I was just wondering how does one form questions when you use the tense "passato prossimo". Is it necessary that the verb comes first before the subject/doer? Or the syntax doesn't matter? For example, between the 2 sentences below, which one is correct? Or are both sentences accepted?

  • Che ha mangiato Paolo?
  • Che Paolo ha mangiato?
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    the first is correct, syntax does matter as the second sentence would be correct if you put it in a completely different context, for example: ancient Romans at the Coliseum pointing at a lion: "che Paolo ha mangiato?" (which Paolo did it eat?) assuming that there were more than one guy named Paolo on the menu that day... – Erik vanDoren Mar 17 '16 at 13:02
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    You should use Cosa or Che cosa instead of Che. – Denis Nardin Mar 17 '16 at 14:36
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    I mean, the question could be written in present tense in that way: "Che mangia Paolo?" The point is that you are asking about the object of the sentence and, for this reason, you begin the question with the pronoun "che" or with "cosa" or "che cosa". This is called "interrogativa parziale" and it's a structure that tends to invert the order subject - verb, putting the subject at the end of the sentence. – Charo Mar 17 '16 at 15:30
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    @DenisNardin: What makes you think that che is wrong as an interrogative pronoun? If anything, cosa alone used to be deprecated by purists of yore. – DaG Mar 17 '16 at 19:12
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    @Alysson, just out of curiosity, and because it might help in making things clear for you, why do you refer just to this particular tense? – Erik vanDoren Mar 17 '16 at 21:09

The problem you are facing here (which is the correct order of words) has nothing to do with the fact you are using the "passato prossimo" to construct the sentence, but with the use of the interrogative pronoun "che" to begin the question. That is, you will have the same problem if trying to write a question beginning with "che" in present or future simple tense, for instance ("Che Paolo mangia?" or "Che mangia Paolo?" / "Che Paolo mangerà?" or "Che mangerà Paolo?").

These kind of questions are called "interrogative parziali" ("partial interrogatives") because you are making a question about some specific part of the sentence. In your example, assuming that Paolo is the subject of the sentence, you are asking about the direct object of the verb "mangiare". As this article of the Enciclopedia dell'Italiano Treccani explains, an "interrogativa parziale" is always introduced by which is called an "interrogative operator" that can be an interrogative pronoun (such as "che" or "chi"), an adverb (such as "come" or "quando") or an adjective (such as "quale"). In English, they are also called wh-questions because most of the interrogative operators begin with "wh-" (who, what, when, where, why, which).

This Treccani article also explains that, if you begin the interrogative sentence with the interrogative operator (as it happens in your example: you begin the sentence with the interrogative pronoun "che") and you want to express the subject of the sentence (and this subject is not the interrogative pronoun), you should usually write this subject at the end of the sentence. The Treccani article makes this example:

Quando è arrivato Marco?

This sentence begins with the interrogative operator "quando" and the subject "Marco" is written at the end. Similarly, the standard way of writting your question would be

Che ha mangiato Paolo?

with the subject "Paolo" at the end of the sentence.

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    Also to be noted that, if you are using a form like "Che ha mangiato Paolo?" in the spoken language, the native speaker will possibly parse it as "Che, ha mangiato paolo?", where "Che" will be parsed as a sentence opening to attract attention, completely unrelated to the sentence, and the question would therefore become "Hey, did Paolo eat?" instead of "What did Paolo eat?" (the actual parsing will depend on your intonations / pauses) – Diego Martinoia Mar 30 '16 at 13:36

Unlike languages like German and English, in Italian when you have an interrogative clause you do not separate the auxiliary avere from the main one. Hence, the first sentence you write is correct and the second is wrong.

Another correct possibility would be

Paolo che ha mangiato?

There can be cases when the second sentence you propose would be correct, but not when you mean what has Paolo eaten?. One case is the one Arcsn mentions, another one could be when you mean to ask which Paolo has eaten, as in "which among the Paolos", albeit this would be a borderline wrong usage of the determinant che used in place of quale.

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    Assuming that "Paolo" is the subject, according to the Treccani article that I linked in my previous comment, one uses the possibility you mention to put a special emphasis on the subject "Paolo" (and it seems to me that one should/could write a comma after "Paolo" or at least the example given by the Treccani article is that way). If not, the most usual way of writing the question would be with the subject "Paolo" at the end of the sentence, that is, "Che ha mangiato Paolo?" – Charo Mar 17 '16 at 18:41
  • The comma can be there if there is a further element to be isolated, as in (from your link) "Carla, domani, potrà prendere l’aereo?". You're right in pointing out the possibility I mention is less common and even a bit non-standard. – martina Mar 17 '16 at 19:05
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    I was referring to this: «nelle interrogative parziali la presenza dell’operatore in posizione iniziale ha conseguenze automatiche sull’ordine degli altri costituenti, e in particolare sul soggetto. Questo, se è espresso (e non coincide col pronome che apre l’interrogativa), è normalmente collocato alla fine della frase: quando è arrivato Marco? Se invece deve essere messo in rilievo, il soggetto viene dislocato a sinistra della parola interrogativa e del verbo: Marco, quando è arrivato?» – Charo Mar 17 '16 at 19:47

As an Italian I would only say:

Cos'ha mangiato Paolo?

Using che is informal and not very correct, like asking

Che fai?

which means

Cosa stai facendo?

But it's almost never written in a question... It could be used in an indirect question, for example in an e-mail among colleagues:

Ditemi che devo fare

When you don't want to be very serious.

This, instead, is totally wrong:

Che Paolo ha mangiato?

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    As @DaG has explained, I don't understand why you're saying that the use of "che" is not very correct and almost never written in a question. – Charo Mar 19 '16 at 23:06
  • @Charo it is vulgar, used by people who didn't study much – the_nuts Mar 19 '16 at 23:21
  • Or, if used in an higher contest, it's a bit "ironic" – the_nuts Mar 19 '16 at 23:22
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    Have a look at what Accademia della Crusca says accademiadellacrusca.it/it/lingua-italiana/… . Using "che" is perfectly fine. – Markon Mar 20 '16 at 0:49

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