Unità 6

Che opera meravigliosa!

Obiettivi per il capitolo

At the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  • describe a work of art
  • identify, describe, and reflect on famous Italian works of art
  • express their opinions on a variety of topics
  • create more complex sentences
  • use suffixes to enhance description

Vocabolario: l’Italia artistica. Le belle arti.

Here are some words that will help you participate in the conversations in this chapter. Of course, there are also many more! Creating your own course dictionary is a good way to keep track of new words.

italiano English
l’acquerello watercolor
l’autoritratto self-portrait
le belle arti fine arts
la cera wax
chiaroscuro chiaroscuro (a painting technique that plays with light/dark)
dipingere to paint
il dipinto painting
disegnare to design / to draw
la natura morta still life
il marmo marble
il museo museum
l’opera work of art / opera
l’orchestra sinfonica symphony orchestra
il pastello pastel
i pastelli pastels
il pennello paintbrush
il pittore / la pittrice painter
la pittura

  • a acquerello
  • a olio
  • a pastello
paint / painting

  • watercolor
  • oil
  • pastel
il quadro painting / picture
scolpire to sculpt
la scultura sculpture
lo scultore / la scultrice sculptor
il secolo century
la statua statue


Struttura 6.1 I pronomi relativi

In contesto

Michelangelo fu un artista che visse durante il Rinascimento.  

Il Rinascimento fu un periodo in cui furono creati alcuni dei capolavori dell’arte occidentale.

You are definitely at the point of your study of Italian in which it is time to work on creating more complex sentences. You can do this by expanding your vocabulary and by using more complex verb forms, but you can also do this by using relative pronouns to connect ideas. Relative pronouns are the small connecting words that can mean that, who, whom, which, or whose when used within a sentence. In Italian the most common relative pronouns are che, which you are surely familiar with at this point, and cui, which is usually preceded by a preposition.


Within a sentence, che can mean who, whom, that, or which. It can be used as the direct object or subject of a relative clause.

Let’s look at the first example above. Technically, there are two possible sentences there.

Michelangelo fu un artista. (Michelangelo was an artist.)
Michelangelo visse durante il Rinascimento. (Michelangelo lived during the Renaissance.)

Both of these are, of course, correct on their own. But just like we do with direct and indirect object pronouns, we use relative pronouns to avoid repetition and also to create more complex sentences. In this case, Michelangelo is the common element, and the second sentence adds further description to the type of artist he was.

Therefore, we take the main clause (Michelangelo fu un artista), add the relative pronoun che as the glue that binds the two clauses together, and add the dependent clause (visse durante il Rinascimento).

Es. Michelangelo fu un artista che visse durante il Rinascimento.

(Michelangelo was an artist who lived during the Renaissance.)

Tada! A more complex sentence.

Let’s look at another example with che.

L’Accademia è un museo. (The Accademia is a museum.)
Il museo si trova a Firenze. (The museum is located in Florence.)

In this example, the common element is museo, which is what che will replace in the complex sentence.

Es. L’Accademia è un museo che si trova a Firenze.
(main clause) + che + (dependent clause)

(The Accademia is a museum [that is] located in Florence.)

From these two examples, you can observe a couple important distinctions between the usage of relative pronouns between English and Italian.

  1. One is that chi, which we typically associate with who, is not a relative pronoun in Italian. Chi is used primarily as an interrogative or a subject pronoun. To express who or whom within a sentence, we use che, even when we are speaking about a person.
  2. The other difference is that these pronouns are rarely, if ever, omitted. In English there are examples in which we can leave out the che. In Italian that is not the case–che should always be included.

Es. L’opera di Michelangelo che ho visto negli Uffizi e’ meravigliosa.

(The work by Michelangelo (that) I saw in the Uffizi is wonderful.)


Che is a very common relative pronoun, and you have already encountered it naturally throughout your studies of Italian. Another common relative pronoun that might be new to you is cui. Cui can also mean whom, that, or which, but the biggest difference is that it is often preceded by a preposition. Remember that all-important rule about English grammar that you should never end a sentence with a preposition? Well, that rule exists in Italian, too, and one of the primary ways that you can avoid this error is to use the relative pronoun cui with that pronoun you were about to (incorrectly) put at the end of the sentence.

Let’s look at the second example from the beginning of this section.

Il Rinascimento fu un periodo. (The Renaissance was a time period.)
Nel Rinascimento furono creati alcuni dei capolavori dell’arte occidentale. (During the Renaissance some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art were created.)

