How do you say WHAT in Italian?

How exactly do you say what in Italian?

In this lesson, we will take a look at the different ways you can use the question word for what in Italian and you will even learn some expressions featuring it. Read on to learn them all!

woman stretching before starting to work

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How do you say what in Italian?


Cosa is an Italian question word (it starts a question) and it is the most common translation for what in Italian.


boy eating pudding

Its pronunciation is similar to koh-zah and it comes from the Latin word causa, “affair, cause”. Make sure the final -a has a pure sound, as Italian vowel sounds are clean!

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For example, you could say…

Cosa mangi?
What are you eating?

Cosa stai facendo?
What are you doing?

Cosa hai comprato per la cena di stasera?
What did you buy for tonight’s dinner?

Cosa c’è per pranzo?
What is there for lunch?

potato with ketchup, some salad, a pudding, a fried rice ball

There are two other translations for what in Italian, so keep reading!

Che cosa

Cosa and che cosa are perfectly interchangeable, but che cosa is slightly more formal and literary.

Literally, we could translate it as “which/what thing”, since cosa in statements can also be translated as “stuff, thing”.

Che cosa

For example, you could say…

Che cosa hai fatto stamattina?
What did you do this morning?

Che cosa fai nel tempo libero?
What do you do in your spare time?

Che cosa ti ho detto?
What did I tell you?

Che cosa sta dicendo quell’uomo?
What is that man saying?

mean man talking on the phone


Che is the third way of translating what in Italian and it’s also the most colloquial translation.


For example, you could say…

Che fai di bello?
What are you up to?

Che ti ha detto Luca?
What did Luca tell you?

Che ascolti?
What are you listening to?

woman dancing at the sound of music

What about quale?

Quale most often translates which and is more specific than cosa. It introduces a limited range of something. It also has a plural form, quali.

Qual è il tuo colore preferito?
What is your favorite color?

Quali sono i fiori da innaffiare?
What are the flowers that need watering?

Quale can also be used with nouns. With verbs, it is used in front of an essere conjugation.

Read more on the lesson on the difference between cosa and quale!

a rainbow surrounded by stars

How do you use what in Italian?

Cosa, che cosa and che can be used alone or with a preposition for verbs that support them.

For example, the verb “to think”, pensare, often uses the preposition “a” to translate “about”.

Sto pensando a qualcosa.
I’m thinking about something.

In English questions, the preposition will be the last element in the sentence, if the verb needs one. However, in Italian, it must come before the question word.

A cosa stai pensando?
What are you thinking about?

You could also ask…

Con cosa hai pulito il pavimento?
What did you clean the floor with?

Da cosa sono attratte le zanzare?
What are mosquitoes attracted to?

Per cosa state litigando?
What are you arguing about?

parents fighting

Idiomatic expressions featuring the word what in Italian

There are a number of common expressions featuring the word for what in Italian. Among them there are…

  • una cosa tira l’altra, one thing leads to another (“one thing pulls another”)
  • da cosa nasce cosa, one thing leads to another (“from one thing, one thing is born”)

Some common questions are:

  • cos’è successo?, what happened?
  • che succede?, what’s happening?
  • che fai di bello?, what are you up to?
  • che vuoi da me?, what do you want from me?
  • cosa mi racconti?, how are you doing? (“what do you tell me?”)
  • cosa ci fai qui?, what are you doing here?
  • che ne dici?, what do you say about it?

FAQ on how to use WHAT in Italian

How do you say what in Italian?

You can translate what as cosa, che cosa and che.
Cosa is the most common. Che cosa is more formal/literary and che is used in informal settings.
Quale is more specific than cosa and is used to point at a limited choice of something, like “which”.

How do you use what in Italian?

You most often use it at the start of a question. However, if the verb has a preposition, the preposition must come before the question word (unlike English questions, where it goes at the end of the sentence).

And that’s the end of our lesson on how to say what in Italian!

What next?

Now that you’ve seen how to say what in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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