Che vs. cui in Italian
Before we talk about the tiny word cui, let’s talk about the pronoun che.
Che means “that” or “who” (among other meanings we don’t need right now).
Here’re some examples:
Il libro che ho comprato mi piace.
I like the book that I bought.
Non conosco quella ragazza che sta ballando.
I don’t know that girl who is dancing.
Che is the easiest pronoun in Italian because it is generic and doesn’t change.
In fact, there is no distinction between things and people like in English (that vs. who).
Things get more complicated in Italian when we want to say something like:
- I like the book about which you talked.
- I don’t know that girl with whom you came.
This is when cui comes in handy.
Let’s first see what cui means and then when and how to use cui in Italian.
What does “cui” mean in Italian?
Let’s take the examples we saw above with their translations:
Mi piace il libro di cui mi hai parlato.
I like the book about which you talked.
Non conosco la ragazza con cui sei venuto.
I don’t know that girl with whom you came.
As you can see, cui basically means “which” and “whom”.
Cui, like che, is a pronoun, which means it’s a word that refers to something or someone.
When to use “cui” in Italian
As you can see in the examples we just saw, we basically use cui when there’s a preposition referring to “which” or “whom”.
Prepositions are those tiny words like to, of, for, with, and in.
These are the Italian prepositions:
- a, di, per, con, da, in, su, tra, fra
So, we cannot say something like a che, di che, con che.
In those cases, instead of che, we have to say cui:
- a cui, di cui, per cui, con cui, da cui, in cui, su cui, tra cui, fra cui
It’s the same in English. We wouldn’t say “to that” and “with who”, as in “the girl to that I’m speaking is nice”, and “the guy with who you came is fun”.
Instead, we have to say “to which” and “with whom“.
Practice with QuizletHere's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.
How to use “cui” in Italian
Cui is very simple to use as it doesn’t change depending on the gender and number of what it’s referring to.
It doesn’t even change depending on whether we’re talking about a thing or a person.
It’s always cui.
Let’s now have a look at some examples with cui preceded by prepositions.
You will see the translations into English sound odd so, we’ll give you a more appropriate translation for each example:
Questo è il motivo per cui ti voglio bene.
This is the reason for which I love you.
= This is the reason why I love you.
Non so qual è il paese da cui proviene questa scatola.
I don’t know which is the country from which this box comes.
= I don’t know which is the country this box comes from.
Il topo è morto nella trappola in cui è caduto.
The mouse died in the trap in which it fell.
= The mouse died in the trap where it fell.
Non mi piacciono gli amici con cui esci.
I don’t like the friends with whom you go out.
= I don’t like the friends you go out with.
La donna a cui ho consegnato la lettera è tua zia.
The woman to whom I gave a letter is your aunt.
= The woman I gave a letter to is your aunt.
Gli studenti di cui dovevi occuparti sono arrivati.
The students about whom you had to worry arrived.
= The students you had to worry about arrived.
Vorrei un letto su cui dormire.
I’d like a bed on which I can sleep.
= I’d like a bed I can sleep on.
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