learn italian

  14.1 interrogative sentences - introduction

We can distinguish two kinds of interrogative sentences.

a) The first type asks for something specific and is introduced by an interrogative pronoun or an interrogative adverb.

If the sentence is introduced by an interrogative pronoun the answer must be a noun or an idea. The interrogative pronoun stands for something we don't know and what we want to know.

The interrogative pronoun who / what is used if we ask for the subject of the sentence in other word for the executor (in a sentence in active voice) or the goal (in a sentence in passive voice) of the action described by the verb.

active voice (person) => Who has eaten my cake? => Maria

active voice (thing, idea) => What is the problem? =>thing: The car; idea:The car is broken-down.

passive voice (person) => Who has been robbed? => Jim

passive voice (thing, idea) => What is to be done? => thing: A cake; idea: Nothing, just sit and waiting.

(We call idea in this context an ensemble of words.)

The interrogative pronoun whom / what is used to ask for the direct object of a sentence in other words for the goal of an action. In general, there is no direct object in the passive voice, so we can neglect it in this context.

person => Whom do you see? Jim

thing / idea => What do you see? => thing: a table; idea: That you will have a lot of problems.

The interrogative pronoun to whom is used when you ask for an indirect object. In English you can use whom and to whom in this context.

To whom did you give the keys.

Sometimes the preposition to is omitted (Whom did you give the keys <=> To whom did you give the keys). That's not possible in Italian. Every time you can say to whom instead of only whom you must use a preposition in Italian (a chi). In other words, in Italian exists a clear difference between a direct and indirect object.

With interrogative adverbs you ask for adverbial adjuncts, in other words for the time, the way, the cause of an action / event, the circumstances, etc. The response must be, obviously, an adverbial adjunct. There are much more interrogative adverbs than interrogative pronouns, because there are much more types of adverbs and adverbial adjuncts and each of them has a special kind of interrogative adverb.

How did you open the door? With the key
When did he come? At eleven o'clock
Where does he live? In Rome.

Another distinction is to be made between interrogative pronouns / adverbs and interrogative adjectives. The interrogative pronouns / adverbs stand for something unknown and the answer is that what they stand for. The interrogative adjectives ask for a characteristic of something and the answer is an attribute.

What kind of man is he? Nice, intelligent and handsome

Sometimes the same word can be used as an interrogative pronoun and as an interrogative adjective.

Which do you want?
Which flower do you want?

What do you think about it?
What kind of car is it?

b) Interrogative sentences without an interrogative pronoun / adverb

In the case that there is an interrogative pronoun / adverb the question asks for something, the executor / goal of an action, the way an action is performed, etc.. The answer is the thing asked for. If there is no interrogative pronoun / adverb the situation is completely different. In this case the whole meaning of the question is denied or confirmed.

Do you still love me? No

If it is a good idea to answer this kind of question with a simple yes or no is beyond grammar and everything beyond grammar is irrelevant. Perhaps it is not a good idea to answer to this kind of question with a simple yes or not, but at least it is possible.

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