If we combine the two sentences:

Es. Il Rinascimento fu un periodo in cui furono creati alcuni dei capolavori dell’arte occidentale.

(The Renaissance was a period in which some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art were created.)

In this example, we have the preposition in with the relative pronoun cui. Cui replaces the object of the preposition, which in this case is Rinascimento.

*When referring specifically to a place, in cui can be replaced with dove.

Es. Gli Uffizi è un museo in cui / dove si può vedere La nascita di Venere di Botticelli.

(The Uffizi is a museum in which / where one can see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.)

Cui can be accompanied by all of the other common prepositions as well: a cui, di cui, da cui, su cui, per cui, con cui. Here are some other examples:

Es. Ho scritto al professore. Il professore non mi ha risposto. → Il professore a cui ho scritto non mi ha risposto.

(The professor to whom I wrote did not respond to me.)

Es. L’artista ha una mostra nel Museo delle Belle Arti. Parlavamo dell’artista l’altro giorno. → L’artista di cui parlavamo l’altro giorno ha una mostra nel Museo delle Belle Arti.

(The artist about whom we were speaking the other day has a show at the Museum of Fine Arts.)

Es. Il DNA è una molecola. Si può capire l’identità di una persona dal DNA. → Il DNA è una molecola da cui si può capire l’identità di una persona.

(DNA is a molecule from which a person’s identity can be understood.)

Es. La lavagna è un oggetto nell’aula. La professoressa scrive gli esempi sulla lavagna. → La lavagna è un oggetto su cui la professoressa scrive. 

(The blackboard is an object on which the professor writes.)

Es. Visitare i musei è un motivo. Le persone vanno a Firenze per visitare i musei. → Visitare i musei è un motivo per cui le persone vanno a Firenze.

(Visiting museums is a reason [for which] people go to Florence.)

Es. Una guida lavora in un museo. Si può fare un tour di un museo con una guida. → Una guida è qualcuno con cui si può fare un tour di un museo. 

(A guide is someone with whom you can take a tour of a museum.)

Because prepositions can be difficult in both English and Italian, these forms can be deceptively difficult! Sometimes it helps to work backwards in order to find the correct preposition, and then create the sentence from there.

There is one other use of cui that differs a bit from those above. When it is preceded by a definite article (il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le), then it means whose. The article agrees with the noun it modifies, not with the subject.

Es. L’artista le cui opere si trovano in quel museo viene da Siena.

(The artist whose works are found in that museum comes from Siena.)

Es. Gli artisti il cui stile è considerato moderno si esibiscono in musei come il MOMA a New York.

(Artists whose style is considered modern have exhibits in museums like the MOMA in New York.)

Una prova

*Il/la quale, i/le quali

If you really want to increase the sophistication of your writing, there is a third option. In most of the examples above, che and cui can be substituted with a form of quale with the definite article. The form and article agree in gender and number with the person, place, or thing to which they refer. The meaning remains the same, but the quale form makes gender and number explicit, while che and cui can be ambiguous in this regard.

Here are the examples from the che section with the quale form:

Es. Michelangelo fu un artista che visse durante il Rinascimento. → Michelangelo fu un artista il quale visse durante il Rinascimento.
(Il quale in this example agrees with un artista).

Es. Il Rinascimento fu un periodo in cui furono creati alcuni dei capolavori dell’arte occidentale. → Il Rinascimento fu un periodo nel quale furono creati alcuni dei capolavori dell’arte occidentale.
(Note that the preposition (in) and definite article (il) combine here).

Here are the other examples. The word with which the form of quale agrees is in parentheses (in most cases, the word that precedes it).

Es. Il professore a cui / al quale ho scritto non mi ha risposto. (il professore)

Es. L’artista di cui / del(la) quale parlavamo l’altro giorno ha una mostra nel Museo delle Belle Arti. (l’artista)

Es. Il DNA è una molecola da cui / dalla quale si può capire l’identità di una persona. (la molecola)

Es. La lavagna è un oggetto su cui / sul quale la professoressa scrive. (un oggetto)

Es. Visitare i musei è un motivo per cui / per il quale le persone vanno a Firenze. (un motivo)

Es. Una guida è qualcuno con cui / con il quale si può fare un tour di un museo. (qualcuno)

Una prova

Struttura 6.2 Il congiuntivo presente

In contesto

Penso che il David di Michelangelo sia la sua opera più straordinaria.

Crediamo che Andrea Bocelli canti benissimo.

Che is a small but important word that we can use to connect two clauses and form a more complex sentence. It is also a key word when creating sentences in the congiuntivo, or the subjunctive.

