It’s always best in any language to be as precise as you can, using words that denote a concept with certainty and decisiveness. If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, however, it’s that we live in unpredictable times and sometimes need to use terms that reflect a certain, well, elasticity.
In Italian, these are the -unque words... a group of adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns used to denote a generality or imprecision. Let’s take a look at these words:
Chiunque – Whoever/Whomever
Qualunque – Whatever/Whichever
Dovunque/Ovunque – Wherever
Comunque – However
The first thing you may notice is that they are all rooted in one of the famous “who, what, where, when, how” question words (there is even a ‘quandunque’ to indicate whenever, but it is a very archaic term that is no longer used in contemporary speech or writing; today, Italians simply use ‘quando’ as both when and whenever), and the ‘-unque’ suffix is used to create a vague -ever.
So, following that logic, we have:
Chi (who) + unque (ever) = whoever
Quale (what) + unque (ever) = whatever
Dove (where) + unque (ever) = wherever
Come (how) + unque (ever) = however
Most of these terms can also be translated into English as any plus the question word:
Chi (who) + unque (any) = anyone
Quale (what) + unque (any) = anything
Dove (where) + unque (any) = anywhere
Come (how) + unque (any) = anyway
Since the -unques imply a degree of uncertainty, their use triggers the use of the subjunctive (congiuntivo) verb tense, though in informal, colloquial speech, this grammatical rule is often overlooked.
Here’s how to use these helpfully vague words in a sentence:
This can be used as a relative pronoun:
Chiunque sia, fallo entrare. – Whoever it is, let them come in.
Or as an indefinite pronoun:
Ti amo più di chiunque altro. – I love you more than anyone else.
Note: word order is important when you use chiunque as a relative pronoun! When placed at the end of the sentence, it may sometimes take on a slightly dismissive or condescending tone:
Chiunque lo potrebbe fare. – Anyone can do it.
Non lo potrebbe fare chiunque. – Not just anyone can do it.
This can be used as an adjective:
Qualunque vestito tu scelga, ti donerà. – Whichever dress you choose will look good on you.
Or as an indefinite pronoun, in which case it is usually paired with ‘cosa’:
Qualunque cosa io abbia fatto, mi dispiace. – Whatever I did, I’m sorry.
Note: word order is important when you use qualunque as a relative pronoun! When placed at the end of the sentence, it may sometimes take on a slightly dismissive or condescending tone:
Qualunque vino va bene. – Any wine is fine.
Non portare un vino qualunque. – Don’t bring just any wine.
Also, the slang use of “whatever!” in English to indicate skepticism is not directly translatable into ‘qualunque’. You can sneeringly say “Si, vabbe’” to indicate disbelief or dismissal.
Dovunque and Ovunque
These two terms are virtually interchangeable, and are both used as an adverb meaning wherever/anywhere or everywhere:
Ti troverò dovunque tu vada. – I’ll find you wherever/anywhere you go.
C’erano spazzatura un po’ ovunque. – There was trash everywhere.
This can be used as a conjunction:
Comunque vada sarà un successo. – However it goes, it will be a success.
Or as an adverb:
Sono stanca, ma esco comunque. – I’m tired, but I’m going out anyway.
The Odd Man Out: Dunque
If you’ve spent any time in Italy, you’ve almost certainly heard this word, a very common “filler” word, along with ‘allora’ and ‘insomma’.
Dunque, come stavo dicendo… – So, as I was saying…
Though it sounds as if it should be part of the -unque words, ‘dunque’ is a conjunction that stands on its own, meaning therefore or so.
Hai sbagliato, dunque verrai punito. – You made a mistake, so you will be punished.
We hope this is helpful in keeping your -unques straight in the future!