Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. When learning the Italian language, generally speaking, Italian sentence structure is almost identical to English sentence structure. Word order is commonly: Subject – Verb – Direct Object:
I eat apples. Io mangio le mele.
However, when you add an adjective, it does follow the noun (the apple red, instead of the red apple).
I eat red apples. Io mangio le mele rosse
Additionally, the word order with Italian grammar is quite flexible. For example, in English it is perfectly acceptable to say:
Tomorrow, I’m going to work. Domani vado a lavoro.
I’m going to work tomorrow. Vado a lavoro domani.
Word order is a function of what information is more important and bears additional stress. Italian allows you to use fewer words, depending on the order you use.
Like English, Italian lets users choose how they want to ask questions, depending on where the speaker wants to put the emphasis. There are three ways of conveying the meaning of a question and the desired focus for the answer to that question.
1) Use of inflection
2) Use of question phrase
3) Switching subject and verb order
Use of Inflection
The easiest way to form a question in Italian doesn’t even require you to change anything other than your inflection. You can say the sentence exactly as you would if you were stating it, then raise your voice at the end to indicate it is a question.
Can you help us? Puoi aiutarci?
You speak Italian? Parli italiano?
Use of Question Phrase
Just like English, adding question words to the beginning of a sentence is a simple way of creating a sentence.
The following are some of the most common Italian questions words:
|What||Che cosa; Cosa; Che|
|What kind||Che tipo|
Another way to turn a sentence into a question is adding a question phrase at the end of a sentence. The most common is the phrase “vero?” or “non è vero?”. It’s the same thing as adding in English phrases like “don’t you?”, “haven’t?” or “isn’t it?”.
You speak English, don’t you? Parli inglese, vero?
This is the right way, isn’t it? Questo è il modo giusto, vero?
Switching Subject and Verb Order
The last way to form a sentence is switching the order of the subject and verb. Place the verb first, and make the subject second to form a question.
Does your sister arrive? Arriva tua sorella?
Has my father called? Ha chiamato mio padre?
Changing Pronouns and Adjectives
Though you may expect it to change, the use of “who” and “whom” does not change based on gender. “Chi” is equivalent to who, which is gender neutral because you don’t know the answer when you ask it.
Who is there? Chi è là?
To whom did you give the book? A chi hai dato il libro?
When you need to ask “whose”, add “è” or “sono” after “chi” to express the possessive form of “who” and “whom”.
Whose book is that? Di chi è quel libro?
Whose books are these? Di chi sono questi libri?
Useful Question Phrases
It may be helpful to simply memorize a few phrases for general common questions. This will not only help you start talking a little faster, it will give you more concrete examples of the way to express phrases that you will likely need.
How much does it cost? Quanto costa?
How do you get to town? Come si arriva in città?
When does the train arrive? Quando arriva il treno?
Why are you upset? Perché sei turbato?
The Italian language makes it incredibly easy to form a negative sentence. Adding “non” before a verb in Italian makes the sentence have a negative meaning.
I want to eat. Voglio mangiare.
I do not want to eat. Non voglio mangiare.
I did walk far. Ho camminato lontano.
I did not walk far. Non ho camminato lontano.
For sentences where there is a pronoun before the verb, add “non” before the pronoun instead of before the verb.
She didn’t find it. Non l’ha trovato.
Can’t you call me a taxi? Non mi può chiamare un taxi?
There are other words in English that can indicate a negative meaning. These tend to be more specialized words, like “never“ and “nobody”. Instead of adding a single specialized word, Italian keeps “non“ and adds another word following the verb or pronoun.
Nothing non… niente
Never non… mai
No longer non… più
Neither…nor non… né… né
There was nothing in the cabinet. Non c’era niente nell’armadio.
She never came back. Non è mai tornata.
The cat was no longer inside. Il gatto non era più dentro.
We visited neither Rome nor Paris. Non abbiamo visitato né Roma né Parigi.
Some of these actually provide a double negative, which is still considered negative in Italian. The direct translation for “non vedo niente“ is“not [I] see nothing” but it is equivalent to “I see nothing” in English.
The exception to that is the specialized word “nessuno”, referring to people “nobody” and “no one”. When this word is used as subject you don’t add “non”.
No one was in the room. Nessuno era in camera.
Nobody came. Nessuno è venuto.