So what is the subjunctive, you ask? You have already learned that verbs have different tenses, like the past, present, or future, but what you might not know is that they also have different “moods”. Everything you have studied so far belongs to what is called the indicative “mood,” which is used to state facts and certainties.

Here’s an example of a sentence in the indicative mood:

Oggi nevica. (Today it is snowing)

Pretty straightforward and based on (visual) evidence, right?

The subjunctive “mood,” on the other hand, is used to express opinions, doubts, advice, emotions, desires, and hopes – anything that is subjective or impossible, rather than objective. It has all the same tenses as the indicative mood: present, past, imperfect, etc…, which means there are so many new conjugations still to learn! 😉 The subjunctive does exist in English, though it is not as common and looks a bit different. If you have already studied another Romance language, though, this should all be familiar.

Here’s an example of a sentence in the subjunctive mood:

Spero che oggi nevichi. (I hope it snows today)

This example expresses a hope rather than a fact, and you might notice that the conjugation of the verb nevicare differs from the conjugation in the indicative sentence above. This is what we’re going to explore in this section.

You are probably thinking that you have already expressed opinions, hopes, emotions, etc… using the indicative mood, which you probably have. The big difference is that not only are you expressing opinions and feelings, but you are also constructing your sentences in a certain way and with certain key phrases. The subjunctive is usually used in dependent clauses introduced by the relative pronoun che and preceded by certain verbs or verb phrases in the main clause that explicitly express the above-mentioned attitudes and feelings, as in the example.

Come si forma?

I verbi regolari

The good news about the conjugations of the present subjunctive is that…you have already started studying them in Unità 5! The imperativo formale and the congiuntivo presente share the same general conjugations.

guardare mettere sentire
Lei Guardi! Metta! Senta!

Remember that -are verbs replace the “a” with an “i”, and -ere and -ire verbs replace the “e” with an “a”. So -ere and -ire verbs look a bit like -are verbs in both the formal imperative AND the present subjunctive.

Let’s look at the whole conjugation.

guardare mettere sentire capire
che io guardi metta senta capisca
che tu guardi metta senta capisca
che lui/lei/Lei guardi metta senta capisca
che noi guardiamo mettiamo sentiamo capiamo
che voi guardiate mettiate sentiate capiate
che loro guardino mettano sentano capiscano

In addition to the vowel replacements noted above, you should also notice the following about these conjugations:

  1. The io, tu, and lui/lei/Lei forms are all the same. To differentiate between the three subjects, it’s useful to include the subject pronoun in your sentence (where you could normally omit it).
  2. The noi form is the same as it is in the indicative and is constant across all verb categories.
  3. The voi form is constant across all verb categories.
  4. Verbs that include the -isc in their conjugations, like capire or finire, maintain the -isc in the subjunctive as well.

The same rules for verbs ending in -ciare and -giare (drop one “i”) and those ending in -care and -gare (add an “h” before the “i”) apply in the subjunctive as well:

mangiare cominciare cercare pagare
che io mangi cominci cerchi paghi
che tu mangi cominci cerchi paghi
che lui/lei/Lei mangi cominci cerchi paghi
che noi mangiamo cominciamo cerchiamo paghiamo
che voi mangiate cominciate cerchiate paghiate
che loro mangino comincino cerchino paghino
I verbi irregolari

Most of the verbs that are irregular in the indicative are also irregular in the subjunctive, though many of them share the same stem. So if you know how to conjugate the irregular verb in the indicative, all you have to do in the subjunctive is change the ending!

andare vada, vada, vada, andiamo, andiate, vadano
avere abbia, abbia, abbia, abbiamo, abbiate, abbiano
bere beva, beva, beva, beviamo, beviate, bevano
dare dia, dia, dia, diamo, diate, diano
dire dica, dica, dica, diciamo, diciate, dicano
dovere debba, debba, debba, dobbiamo, dobbiate, debbano
essere sia, sia, sia, siamo, siate, siano
fare faccia, faccia, faccia, facciamo, facciate, facciano
potere possa, possa, possa, possiamo, possiate, possano
rimanere rimanga, rimanga, rimanga, rimaniamo, rimaniate, rimangano
sapere sappia, sappia, sappia, sappiamo, sappiate, sappiano
stare stia, stia, stia, stiamo, stiate, stiano
uscire esca, esca, esca, usciamo, usciate, escano
venire venga, venga, venga, veniamo, veniate, vengano
volere voglia, voglia, voglia, vogliamo, vogliate, vogliano

Quando si usa?

