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The difference between quale, che and cosa

These three Italian question pronouns can sometimes lead to problems. Let’s learn together the difference between quale, che and cosa in Italian!

The difference between quale, che and cosa

Che cosa | Cosa

Che cosa, or just cosa, means what and is followed by a verb.

Che cosa | Cosa fai domani sera?What do you do tomorrow night?
Che cosa | Cosa mangi per colazione?What do you eat for breakfast?
Che cosa | Cosa vuol dire?What does it mean?
Che cos’è? | Cos’è?What’s this?

Che

Che means also what, but is followed by a noun.

Che lavoro fai?What job do you do?
Che libro leggi?What book do you read?
Che lingue parli? What languages do you speak?

Quale

Quale means which when followed by a noun or which one when followed by a verb. It expresses a limited choice.

Quale antipasto prendi?Which starter do you take?
Quale vino preferisci, rosso o bianco?Which wine do you prefer, red or white?
Quale preferisci?Which one do you prefer?

Quale is also used in connection with the verb essere, for example to ask for the address, telephone number or favorite thing. Before è, quale becomes qual. In this case it correspond to the English what.

Qual è il tuo indirizzo?What’s your address?
Qual è il tuo numero di telefono?What’s your phone number?
Qual è il tuo sport preferito?What’s your favorite sport?

Notes

Che instead of cosa

In the colloquial language you can substitute cosa | che cosa with che, so you could ask Che fai? instead of Cosa fai? However, this could sound a bit rude, so we suggest you to avoid this use.

Che instead of quale

The difference between quale and che is sometimes not very sharp and you can replace quale with che, especially colloquially. So you can ask Quale vino preferisci? but also Che vino preferisci?
But you can’t do that if quale is directly followed by the verb (including essere):
Che preferisci?
Che è il tuo numero di telefono?


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