I've come across some examples of the construction

[question] a fare, se ... ?

lately, and I'm wondering what it means and how it works.

Ma che sopravvivi a fare, se vivere è un casino?

Ma che pago a fare se posso scaricare?

Cosa mi scrivi a fare se non stiamo insieme?

Is it a colloquial or regional expression that adds emphasis to the question?

3 Answers 3


I'd analyze the phrase “a fare” as a proposizione finale (telic subordinate). So the last sentence should mean the same as

Con quale fine mi scrivi, se non stiamo insieme?

which is much more formal than the quite informal sentence you report. An English translation would be

What's the purpose of writing to me, since we're not a couple?

  • Ah, so the "che" belongs to the verb "fare" kind of as in (not necessarily grammatically correct) "Tu mi scrivi a fare che cosa?" ? That seems to make sense.
    – JMC
    Dec 19, 2022 at 19:08

It isn't a regional expression but, as you said, it's an informal way to emphasize the question.

I mean it's something you can just "add" because, in your examples, you can remove the da fare part without changing the meaning of the sentence:

Ma che sopravvivi (a fare), se vivere è un casino?

Ma che pago (a fare) se posso scaricare?

Cosa mi scrivi (a fare) se non stiamo insieme?
  • I'm not sure I'm following your reasoning. Those sentences without a fare have a different meaning (or not a clear meaning at all). For instance, cosa mi scrivi a fare...? means something like “Why the heck are you writing...?”, while cosa mi scrivi? simply means “What are you writing?”
    – DaG
    Dec 16, 2022 at 14:17

The phrase originates from:

ma chi te lo fa fare, se ...

which is literally translatable as:

who's telling you to do that, if ...

but it's appropriately translated as:

why are you bothering, if ...

and by extension, the phrase is being used in other circumstances (like the ones you mentioned).

Although it is colloquial, it can be written as well. Beppe Severgnini uses the phrase in the following article: https://www.corriere.it/solferino/severgnini/04-08-23/08.spm

And finally, there is this song from the '80s (not the best one but it repeats this sentence): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85qCIWSu_Xw

  • I'm not sure the connection between “chi te lo fa fare” and “che lo fai a fare”, which look quite different constructions, is self-evident. Where did you find about it?
    – DaG
    Dec 16, 2022 at 13:02

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