Now let’s look at when we use the forms above. As already noted, if the main clause of the sentence expresses opinion, desire, feelings, judgment, need, or doubt, then the subjunctive form is used in the dependent clause. This is the case only when the subjects of the two clauses are different (more on that at the end of this section). Here are some examples:

-desire, will

Es. Desidero che i miei studenti prendano una “A” nel corso.

(I want my students to get an “A” in the course.)


Es. Credo che loro siano bravi studenti. 

(I believe they are good students.)

-emotions / feelings

Es. Sono contenta che loro frequentino il mio corso. 

(I’m happy they’re taking my class.)

-doubt / uncertainty

Es. Dubito che loro parlino italiano durante le vacanze. 

(I doubt they speak Italian during vacation.)

-impersonal expressions that indicate necessity, importance, possibility

Es. È necessario che loro studino per l’esame finale.

(It’s necessary that they study for the final exam.)

Es. È importante che loro continuino a parlare italiano dopo il corso. 

(It’s important that they keep speaking Italian after the course (is over).)

opinion desire / will feelings / emotions impersonal expressions necessity doubt / uncertainty
(non) pensare

(non) credere







essere contento, felice, sorpreso, ecc…

(non) avere paura

(non) temere


è importante che

è meglio che

è interessante che

è (im)possibile che

è (im)probabile che

è opportuno che

è bene / male che

è difficile che

è necessario che

avere bisogno che


non sapere

non essere sicuro/a

(non) sembrare

(non) parere

Note the final column about doubt / uncertainty. If you are not sure or don’t know information, you can express this by using the subjunctive in the dependent clause:

Es. Non so se La scuola di Atene sia di Raffaello.

Es. Non sono sicura che La scuola di Atene sia di Raffaello.

On the other hand, if you ARE sure about something, you would use the indicative in the dependent clause:

Es. So che La Scuola di Atene è di Raffaello.

Es. Sono sicura che La Scuola di Atene è di Raffaello. 

Just because you have the che in the middle doesn’t mean you always use the subjunctive. The verb or verb phrase in the main clause is key for determining this. È vero che is another example of a phrase that uses the indicative, rather than the subjunctive, because it indicates fact or certainty.

In all of the above examples, you will notice that the subjects of the verbs of the two clauses are different (Non so – io; La scuola di Atene – lui/lei). So what happens if there is no difference in subject? In this case, it is not necessary to use che or the subjunctive form. Just the infinitive of the verb and sometimes the preposition di will complete the idea.

different subjects same subject
(io) Spero che tu visiti il Bargello a Firenze.

(I hope you visit the Bargello in Florence.)

(io) Spero di visitare il Bargello a Firenze.

(I hope to visit the Bargello in Florence.)

Di + infinitive

Es. Penso di essere un bravo studente.

(I think I’m a good student.)

Es. Spero di prendere una “A” nel corso.

(I hope to get an “A” in the course.)

Es. Sono felice di studiare l’italiano.

(I’m happy to study Italian.)

Infinitive only

Es. Gli studenti desiderano prendere una “A” nel corso.

(The student want to get an “A” in the course.)

Es. Voglio studiare la storia dell’arte nel futuro.

(I want to study art history in the future.)

Es. Preferiamo vedere l’opera di Aida all’Arena di Verona.

(We prefer to see the opera Aida at the Arena in Verona.)

Es. È importante studiare molto per prendere una “A”.

(It’s important to study a lot in order to get an “A”.)

Una prova

Struttura 6.3 Il congiuntivo passato

In contesto

Dubito che Alessio abbia comprato i biglietti in tempo.

Spero che gli studenti abbiano apprezzato la lezione sull’arte.

What happens when the verb or phrase in the main clause is in the present and indicates desire, opinion, feeling, etc…but the action in the dependent clause takes place in the past? You use the past subjunctive, or the congiuntivo passato! Just like the present subjunctive is a mirror of the present indicative, the past subjunctive is a mirror of the passato prossimo. This means that it is a compound tense with the auxiliary verbs essere and avere. All the same rules apply for which one to use, and the past participle is the same as it is with all other compound tenses.

Come si forma?

The only difference between the passato prossimo (indicative) and the congiuntivo passato (past subjunctive) is the form of the auxiliary verbs essere and avere.

