How to say “what”: Italian grammar lesson 47


Unlock the secrets of Italian interrogatives! This guide will teach you the nuances of asking “what” in Italian, from “cosa” to “quale,” and how to use them like a native. 🇮🇹🔍

  • Master “Cosa”: Use cosa for general inquiries. It’s versatile and common, like in “Cosa fai stasera?” (What are you doing tonight?). Perfect for casual chats!
  • “Che cosa” or “Che”: Both can be used interchangeably with verbs. “Che cosa” is slightly more formal, while “Che” is the cool, casual cousin you’ll hear in laid-back conversations.
  • Regional Preferences: Italians aren’t robots! Some prefer “cosa” in the North, while “che” is the Southern belle. No stress, just go with the flow and use what feels right.
  • Choosing “Quale”: When you’re faced with options or need to be specific, “quale” steps in. It’s like asking “which” in English. “Quale gelato vuoi?” (Which ice cream do you want?) – now that’s a tasty choice!
  • “Quale” and “Quali”: These are your go-to words for presenting options or when paired with the verb “essere” (to be). Remember, “quali” is for the plural party!
  • Informal Alternatives: Feeling chatty? Swap “quale” with “che” for a more informal vibe. “Che città Italiane ti piacciono?” (Which Italian cities do you like?) – sounds like you’re already friends!
  • “Qual è” vs. “Quali sono”: Pair “qual è” with singular and “quali sono” with plural when using “essere.” And don’t get caught with an apostrophe faux pas – “qual è” is the way!

My thoughts

How to say what in Italian?

What is a word used to start questions. In Italian, there are different ways of saying what using cosa, che cosa, che, and quale, although this one can also be translated as which.

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

  • Cosa

Cosa fai stasera?

What are you doing tonight?

  • Che cosa

Che cosa ti ha detto Giulio?

What did Giulio tell you?

  • Che 

Che musica ascolti?

What kind of music do you listen to?

  • Quale

Quale gelato preferisci?

Which or what ice cream do you prefer?

How to use che, cosa, and che cosa?

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.

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

How to use che and quale?

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

Free Guide
How to Learn Languages Fast

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 or which ice cream do you want?

Quali sport pratichi?

Which or what sports do you practice?

Quale and quali are 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 and quali can often be replaced by che followed by a noun. This is widely used, but it is informal, so feel free to use it 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.

How to use quale and quali with the verb essere?

As we already mentioned, quale and quali can also be used with the verb essere, specifically with the third person singular (è) and 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 , we will use quali sono. 

Quali sono le tue canzoni preferite?

What are your favorite songs?

Quali sono le professioni meglio pagate al mondo?

What are the best payed professions in the world?

How to say what in Italian?

Using the following words "cosa", "che cosa", "che" and "quale" or "quali".

How to use "che", "cosa", and "che cosa"?

With verbs for asking questions about actions, events, and occurrences.

How to use "quale" and "quali"?

Are used with nouns or with the verb "essere" followed by a plural noun. "Quali" is the plural form of "quale". They are also used to present one or more options becoming equivalent of which.

How to use "quale" and "quali" with the verb "essere"?

By using them with the third person singular "è" and with the third person plural "sono". 

Italian word of the day
Hai voglia di fare una passeggiata?
Do you feel like going for a walk?
Follow me to fluency​

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free courses and other resources.

Leave a Reply

Take a free lesson today!

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free lessons and other resources.

I’ll also deliver my free resources my best offers to your mailbox (opt out at any time).

What is avere intenzione di in Italian? In this post, we’re going to focus on how to say to intend in Italian, as in to have the intention to do...
How to say straight away in Italian? In Italian, we have just one short but very useful word: subito.  (Just so you know, the stress goes on the “u”). Interestingly,...
How to say "that", "which" and "who" in Italian? Learn the grammar with simple rules and examples and practice with audio lessons.
E penso a te Before we start, try listening to the song below to get in the mood for today’s lesson. It’s called E penso a te and was composed by...
Try my courses for free​
Log in

Reset password or get in touch.

Not a member yet? Join today!

How long to fluency?

Find out how long it will take you to master Italian!
Get on the right track in 3 minutes.

dolce vita logo

We're already friends!

Coming from Luca and Marina?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
all language resources

We're already friends!

Coming from All Language Resources?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
50% OFF

To receive free resources once a week together with my best offers, just tell me where to send everything. Opt out at any time.

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free lesson and other resources.