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Are "qui" and "qua" entirely interchangeable? If not, could you cite general cases in which they are not?

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    Well, when referring to Paperino's nephews, for example =) – Matteo Italia Nov 11 '13 at 23:10
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They are indeed interchangeable but qua is generally seen as less precise in terms of distance than qui (see also the comments here and here), e.g.:

Q: Dov'è Mario?
A1: Boh. È qua.
(meaning: here, in this place or in this building and not somewhere else, not in Alaska, for example)
A2: È qui. (meaning: right here, in this room, next to me)

However, using either qua or qui in any of these answers would be perfectly correct.

Note also that only qua might be used in combination with adverbs: quassù, quaggiù.
I would usually say Dammi qua and not qui but, as Gabriele has said, this might be a matter of taste.

(Added after some googling: qua should never, ever be used in qui pro quo. Yes, it has nothing to do with the question, but it seems that some people do believe that the words are interchangeable also in this Latin sentence...).

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    +1 Good point about qui pro quo. That's not the same qui as in Italian, but it's worth noting. – Gabriele Petronella Nov 11 '13 at 22:11
  • I don't agree on the difference in precision. In the example you gave I would indifferently use qua or qui for both sentences. – Gabriele Petronella Nov 12 '13 at 17:54
  • @Gabriele True. I would use either of them, too, without much thinking. But the difference in precision is not invented by me; it's an explanation from my elementary school and what dictionaries say: qua ha molti usi in comune con qui, rispetto al quale può esprimere un'idea di minore puntualizzazione spaziale. I just demonstrated how such precision might look like, underlining that both words are actually correct in both meanings of "here". – I.M. Nov 12 '13 at 22:17
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    "Note also that only qua might be used in combination with adverbs"... maybe in written or formal Italian. When speaking I hear using quissù and quiggiù quite frequently. – Bakuriu Nov 25 '13 at 23:00
  • @Bakuriu You might use them in an informal talk, if you really want to, but they are certainly not common (apart from some locals or regions, maybe). In fact, Dante has used quissù in "Commedia," but already in 1744 such usage was considered wrong. See here, page 71, for example. – I.M. Nov 26 '13 at 0:01
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They are completely interchangeable.

The only reason I can think of for preferring one or the other is they way they sound in specific sentences.

E.g. in the phrase

Se passi di qua andrai più veloce

I would rather use

Se passi di qui andrai più veloce

since andrai begins with an a, and it sounds slightly better to put a word ending with i rather than one ending with a in front of it.

It's really a matter of taste, though, as both phrases are completely acceptable to say or write.

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Qui and qua are mostly interchangeable, but qui has a more punctual meaning whereas qua is more vague, similar to the pair and , costì and costà.

Qui: exactly here where I am
Qua: in my proximity

Costì: exactly where you are
Costà: in your proximity

: exactly over there
: around there

In the dictionary of Devoto-Oli we have the following definitions

qua2 avv. (radd. sint.)
~ ‘In questo luogo’: indica vicinanza a chi parla, ma è meno preciso di qui (vieni qua, vieni nei miei pressi; vieni qui, vieni in questo punto preciso)

qui avv.
~ Indica vicinanza a chi parla, ma con molta maggiore precisione di qua (qui c’è freddo, in questo punto preciso c’è freddo; qua c’è freddo, nei miei pressi c’è freddo)

That is qui is used to refer to a precisely defined point, whereas qua lacks this precision, indicating rather an area.

The same in Treccani qua2 and qui.

Luca Serianni in his "Grammatica Italiana" writes that

«Although they are largely equivalent, and (as qui- qua and costì - costà) are not always interchangeable: is used (as qui and costì) preferably for a precise place, defined with precision, while (as qua and costà) rather indicate a place as an area, without a precise determination. The opposition location accuray/ areal location, even if it does not always emerge with clarity, appears evident in congjunction with prepositions. In fact, we will say di là dal fiume, dal confine, because we divide the space into areas [...]; it would not be correct to say di lì dal fiume. Instead, we will say passare di lì with exact reference to a precise place [...], which is crossed or touched. In the subdivision of the home space, every room being intuitively an area, we will say vado di là in cucina, vieni di qua in salotto*.

Pur essendo per gran parte equivalenti e (come qui - qua e costì - costà) non sono sempre intercambiabili: è usato (come qui e costì) di preferenza per un luogo puntuale, definito con precisione, mentre (come qua e costà) indica piuttosto un luogo come area, senza una determinazione precisa. L'opposizione puntualità/arealità, pur non emergendo sempre con nettezza, appare evidente nelle csotruzioni con preposizione. Diremo infatti di là dal fiume, dal confine, perché, così facendo, suddividiamo lo spazio in aree [...]; non sarebbe corretto dire di lì dal fiume. Diremo invece passare di lì con il preciso riferimento ad un luogo puntuale [...], che viene attraversato o sfiorato. Nella suddvisione dello spazio domestico, ogni locale essendo intuitivamente un'area, diremo vado di là in cucina, vieni di qua in salotto.

Moreover, we cannot say in lì, in qui, in costì.

Outside of books and a part of Tuscany, though, people only use qui/qua (here) and lì/là (there) with no real difference.

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