What are you doing in Italian

How exactly do you say what are you doing 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!

Cosa…?
What…?

Let’s start! Iniziamo!

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

How do you say what are you doing in Italian?

Singular: Cosa stai facendo?

Cosa stai facendo? is how you translate what are you doing in Italian when you are addressing only one person.

Cosa stai facendo?
What are you doing? (singular)

guy moving around and people wondering what he is doing - gesture game

This common sentence in Italian is made of three elements.

Cosa
What

Stai
Are you (literally, you stay)

Facendo
Doing

Cosa stai facendo? – Sto leggendo un libro.
What are you doing? – I’m reading a book.

Cosa stai facendo? – Sto pulendo la cucina.
What are you doing? – I’m cleaning the kitchen.

woman cleaning the floor

The gerund tense in Italian uses the verb stare, to stay, while English uses to be. Stai is basically the second person singular present conjugation of stare (that’s a mouthful!).

Present tense conjugation for stare

iosto
tustai
lui, leista
noistiamo
voistate
lorostanno

I miei stanno rimodernando il salotto.
My parents are remodeling the living room.

Noi stiamo facendo i compiti. Tu cosa stai facendo?
We are doing our homework. What are you doing?

girl panicking while doing homework - how do you say what are you doing in italian

We then have the gerund form of the verb fare, which is facendo.

Fare, facendo, fatto
To do, doing, done

Usually, to create the gerund form of a verb you simply append the endings -ando/endo to the root form of the verb, also known as the stem.

What’s the stem of a verb?
Italian verbs in the infinitive end in -ARE, -ERE and -IRE.
Cut out this part and you will be left with the root verb.
Examples:
tremare ➡️ trem-
piovere ➡️ piov-
cucire ➡️ cuc-
Italian verb endings for every tense are added to these root forms of the verb.

Verbs in -are will take -ando, and verbs in -ere and -ire will take -endo.

For example, tremare (to tremble) will become tremando (trembling), piovere (to rain) will become piovendo (raining).

Fare is an irregular verb and its gerund form is NOT fando, but facendo.

This is why you’ll translate what are you doing in Italian as cosa stai facendo?.

two people playing basketball

Now, what do you have to say to ask what are you doing in Italian to groups of people? You will need to conjugate the verb stare in the second person plural. Let’s see what this form is in the next paragraph.


Plural: Cosa state facendo?

Cosa state facendo? is how you translate what are you doing in Italian when you are addressing more than one person.

Cosa state facendo?
What are you doing? (plural)

Italian has two kinds of “you”, unlike English. There’s a singular “you” and then there’s a plural “you”. If you are addressing a group, you will need to conjugate the verb stare according to the latter pronoun, which is voi.

From the table in the previous paragraph, you can see that the conjugation you have to use is voi state.

Ragazzi, cosa state facendo? – Stiamo giocando.
Guys, what are you doing? – We’re playing.

Cosa state facendo? – Stiamo facendo una torta.
What are you doing? – We’re making a cake.

woman baking a heart-shaped cake with "love" written on it

Now, how do you say what are you doing in Italian when you need to be formal? Keep on reading to find out!


Formal: Cosa sta facendo?

If you are just visiting Italy and often meet new people, unless you both agree on using the informal pronoun tu you will have to stick to the formal pronoun Lei when talking to other adults and people you are not on familiar terms with. With kids, it’s customary to use tu, no matter the degree of familiarity.

So, how do you formally ask what are you doing in Italian?

Cosa sta facendo?
What are you doing? (formal)

Scusi, che cosa sta facendo?
Excuse me, what are you doing?

This question uses the third person singular conjugation. Basically, when speaking formally, Italians address each other with the subject “she”, lei.

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Variants: Che cosa…?

We’ve covered three ways to say what are you doing in Italian so far:

  • cosa stai facendo?
  • cosa state facendo?
  • cosa sta facendo?

Maybe you already know that the translation for what, cosa, can also be rendered in Italian as che cosa. These are totally interchangeable, so you can pick whichever one you like.

The only difference between cosa and che cosa is that cosa alone can also mean thing, but che cosa can only mean what.

Che cosa stai facendo?
What are you doing? (singular, informal)

In colloquial speech, you can even do without cosa entirely and only ask che stai facendo?.

Che stai facendo?
What are you doing? (singular, informal)

Che state facendo?
What are you doing? (plural)

In both informal and formal speech, it’s also very common to even get rid of the gerund form and simply conjugate fare in the present tense. The Italian present tense can also translate the English present continuous tense.

Che fai? Che fate? Che fa?
What are you doing? (singular, plural, formal)

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


What next?

➡️ Learn other common Italian questions!

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