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Structure of complex Italian sentences

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A sentence is complex when it's formed by a main clause and a clause that depends on it or a clause that is in some way connected to it.

Coordinated/Dependent clauses

It's possible to add to a main clause a coordinated clause, introduced by coordinating conjunctions, and/or a dependent clause, introduced by a subordinating conjunction.

enlightened Coordinated/Dependent clauses: (Main clause) + Conjunction + Second clause + (Main clause)

Type of clauseMain clauseSecond clauseEnglish
(coordinating conjunction)
L'insegnante parla e gli alunni ascoltano.The teacher talks and the pupils listen.
(subordinating conjunction)
Io cucinomentre tu riposi.I cook while you rest.
To form complex sentences, it's possible to add a dependent clause before or after the main sentence.
Dependent clauses are usually separated from the main clause by a comma.
Mentre Luigi andava a casa, il sole iniziava a tramontare.While Luigi was going home, the sun was starting to set.
Io cucino e il gatto dorme.I cook and the cat sleeps.
(Loro) Pensavano che lo sapessi, ma io non lo sapevo.They thought I knew, but I didn't know.

In this lesson we will analize the structure of the following types of complex clauses:
  • Relative sentences;
  • Indirect questions and reported speech;
  • Infinitive phrases.

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Relative sentences (who, which, that)

Relative clauses specify something about an element that has already been introduced.
In English, relative clauses are introduce by who, which, that.

In Italian we use the following pronouns:

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine pluralEnglish
CheCheCheCheWho / which / that
CuiCuiCuiCuiWho /which / that (preceded by a preposition)
Il qualeLa qualeI qualiLe qualiWho / which / that (formal/less used)

There are two main structure options of relative clauses:

  1. Relative clauses where the information is omittable;
  2. Relative clauses that specify a non-omittable quality.

Relative clauses (omittable information)

This type of clause includes an information which could be also easily omitted; the sentence would still make sense.

enlightened Relative clauses (omittable information): Subject + [Comma + Relative pronoun + Verb + Object  + Comma] + Main verb + Rest of the sentence

La vicina di casa, [la quale si è trasferita lo scorso anno], si chiama Paola.The neighbor, who moved in last year, is called Paola.
Il primo figlio di Chiara, [il cui marito si chiama Leo], è appena nato.Chiara's first son, whose husband's name is Leo, was born a while ago.
Giovanni, [che si è lasciato da poco con la ragazza], è molto triste.Giovanni, who recenty broke up with his girlfriend, is very sad.

Relative clauses (non-omittable quality)

This second structure includes a relative sentence that can't be omitted because it specifies a distinctive quality of the element it refers to.

enlightenedRelative clauses (non-omittable quality): Subject + Relative pronoun + Verb + Other elements]  + Main verb + Rest of the sentence

La torta che era stata bruciata non è stata servita al matrimonio.The cake that had been burnt wasn't served at the wedding.
La bicicletta che hai messo fuori è tutta bagnata.The bycicle you put outside is all wet.
La stanza in cui dormi è al piano di sopra.The room you sleep in is upstairs.

Both these structure are usually placed close to the element they refer to.

Indirect questions and reported speech

Indirect questions are subordinate prepositions that introduce a doubt, a question.
Reported speeech is used to explain what somebody said.

They are usually introduced by the following words:

VerbsChiedere (To ask), Pensare (Think), Credere (To believe)
NamesDomanda (Question), Dubbio (Doubt)
AdjectivesCurioso (Curious), Dubbioso (Doubtful)
Prepositions Se (If), Come (How), Perchè (Why), Quando (When), Quanto (How much)
ConjunctionsChe (That)
Interrogative adjectives and pronounsChi (Who), Il quale (Which/That), Che cosa/Cosa (What), Quanto (How much)


enlightened Indirect questions/speech: Subject/(Personal pronoun) + Introductory element + Rest of the sentence

Mi chiedo come sia possibile dormire 3 ore a notte.I'm wondering how you could possibly sleep 3 hours per night.
Non si capisce cosa voglia fare.You don't manage to understand what he will do.
Mario ha detto che è curioso di conoscere il risultato finale.Mario said he was curious to know the final score.


Infinitive phrases

Infinitive phrases express an action using the infinitive mood.

enlightened Infinitive phrase: Main clause + Preposition/No connecting element + Verb on the infinitive mood  (+ Rest of the sentence)

Let's analize the following examples.

Mi ha dato il libro di matematica per studiare.He gave the Maths book to study.
E' facile raggiungere la stazione.It's easy to reach the railways station.


  1. Exercise on Italian complex sentences - Drag text
  2. Exercise on Italian complex clauses (relatives) - Single choice set
  3. Exercise on Italian complex sentences (indirect questions/reported speech) - Drag text
  4. Exercise on Italian complex sentences (infinitives) - Drag text

Exercise on Italian complex sentences - Drag text

Exercise on Italian complex clauses (relatives) - Single choice set

Exercise on Italian complex sentences (indirect questions/reported speech) - Drag text

Exercise on Italian complex sentences (infinitives) - Drag text

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