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I always thought that when asking quale + è questions that you used the form:

qual è

The common error that people commit is to use an apostrophe with qual'è, thinking that you have to elide the 'e' on the end of quale. However, this is incorrect.

I recently saw the following in a textbook (Avanti! Beginning Italian Aski & Musumeci 3rd ed. pg. 317):

quale è migliore?

I've never seen this kind of question written this way before. Is there some reason that it is not written simply qual è migliore? Also, is it incorrect to write it this way?

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    It's not incorrect. They mean exactly the same thing, This is somewhat similar to, for example, "it's" vs. "it is" and so on.. Neither is wrong, and which to use when depends on language feeling, taste, personal preference, context and so on. – persson Mar 19 '15 at 19:37
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    You don't need to elide. Although uncommon, you may say "lo orso" or "la altitudine" afaik. Like in spoken English you tend to elide some letters (e.g. the 't' in "can't" or in "won't") to improve the rhythm of your speech, we elide to sound "better". – edmz Mar 19 '15 at 20:02
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    With the non truncated form, you give slightly more emphasis to quale. – egreg Mar 19 '15 at 20:58
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    @black: Would you be able to show a “real-life” example of lo orso or the like? – DaG Mar 19 '15 at 21:51
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Some truncations/elisions are essentially mandatory: l'orso or l'amica are the only used forms. Similarly, un elicottero doesn't admit the non truncated form uno elicottero (while some grammars say that there are two indeterminate masculine articles un and uno, the former is clearly just the truncation of the latter).

Truncation in quale is not as mandatory. There's no substantial difference between qual è migliore and quale è migliore, but in an example such as

Mi hai detto che Firenze e Roma sono belle città, ma quale è più bella?

the missing elision denotes greater emphasis on quale, so you'd read it with a tonic accent on quale that wouldn't be in qual è migliore.

Note that if you ask ma qual è la più bella? the truncation would be preferred, because the emphasis is clearly on la più; however ma quale è la più bella? wouldn't sound too strange either.

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The last vowel of "Quale" is usually dropped in that case, unless one is looking for some kind of effect or stress. When dropping the last vowel of any word, one has to determine whether it is an elision or a truncation: elisions require an apostrophe, truncations reject it. "Qual" is easy because it is always a truncation, so it never wants an apostrophe.

But how do we tell a truncation from an elision? It is actually quite easy. A shortened word is always a truncation when it can stand like that in front of a word (of the same gender, if a noun or adjective) that begins with a consonant. So it is "un uomo" because one can also say "un cavallo", and conversely it is "pover'uomo" because one cannot say "pover cavallo", and so on.

In (old) poetry one can find some exceptions, but they are due to metrical necessities and would be unacceptable in prose.

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When a word starts with a vocal it is a good rule to truncate the article:

la formica --- not

l'amica --- yes

il sole ---- not

l'uccello --- yes

A rule establishes that it is correct qual è instead of qual'è.

Non così per qual e tal, in cui anche la forma femminile si deve a troncamento (si dice anche qual vista, la tal via), e dunque non va mai scritta con l’apostrofo qual è tuo marito / qual è tua moglie? il tale e il tal altro / la tale e la tal altra

http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/apostrofo_(La_grammatica_italiana)/

UPDATE2 I had more time to search and there isn't anything referred to the form quale è (as @I.M. noted, it does not say that it is forbidden) but the correct way is qual è respect to qual'è:

http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/it/lingua-italiana/consulenza-linguistica/domande-risposte/lesatta-grafia-qual

Another pretty link http://www.zanichellibenvenuti.it/wordpress/?p=65

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    Accademia della Crusca only confirms that there's no need for an apostrophe. It does not answer the actual question above. – I.M. Mar 20 '15 at 16:00
  • I searched but I did not find anything about quale è. – Trix Mar 20 '15 at 16:05
  • when I'll be home I will check on the paper dictionary – Trix Mar 20 '15 at 16:07
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    Accademia della Crusca also cites De Mauro's dictionary, for example: “Per merito soprattutto della televisione Al Jazira, il Qatar appare sempre più spesso nelle cronache. Ma quale è l’etnonimo, la parola che designa abitanti, cose e fatti del Qatar?" – I.M. Mar 20 '15 at 16:12
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    Crusca has confirmed that "quale è" is correct. They still object to "qual'è" but admit that the logic doesn't quite cut it. accademiadellacrusca.it/it/tema-del-mese/… As an aside, please remember that Crusca's opinion is not normative. It's the use of the language by Italians that provides an indication of what is standard or not. Crusca and dictionaries simply provide directions according to their research. – Luca Passani Nov 9 '19 at 14:22
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"Qual'è" is perfectly correct Italian. The word "qual" is outdated and can only be found in older literary works. In contemporary Italian, you can encounter it in some fixed sentences that survive from the past (notably, "qual buon vento", i.e. "nice to see you (after some time you didn't show your pretty face around)"). It goes without saying that those old "fossils of a sentence" do not have the power to dictate grammar rules of any kind, or we should review a ton of current grammar (just think of "per lo meno","mamma ha fatto i gnocchi", etc.).

Only the word "quale" is used to form new sentences in contemporary Italian, regardless of whether the following word starts with a vowel or a consonant.

Since "quale è" is correct (as confirmed by Accademia della Crusca, among others), this makes "qual'è" also correct because of elision (elisione).

One (big) problem is that the Italian school system has endorsed the "qual è" form in the past and the presence of "qual'è" has (unjustifiably) become some kind of litmus test to judge people's literacy. Because of this, whoever writes "qual'è" online may be the target of subtle (or even not so subtle) harassment. This is unfair. There are a ton of pitfalls that unschooled Italians will encounter when writing. This shouldn't be one of them because it collides with the general rule of "elisione" which can be applied without explicit permit from either Crusca or any dictionary.

I wrote an article (in Italian) about this:

https://www.lavocedinewyork.com/arts/lingua-italiana/2018/07/31/qual-e-contro-quale-sono-entrambi-corretti-e-vi-spiego-perche/

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  • Benvenuto su Italian.SE! Mi sembra un punto di vista interessante (anche se non condiviso da tutti). – Charo Nov 9 '19 at 14:08
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    Grazie. Dopo aver scritto l'articolo, ho scoperto che anche fior di linguisti e professori universitari la vedono come me. – Luca Passani Nov 9 '19 at 14:18
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    If there are “fior di linguisti and professori” agreeing with you, your answer would be strengthened by not having as its only source something else written by you, even more so seeing that all other answers written by you also seem to have in common a link to your articles. – DaG Nov 9 '19 at 15:23
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    @DaG It's true. I wrote articles to set the record straight about the fantasy-grammar that's peddled in Italian schools. If you think that what I wrote is wrong, let's discuss it. If not, you can show your gratitude by upvoting my answer. About the linguists, I can mention Fochi in the 60s and S.C. Sgroi in recent times: faustoraso.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-proposito-del-quale.html – Luca Passani Nov 9 '19 at 21:14
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    @DaG Direi che non chiarisce molto invece. L'articolo ammette che i cardini su cui ha sempre retto la giustificazione teorica del "qual è" (ovvero la storia dell'apocope non convince, quale è scritto per esteso va bene) non tengono, ma poi procede comunque a dire che quella è la versione giusta perché maggioritaria (ragione che platealmente non regge: l'italiano è pieno di espressioni con due o tre grafie distinte). È un po' come se un giudice dicesse in una sentenza: le prove mostrano l'innocenza dell'imputato, ma mi sta antipatico e lo condanno comunque. – Luca Passani Nov 9 '19 at 21:25

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