What is this in Italian

How exactly do you say what is this in Italian?

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 this in Italian?


Cos’è? is how you most commonly translate what is this into Italian.

What is this?

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

This common sentence in Italian is made of two elements.


It is

Cos’è? – È un pallone da calcio.
What it this? – It is a soccer ball.

Cos’è? – È una farfalla.
What it this? – It is a butterfly.

In colloquial language, cosa is often shortened to cos’, with an apostrophe, when it directly precedes a verb beginning with a vowel. You could also ask cosa è, but this is very formal and it’s only ever found in purple prose.

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

Present tense conjugation for essere

lui, leiè

Il gatto è sul davanzale della finestra.
The cat is on the window sill.

Prima siamo andati al museo, poi siamo tornati al parco.
We didn’t go to the pharmacy. We just went to the supermarket.

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

Cos’è questo?

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

Both questions are fully interchangeable and can also translate the English sentence what is it?.

Cos’è questo?
What is this? What is it?

Cos’è questo? – Non lo so.
What is this? – I don’t know.

Cos’è questo animale? – È uno scoiattolo.
What is this animal? – It’s a squirrel.

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Cosa sono? Cosa sono questi?

If this points to a group of objects, you can also ask what is this in Italian with either cosa sono? or cosa sono questi?.

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 these?

Cosa sono questi?
What are these?

Cosa sono? – Sono delle foglie di menta.
What are these? – They are mint leaves.

Cosa sono questi? – Sono dei biscotti.
What are these? – They are cookies.

three different kinds of cookies

In Italian, you don’t usually repeat questo or questi in your answer, which is the equivalent for this and these for masculine nouns. You can of course say questi sono… if you want to stress the concept, as in…

Questi sono dei libri. Questi, invece, sono dei fogli.
These are books. These, on the other hand, are papers.

If you are just addressing an object, you will almost always leave out the pronoun and begin the sentence with the verb. You can do without the pronouns because Italian verb conjugations are different for each subject pronoun, so there’s no way you can misunderstand the subject!

People don’t normally ask what is this 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 questa?
What is this?

Cosa sono queste?
What are these?

For example, you could say…

Cos’è questa? – È una finestra.
What is this? – It’s a window.

Cosa sono queste? – Queste sono delle case.
What are these? – These are houses.

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 this in Italian in all its forms!

What next?

➡️ Learn other common Italian questions!

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