How do you say what in Italian?


Use cosa to say what in Italian.

OriginFrom the Latin word causa, “affair, cause”


boy eating pudding

What in Italian: Examples

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

Che cosa

Cosa and che cosa are perfectly interchangeable, but che cosa is slightly less common. We could translate it as “which/what thing”, since cosa in statements can also be translated as “stuff, thing”.

Che cosa

For example, you can 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 another way to say what in Italian and it’s also the most colloquial translation.


For example, you can 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


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

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.

OriginFrom the Latin word qualem, “which”

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

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

a rainbow surrounded by stars

What in Italian: How to use it

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 can 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

What in Italian: Expressions

There are a number of common expressions featuring the word for what in Italian:

  • 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?

More free Italian resources

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