How to say WHAT – che, cosa, quale: Italian grammar lesson 47

If you’ve started learning Italian, what can be more useful than learning how to say “what”? Just by learning three simple words, you will be able to ask questions and understand the Italian language so much better. Let’s find out the different ways to say “what” in Italian.
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what in italian

WHAT in Italian

“What” is a question word, which means it is used to start questions. There are different ways of saying “what” in Italian, cosa, che cosa, che, and quale, although quale can also be translated as “which”.


Cosa fai stasera?

What are you doing tonight?

Che cosa

Che cosa ti ha detto Giulio?

What did Giulio tell you?


Che musica ascolti?

What kind of music do you listen to?


Quale gelato preferisci?

Which/what ice cream do you prefer?

Let’s look at each one of them in more detail and learn how to use them correctly with examples in context.

“Che”, “cosa” and “che cosa”

what which in italian

The interrogative words che, cosa and che cosa are used with verbs, which means they are used to ask questions about actions, events, and occurrences.

Che cuciniamo domani?

What shall we cook tomorrow?

Che cosa vuoi fare questo weekend?

What do you want to do this weekend?

Cosa avete comprato al mercato?

What did you buy at the market?

As you might have noticed, these three can be used interchangeably with verbs. In this case, che is actually the abbreviation of che cosa and it is more colloquial.

There may be regional differences in their usage, for example in Northern Italy you will hear cosa more than che and vice versa in the South, but that is all.

There are not any rules that tell you which one to use where.

“Che” and “quale”

quale italian

As we’ve just seen, another way to say “what” or “which” is quale. Quale is used with nouns or with the verb “to be” (essere).

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When it is followed by a plural noun or the third person plural of the verbessere and it takes a plural form, it takes the plural quali. 

Quale gelato vuoi?

What/which ice cream do you want?

Quali sport pratichi?

Which/what sports do you practice?

Quale/i is also used when presenting one or more options, in this case, it is the equivalent of “which“.

Quale vuoi, quello azzurro o quello giallo?

Which one do you want, the blue one or the yellow one?

In spoken Italian, quale/i can often be replaced by che followed by a noun. This is widely used, but it is informal, so feel free to use it, but only in colloquial language.

Che città Italiane ti piacciono?

Which Italian cities do you like?

Che vestito preferisci, quello lungo o quello corto?

Which dress do you prefer, the long one or the short one?

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

“Quale” and “quali” with the verb essere

qual è italian

As we already mentioned, quale/i is also used with the verb essere, specifically with the third person singular (èand with the third person plural (sono). 

With è, quale becomes qual: 

Qual è il tuo segreto?

What’s your secret?

Careful,  you DO NOT need an apostrophe between qual and è. Using one is actually a mistake!

When we are talking about something in the plural with essere (to be), we will use quali sono. 

Quali sono le tue canzoni preferite?

What are your favourite songs?

Quali sono le professioni meglio pagate al mondo?

What are the best payed professions in the world?

Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!

FAQs on How to say WHAT – che, cosa, quale: Italian grammar lesson 47

How do you use what in Italian?

 Cosa, che cosa, che, and quale are some of the numerous ways to say "what" in Italian, however quale can also mean "which."

Why do Italians say Che?

Che is a colloquial term that means "perché." While it is not grammatically accurate to say che instead of perché, it is used frequently.

What does che cosa in English mean?

When translated word-for-word, "che" means "what," and "cosa" means "thing." Up until a few decades ago, the only acceptable responses were "che?" and "che cosa?" as in "what?" However, throughout time, the phrase "Cosa?" used alone became common.


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