai? (What are you doing?)
Comè quel ristorante? (How’s that restaurant?)
Cè un problema? (Is there a problem?)
Qual è il cambio di oggi? (What is the exchange rate today?)
Dovè un Bancomat? (Where is an ATM machine?)
Dovè la stazione? (Where is the train station?)
Può mostrarmi dovè? [Formal] (Can you show me where it is?)
Quale strada devo prendere? (Which street should I take?)
Dove sono i miei amici? (Where are my friends?)
Scusi/Scusa. dovè il bagno? (Excuse me. Where is the bathroom?; The bathroom, please.)
Dove si trova . . . ? (Where is . . .?)
A che ora bisogna lasciare la camera? (What time is checkout time?)
A che ora chiudete? (What time do you close?)
Dovè il mercato coperto? (Where is the covered market?)
Quanto? (How much?)
Quanto costa?/Quanto è? (How much does it cost?)
Scusi, che prezzo fa questo? (Excuse me, how much is this?)
Che orario fate? (What are the store’s hours?)

To turn a sentence into a question, sometimes you have to reverse the word order and place the subject at the end of the sentence. For example, Gli studenti sono bravi (The students are smart) becomes Sono bravi gli studenti? (Are the students smart?).