Il congiuntivo passato con avere
disegnare vendere scolpire
che io abbia disegnato abbia venduto abbia scolpito
che tu abbia disegnato abbia venduto abbia scolpito
che lui/lei abbia disegnato abbia venduto abbia scolpito
che noi abbiamo disegnato abbiamo venduto abbiamo scolpito
che voi abbiate disegnato abbiate venduto abbiate scolpito
che loro abbiano disegnato abbiano venduto abbiano scolpito

Note that, just like in the present subjunctive, the forms are the same for the io, tu, and lui/lei subjects.

Il congiuntivo passato con essere
andare cadere uscire
che io sia andato/a sia caduto/a sia uscito/a
che tu sia andato/a sia caduto/a sia uscito/a
che lui/lei sia andato/a sia caduto/a sia uscito/a
che noi siamo andati/e siamo caduti/e siamo usciti/e
che voi siate andati/e siate caduti/e siate usciti/e
che loro siano andati/e siano caduti/e siano usciti/e

Note that the forms are the same for the io, tu, and lui/lei subjects, and that the past participle still agrees in gender and number with the subject when the auxiliary verb is essere.

As with other compound forms, reflexive and reciprocal verbs always take the auxiliary essere.

che io mi sia messo/a
che tu ti sia messo/a
che lui/lei si sia messo/a
che noi ci siamo messi/e
che voi vi siate messi/e
che loro si siano messi/e

Irregular past participles (fatto, letto, scritto, preso, etc…) are all irregular in the past subjunctive as well. For a complete list, visit the following link: http://openbooks.library.umass.edu/tutt-a-tavola-vol-2/back-matter/appendix-c-irregular-past-participles/

Quando si usa?

To express doubt, uncertainty, opinion, feeling, dreams, or desires about an action that took place in the past.

To create this kind of sentence, the main clause should be in the present indicative tense, and the dependent clause (after che) should be in the past subjunctive.

Es. Non sono sicura che Gemma e Gaia abbiano visitato il Bargello durante il loro viaggio a Firenze.

(I’m not sure if Gemma and Gaia visited the Bargello during their trip to Florence.)

Es. Gli studenti sperano che la professoressa abbia preparato un esame facile.

(The students hope the professor prepared an easy exam.)

Es. Dov’è Beatrice? Credo che sia uscita con Davide.

(Where’s Beatrice? I believe she went out with Davide.)

Una prova

Struttura 6.4 I suffissi

In contesto

Che monello! Lui è proprio un ragazzaccio!

Quella borsetta è bellina!

Okay, you have studied some new and difficult grammar in this unit. Let’s end on a lighter note!

In Italian, as in English, you can describe people, places, and things using adjectives (a “bad boy”, a “cute outfit”). But there’s another option! In Italian there are also certain suffixes, or suffissi – letters added to the end of the word – that can be added to nouns, adjectives, or adverbs to emphasize things like size, or quality, or simply to express affection. These are fun! Let’s look at some examples.

1. Diminutives. These can be used to express the “smallness” of something, or simply as a term of endearment. They are formed by dropping the final letter of the word and adding the appropriate suffix. If the word is a noun or adjective, it should agree in gender and number. Adverbs are solely in the masculine singular.

-ino/a/i/e un gatto un gattino a little cat, kitten
-etto/a/i/e una borsa una borsetta a small purse
-ello/a/i/e una fontana una fontanella a little fountain (cute)
-uccio/a/i/e caldo calduccio warmth, coziness

2. Augmentatives. These can be used to express the physical or figurative “largeness” of someone’s person or presence.

-one/a/i/e un’amica un’amicona a great (female) friend
un libro un librone a big book
simpatico un simpaticone a super nice guy
pigro pigrone super lazy
dorme molto una dormigliona sleepyhead!
*la minestra il minestrone a big, hearty soup
*You might notice that in the case of minestra and minestrone, the gender of the word changes when the suffix is added. This is not uncommon, as the noun changes meaning. In this case, minestra means “broth” and minestrone is a hearty soup–two different things. Another example is finestra and finestrino – the former is a “window”, whereas the latter is specifically a “car/train/plane window”.

3. Pejoratives. These are used to express the negative quality of something.

-accio/a/i/e una parola una parolaccia a (bad) swear word
  un tempo un tempaccio bad weather
  un carattere un caratteraccio a difficult personality
-astro/a/i/e dolce dolciastro cloyingly sweet

These are just a few examples! Not all words will work with a suffix, and sometimes the words themselves will change (il cane [dog] becomes il cagnolino [doggie], for example), but it’s fun to try and start incorporating some of these words and expressions into your vocabulary. It makes you sound like more of a native speaker!

Una prova



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Torniamo a tavola! Volume 2 by Melina Masterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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