Italian Language/use of "chi"

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Question
Dear Maria,

My question is about use of the interrogative pronoun “chi” with verbs.

I am trying to understand when to use the singular form of the verb and when to use the plural form of the verb form of the verb with the interrogative pronoun “chi”.

I often see “chi” used with the third person singular form of the verb when one is referring to a group of people.  For example, one can point at a group of people who are singing and ask – Chi canta?”  (Who is singing?).  In this sentence the third person singular form of the verb is used even though more than one person is singing.

But, in other examples I have seen “chi” used with the third person plural form of the verb as in -  “Chi sono?” (Who are they?).  In this sentence “chi” is being used with the plural form of the verb.

Can you please tell me if there is any way to know when to use “chi” with the singular form of the verb and when to use “chi” with the plural form of the verb.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Rich

Answer
Dear Rich,

actually the interrogative pronoun “chi” is always used with the singular form of the verb as in “Chi sa la risposta?”, “Chi sta parlando?”, “Chi è stato?”, Chi avrebbe mai pensato che saresti partito?”, “Chi ha avuto una simile idea?”, "Chi verrà domani?", etc.

It is however used with the plural form of the verb  only when  a sentence is composed of  the verb “essere” (or some auxiliary verbs )+ an implied or expressed  subject such as in “Chi sono?” which stands for  “Chi sono loro?” (“Who are they?”) and   “Chi sono quelle persone?” (Who are those people?).

As you can see,  in  “Chi sono?” the subject “loro” is implied, while in “Chi sono loro?” and  “Chi sono quelle persone?”  the subject (“loro” and “quelle persone”) is expressed, while “chi” is considered a predicate pronoun of the verb “essere”.

Also,the interrogative pronoun “chi” is used with the plural form of the verb when there are auxiliary verbs such as "potere", "volere", "dovere", "solere/essere solito".
See for instance: "Chi possono trarre in inganno?", "Chi volevano imbrogliare?", "Chi dovevate incontrare?", "Chi sogliono vedere più spesso?" where the implied subject is "loro/essi", while "chi" is the direct object depending on the infinitive.

In short, the interrogative pronoun “chi”  is used with the plural form of the verb  only when:
1)the sentence has a the verb “essere” followed by an implied or expressed subject.
2)the sentence has an auxiliary verb (verbo servile, in Italian).

As for the example that you mention, I have to tell you that “Chi canta?”  is in the singular simply because this question refers to only one person, though this person is  in  a group of people who are singing.
If you wanted to refer  to many persons, you should say:”Chi sono quelle persone che cantano?” (Who are those people who are singing?) where there is the verb “essere” and then “chi” is used with the plural form of the verb.

Best regards,

Maria

Italian Language

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Maria

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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.

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Over 25 years teaching experience.

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I received my Ph.D.in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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