One way that you can extend conversations in Italian even as a beginner student is by asking A LOT of questions. While there are a variety of structures for asking questions (like this one for asking about likes and dislikes), there are some basic vocabulary words for you to use for simpler questions.
These are your basic interrogatives, which in English are: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?
Below I’ve listed the Italian equivalents for each of those words — and you’ll notice that there’s some overlap and a couple of variations — along with examples for how you might use them right away.
Question Words in Italian
— Who? / Whom? – Chi?
— What? – Cosa? / Che? / Che cosa?
— When? – Quando?
— Where? – Dove?
— Why? – Perché?
— How? – Come?
Chi? >> Who? / Whom?
— Chi è lui? – Who’s he?
— Chi è Sophia Loren? – Who’s Sophia Loren?
— Vado al mercato. Chi vuole andarci con me? – I’m going to the store. Who wants to go there with me?
CPF: Note that the word “chi” is in the commonly used expression “Chissà? – Who knows?”
Cosa? / Che? / Che cosa? >> What?
— Cosa vuoi? – What do you want?
— Che ne pensi? – What do you think about it?
— Che ore sono? – What time is it?
Typically, “cosa” and “che” are interchangeable and are more commonly used because they’re shorter and easier to say. All three can be used on their own as well.
Also, “cosa” can be combined with the verb “essere – to be,” which is why you might see / hear a sentence like, “Cos’è questo? – What is this?”
Quando? >> When?
— Quando arrivi? – When are you arriving?
— Quando lavora? – When does she work?
— Quando vai in Italia? – When are you going to Italy?
Dove? >> Where?
— Dove vai? – Where are you going?
— Dove abiti? – Where do you live?
Just like “cosa,” “dove” can also be combined with the verb “essere – to be,” so you might see sentences like, “Dov’è Elisa? – Where is Elisa?”
Perché? >> Why?
— Perché ti piace l’italiano così tanto? – Why do you like Italian so much? (Boh, non lo so. – Boh, I don’t know.)
— Perché vai in Grecia? – Why are you going to Greece?
— Perché studi economia? – Why are you studying economics?
Come? >> How?
— Come lo sai? – How do you know?
— Come mai parli l’italiano così bene? – How come you speak Italian so well?
CPF: “Come mai?” is a great phrase to keep in your arsenal. It means “how come?” and can be used alone.
Just like “cosa” and “dove,” “come” can be combined with the verb “essere – to be.”
— Com’è Bologna? – What’s Bologna like? / How is Bologna?
If someone is trying to explain something to you, and you don’t understand but want more explanation or an example, you could simply say, “Come…?”
To review the verb “essere – to be,” read this article: 10 Irregular Present Tense Verbs in Italian (& How to Use Them)
If you have any other questions, just let me know in the comments below.