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I understand that the subjunctive is used on a dependent clause when the subjects of the main clause and of the dependent clause are different and after verbs which express order, permission, opinion, advice, preference, feeling, advice, desire, need, possibility, doubt, supposition or expectation (I prefer to memorize these specific contexts than to follow the generic "unreal/uncertain" concept because IMHO it is incomplete).

However, http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/it/lingua-italiana/Consulenza-linguistica/domande-risposte/uso-congiuntivo says that the verb "chiedere" requires the subjunctive, which seems odd to me, as it does not match any of the contexts described before. Is that true? An example:

  • Chiedi a Giovanni se ci sia una farmacia in via Alfieri.
  • Chiedi a Giovanni se c'è una farmacia in via Alfieri.
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The use of the subjunctive in Italian is an extremely hard topic. I wrote a small guide in this answer which I hope could be useful.


What you are asking is whether the subjunctive mood needs to be used in the proposizioni interrogative indirette. Those are the subordinate clauses which are use to make explicit a question already present in the main clause. They can depend on a verb like chiedere, domandare, by a noun like domanda or by an adjective like curiouso.

It used to be the case that the indicative was unacceptable in the interrogative indirette and the subjunctive (or, in certain cases, the conditional) was mandatory. However the situation has changed, as languages are wont to do, and currently the usage of indicative/subjunctive in the interrogative indirette has become a marker in the informal/formal direction. From Serianni's Grammatica (XIV.86):

The alternance of moods in the explicit construction [of interrogative indirette] resembles closely the one already described for the completive. In this case as well the two fundamental moods, the indicative and the subjunctive, do not correspond to a different degree of certitude but rather to a more or less formal stylistic level or to simple free variations.

My personal advice is to always use the subjunctive, but to be tolerant in accepting other people's usage of the indicative. So both of the sentences you write in the questions are acceptable, although I personally would prefer the first. The subjunctive is particularly preferred when the main clause is negative (e.g. "Hanno ucciso l'uomo ragno. Chi sia stato non si sa").


Related, but not quite on topic, is this answer by Serianni on when the conditional ought to be used in the interrogative indirette (tl; dr: when they are half of an implicit if-then clause).

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  • It is interesting that these "proposizione interrogative indirette" (= indirect interrogative statements) encompass not only indirect speech (aka reported speech), in which something is effectively said/asked, but also doubt, eg non sapere, non capire. An English speaker may be tempted to do the mapping above between the two constructions in Italian and in English and that would be inaccurate. I still have one question related to this: Is the subjunctive used too when something is said (eg Qualcosa mi dice che lei conosce/conosca la verità) ? – Alan Evangelista Sep 25 '19 at 16:21
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    @AlanEvangelista No, verbs expressing a judgement or a perception (accorgersi, dire, giurare, udire, etc.) always want the indicative in the subordinate clause. – Denis Nardin Sep 25 '19 at 20:19
  • Thanks, but I think that "dire" and "giurare" are not verbs of judgement/perception ? – Alan Evangelista Sep 25 '19 at 20:21
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    @AlanEvangelista Well, maybe judgement is not the correct term (I am translating from the rule in Serianni's book where he calls them "verbi di giudizio"), but what I mean is verbs that express the actions of making a statement. Be careful though, that when used in the negative form the situation reverses (since now those verbs express a lack of certainty): Non dico che sia impossible, ma non ci credo – Denis Nardin Sep 25 '19 at 20:23

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