What is that in Italian

How exactly do you ask what is that in Italian? If you are new to studying Italian, this is one of the most important questions you have to know.

In this lesson, we will take a look at the different ways you can translate this sentence into Italian. Read on to learn them all!


Let’s start! Iniziamo!

how do you say what is that in italian - let's start - iniziamo - athlete woman running

How do you say what is that in Italian?


Cos’è? is how you most commonly translate what is that into Italian. Since it’s a generic question, it can also be used to translate what is this?.

What is that?

puzzled people watching a guy dance - how do you say what is that in italian?

This common sentence in Italian has just two elements.


It is

Cos’è? – È un manuale di giardinaggio. Lo vuoi leggere?
What it that? – It is a gardening manual. Do you want to read it?

Cos’è? – È un leone. Stagli lontano!
What it that? – It is a lion. Stay away from him!

lion staring at reader

In everyday language, cosa is almost always shortened to cos’, with an apostrophe, when it directly precedes a verb beginning with a vowel (e is a vowel). You will never say cosa è, as this is awkward to pronounce. Cos’è is faster and easier on your tongue.

È comes from the verb essere, to be, which belongs to the second -ere group. Its indicativo presente conjugation is irregular and is as follows.

Present tense conjugation for essere

lui, leiè

Il cane è in giardino e sta scavando una buca.
The dog is in the garden digging a hole.

Non siamo andati in farmacia. Siamo solo andati al supermercato.
First, we went to the museum, then we went back to the park.

to be continued... movie that has just ended at the theater - italian irregular verbs

Cos’è quello?

Instead of just cos’è?, the question what is that in Italian can also be rendered as cos’è quello?, literally translating to what is that?.

The expressions are interchangeable. One is just longer than the other!

Cos’è quello?
What is that? What is it?

Cos’è quello? – Non ne ho idea.
What is that? – I have no idea.

Cos’è quel bagliore all’orizzonte? – Credo che sia un aereo.
What is that glow on the horizon? – I think it’s an airplane.

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!

Cosa sono? Cosa sono quelli?

If you are pointing at a group of objects, you can also ask what is that in Italian with either cosa sono? or cosa sono quelli?.

Quelli means those.

Sono, as you maybe remember thanks to the conjugation table you’ve seen in one of the previous paragraphs, is a present tense conjugation of the verb essere, namely for the third person pronoun loro, they.

Cosa sono?
What are those?

Cosa sono quelli?
What are those?

Cosa sono? – Sono dei semi da piantare nell’orto.
What are those? – They are seeds to be planted in the garden.

Cosa sono quelli? – Penso siano dei moscerini.
What are those? – I think they are gnats.

big gnat facing left

In Italian, you don’t usually repeat quello or quelli in your answer. To stress a concept, however, you can add them in your sentence as in the example below.

Quelli non sono dei moscerini. Quelli sono dei calabroni!
Those are not gnats. Those are hornets!

People don’t normally ask what is that in Italian using a feminine pronoun, but for the sake of completeness, here are the feminine forms of all the questions we’ve covered:

Cos’è quella?
What is that?

Cosa sono quelle?
What are those?

For example, you could say…

Cos’è quella? – È una tastiera bluetooth.
What is that? – It’s a bluetooth keyboard.

Cosa sono quelle? – Quelle sono delle tende che ho comprato ieri.
What are those? – Those are some curtains I bought yesterday.

Did you know? Cos’è? is also a song from the movie The Nightmare before Christmas! Here you can listen to the Italian dubbing by the famous Italian singer Renato Zero.

And that’s it, now you know how to say what is that in Italian in all its forms!

What next?

➡️ Learn other common Italian questions!

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