Translated by Alanna Quintyne

In today’s article called What in Italian, I am going to tell you how to translate this English word into Italian. You’ll learn how to translate what in affirmative and Interrogative form, and By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to choose the right term when you speak Italian!

If you are curious and you want to know more, keep reading! :)

When you learn a language, there are always words that you come into contact with right away because they are essential or because they are very common. But, as already mentioned in a previous article, little by little as you continue studying this language you realize that those same words can have nuances, take on different meanings and, last but not least, this meaning could also vary depending on the position of the words within the sentence.

This last point gives me the opportunity to segue into the topic I would like to discuss today, i.e., how to translate what into Italian.

Many of you might tell me that it’s a bit pointless to talk about this, as one might assume it is clear to everyone, even beginners. However, I would like to ask you to read and listen to this article until the end because you might learn something you hadn’t considered before.

So, to make this explanation as clear as possible I would like to divide this article into 2 parts:

  • the first part where I explain how to use what in interrogative sentences and
  • a second part where I talk about what in affirmative sentences.

Let’s start from the first part:

1. What in interrogative sentences

It is clear to everyone that when I talk about interrogative sentences, I am referring to questions. When we want to ask something, what is an important question word, and the interesting thing is that in Italian this term can be translated in many different ways: cosa, che cosa, che.

Let’s analyze them together and try to give you some information, albeit a bit general, that can lead you to formulate correct sentences:

  • Cosa and Che Cosa: these are used at the beginning of a sentence to ask questions and they are roughly used to ask for rather general information.

Let’s try some sentences:

– Cosa fai nel tempo libero? or Che cosa fai nel tempo libero? (What do you do in your free time?)

– Cosa vuoi per cena? or Che cosa vuoi per cena? (What do you want for dinner?)

As we have said, these are rather general phrases that allow us to talk about this and that without going too much into specifics.

  •  Che: is used to ask questions that are a little more specific, to dig a little deeper.

Let’s give other examples by going back to the phrases used previously.

– Cosa fai nel tempo libero? or Che cosa fai nel tempo libero? (What do you do in your free time?)

A possible answer could be: “Faccio sport” (I play sports).

At this point if we want to gather more information about this we can ask:

      • Che sport fai? (Which sport do you do?), which practically is equivalent to saying:
      • Quale sport fai? or Che tipo di sport fai? (What kind of sport do you do?)

Let’s do yet another example by using the second sentence of the previous example:

  • Cosa vuoi per cena? or Che cosa vuoi per cena? (What do you want for dinner?)

A possible answer could be: Voglio la pizza. (I want pizza).

At this point it is the right thing to seek more information about the pizza to prepare or to order by saying:

      • Va bene. Che pizza vuoi? (All right. Which pizza do you want?), which again is equivalent to saying:
      • Quale pizza vuoi? or even Che tipo di pizza vuoi? (What kind of pizza do you want?)

Is the difference between using cosa, che cosa and che in questions clear? Well, I hope so!

2. What in Affirmative Sentences

Let’s now move on to the second part of this article, focusing on how what is translated into Italian in affirmative sentences.

Actually, I’ve already mentioned this in a previous article in which I highlighted some of my students’ most common mistakes and their corrections. (If you want to have a look at it make sure you read the point 5.)

Nevertheless, I think it is important to take this opportunity to explain it again and clarify the concept further.

When what is used in affirmative sentences, whether it is at the beginning of the sentence or in the middle, it is translated using quello che or more rarely as cosa.

  • Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean. This would be translated as:
  • Mi dispiace, ma non capisco cosa intendi or Scusa ma non capisco quello che intendi.
  • What you said Is interesting, which in Italian becomes:
  • Quello che hai detto è interessante.

As you can see both cosa and quello che can be used to translate what, but as already mentioned above, I suggest that you favor quello che, because the probability of formulating correct sentences increases considerably, especially when the word tutto is present in the Italian sentence.

For example:

  • Ho fatto tutto quello che potevo per aiutarlo. (I did everything I could to help him).

Remember: if cosa is used as a translation of what, the sentence could become strange to an Italian’s ears!


In today’s article I decided to talk about how to translate the word what, because even though its translation may seem simple, in reality it can be a little tricky.

First of all, try to understand whether we are formulating a question or not: in this way, the options will start to shrink and the possibility of formulating correct sentences will increase considerably.

In addition, make no mistake that when it comes to affirmative forms, quello che is an excellent choice. On the other hand, for questions try to understand if you are asking something very general or more specific. Once this is clarified the choice will be quite obvious.

ila firma

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