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Che as a Conjunction

The more Italian you learn, the more you start noticing the little words. Often these are little words that could be used in English but are frequently omitted. We'll be looking at several of them, but let's start with the conjunction che. It is, indeed, a conjunction, but it can also be a pronoun or even an adjective in some cases. Most of the time it will mean "that" or "which," but it can also correspond to the relative pronoun "that" or "who." It can also mean "what?".

 

Che: Optional in English

In Italian, we can't omit che, but in English, we can omit its equivalent, sometimes.

 

Mi dispiace che m'hanno bocciato.

I'm sorry they flunked me.

Caption 22, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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The translation could have been:

I'm sorry that they flunked me.

 

1) There is a little error in the previous example. Maybe you can see why he flunked! What should he have said? (It's an error that lots of people make every day, so don't worry if you don't see it.)

 

Ma come faccio a entrare nella divisa che m'hai dato? Eh?

So how am I supposed to fit into the uniform you gave me? Huh?

Caption 38, La Ladra - EP.11 - Un esame importante

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So how am I supposed to fit into the uniform that you gave me? Huh?

 

While this second translation isn't wrong, we don't need the "that." 

 

2) What if the speaker were talking to more than one person. What might she have said?

 

Here's another example:

 

Supponiamo che stiamo preparando una pasta alla carbonara

Let's assume we're preparing some pasta alla carbonara

per quattro persone, quindi ci serviranno trecento grammi di pancetta,

for four people, so we'll need three hundred grams of bacon,

cinquecento grammi di pasta.

five hundred grams of pasta.

Captions 1-3, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara

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We could have translated it like this: 

Let's assume that we're preparing some pasta alla carbonara for four people, so we'll need three hundred grams of bacon, five hundred grams of pasta.

 

Typical contexts

Typically, one of the cases where Italian uses the conjunction che and English does not is when using the verb "to know." Let's look at some examples.

 

Lo sai che abbiamo bisogno di te. -Sta sbattuta, Elisa.

You know we need you. -She's in bad shape, Elisa.

Caption 33, Chi m'ha visto - film

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It would be just as correct to say:

You know that we need you. -She's in bad shape, Elisa.

We just tend not to.

 

Here's an example in the imperfetto (simple past):

 

Sapevi che ti stavamo cercando.

You knew we were looking for you.

Caption 41, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP11 - Uno strano incidente di caccia

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It could have been translated as:

You knew that we were looking for you.

 

Another typical but "hypothetical" context

We have to keep in mind that in many cases, the conjunction che takes the subjunctive. This happens primarily with verbs that indicate uncertainty. This may be new for you, in which case, go ahead and check out the several lessons Yabla offers about the subjunctive.

 

So if instead of using the verb sapere (to know) which indicates certainty, we use the verb pensare (to think), we are in another grammatical sphere, or we could say, "mood." The congiuntivo (subjunctive mood).

 

Io... io penso che Karin sia andata via apposta.

I... I think that Karin went away on purpose.

Caption 43, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E3 - Una piccola bestia ferita - Part 19

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In this case, the translator did use "that" in English, but she could have chosen not to (which might have been more natural):

I... I think Karin went away on purpose.

 

3) What if you were to use the verb sapere in the above sentence?

4) What if the person were named Alfredo instead of Karin? Use both sapere and pensare.

 

Che meaning "who" or "whom"

When che means "who" or "whom," we are probably talking about a (relative) pronoun, not a conjunction. For our purposes, it doesn't really matter. What we do need to keep in mind is that, while we also have the pronoun chi meaning "who" or "whom" (with a preposition), when it's a relative pronoun, it's che

 

Sì, al TG della sera hanno parlato di quel ragazzo che hanno ucciso.

Yes. On the evening news they talked about that boy they killed.

Assomiglia molto a uno che viene spesso...

He really looks like someone who often comes...

Captions 39-40, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E3 - Una piccola bestia ferita - Part 10

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This is a bit tricky because in the example above, it would be a little bit awkward to fit in "whom" or "who." But it's interesting that we need the che in Italian to make the sentence make sense.

 

Yes. On the evening news they talked about that boy whom they killed. He really looks like someone who often comes...

 

Of course, a lot of Americans use "that" instead of "who" or "whom." It would still be awkward. It should be mentioned that in the previous example, "the boy" is the object, and that's when the che is omitted in English. But when it's the subject, we do need it.

 

Be', scusa se... se non t'abbiamo avvertito prima, ma

Well, sorry if... if we didn't let you know beforehand, but

c'è Valeria che deve dirti una cosa.

here's Valeria who has to tell you something.

Captions 37-38, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E3 - Una piccola bestia ferita - Part 10

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Of course, the purpose of Yabla translations is to help you make sense of the Italian you hear and read. Sometimes taking a look at how our own language works can help, too. And when we are translating from English to Italian, we need to call on words we are omitting, so it can get tricky.

Hopefully, this lesson has helped you to be just a bit more aware of the word che. It's a word that means plenty of things, so this is just the tip of the iceberg. And if you have some particular questions about che, please let us know and we'll try to shed some light on them. newlsetter@yabla.com

Quiz solutions

1) Mi dispiace che mi abbiano bocciato.

This may be open to question because the kid knows they flunked him, but some would argue that the subjunctive should have been used.

2) Lo sapete che abbiamo bisogno di voi. -Sta sbattuta, Elisa.

3) Io... io so che Karin è andata via apposta.

4) Io... io penso che Alfredo sia andato via apposta.

4b) Io... io so che Alfredo è andato via apposta.

 

 

 

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