Qu'est-ce que c'est... and Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça/cela ? = What is... / What's that?

There are several ways to ask something to be explained with What is that/this/it? in French.


1.

C'est quoi ?
What is it? / What is that? / What is this?

Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
What's that?  /  What's this?  /  What is it?

Literally "what is it that it is?", it is pronounced [kess kuh say].

Note that est-ce is simply c'est inverted.

You can use C'est quoi [chose] ? or Qu'est-ce que c'est [chose] ?

C'est quoi le Sacré Cœur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Cœur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?
What is a pen?

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply add the name of the thing after c'est quoi or qu'est-ce que c'est.
These are not the most elegant questions, but probably the most commonly used.

2.

Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?
What is that?  /  What is this?

Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela ?
What is that?  /  What is this?

Literally what is it that it is that that? (quite a mouthful!), this is pronounced simply [kess kuh seksah] and [kess kuh sek sullah].
Note that ça is the shortened form of cela.
Cela 
is quite formal, so you'll hear ça used much more frequently.


You can also use Qu'est-ce que c'est que + [chose] :

Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply replace ça/cela with the name of the thing.
Remember to contract que into qu' if followed with a vowel or silent h.

3.

Qu'est-ce que cela ?
What is this ?
What is that ?

This shorter form of the question is actually more formal in French, and will therefore require the more elegant cela.
You wouldn't say Qu'est-ce que ça ?.

You can also use Qu'est-ce que + [chose] :

Qu'est-ce que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?

 

Once again, if you want to ask what something is by name, simply replace cela with the name of the thing.
Remember to contract que into qu' if followed with a vowel or silent h.

ATTENTION: 
When asking What is this/that? in the context of a choice, as in Which one is that?, you will then use Questions: Quel, quels, quelle, quelles = Which / what ?.

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources


Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?
What is that?  /  What is this?


Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?
What is a pen?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela ?
What is that?  /  What is this?


C'est quoi ?
What is it? / What is that? / What is this?


Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
What's that?  /  What's this?  /  What is it?


C'est quoi le Sacré Cœur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Cœur in Paris?


Qu'est-ce que cela ?
What is this ?
What is that ?


more formal


Qu'est-ce qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?


Qu'est-ce que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que


Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?


Q&A

Phillip

Kwiziq community member

30 October 2018

0 replies

Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay marked incorrect in quiz.

"If I understand the lessons correctly, there is no difference between Qu'est-ce que c'est que [chose] and Qu'est-ce que c'est [chose]. For this question Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay is marked incorrect, and the correct answer is given as Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Quai d'Orsay. Is there a difference in this case ? Thanks"

Sherin

Kwiziq community member

29 October 2018

1 reply

i'm having difficulty with this topic plz help moi

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

30 October 2018

30/10/18

Hi Sherin, 

What is your specific problem?

Lynda

Kwiziq community member

19 August 2018

3 replies

I am having difficulty in knowing which question is ‘the one’ in the quiz- keep getting it wrong!e’

Chris

Kwiziq community member

19 August 2018

19/08/18

Without a specific example I can't help you. 

Lynda

Kwiziq community member

19 August 2018

19/08/18

The educational session appears to have multiple ways of asking ‘what’s this/that’. When I complete the quiz I am not sure why one answer would be correct in any question.

i randomly ( to me) get the answers tight or wrong. 

What are the rules?

thank you, Lynda

Chris

Kwiziq community member

20 August 2018

20/08/18

Can you post a sentence you got wrong?

-- Chris. 

Claudia

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

1 reply

What is the difference between Qu'est-ce que La Sorborne and Qu'est-ce que c'est La Sorborne? Why is the second incorrect?

Claudia

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

Sorry. Tired and took a while to see straight. My mistake. I know both are correct. On the test I mistakenly took the wrong bait.

Sundas

Kwiziq community member

24 July 2018

1 reply

Qu’est ce que c’est que/Qu’est ce que c’est

My aim is to speak French fleuntly

Chris

Kwiziq community member

26 July 2018

26/07/18

What's your question?

Paul

Kwiziq community member

17 February 2018

5 replies

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo vs Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo

The examples give both the options for un stylo but the Kwiz I just did only accepts Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un gendarme, and Qu'est-ce que c'est un gendarme is marked wrong. Is there something different between un gendarme and un stylo that mandates using Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

19 February 2018

19/02/18

Bonjour Paul !

It was indeed an omission on our part :)

Thanks to you, it's now been fixed!

Merci et à bientôt !

Nabeel

Kwiziq community member

12 March 2018

12/03/18

Same for me, hope you get a reply soon

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

23 March 2018

23/03/18

Bonjour Nabeel !

As mentioned above, it was a mistake on our part, which has now been fixed :)

Which case are you referring to ?

À bientôt !

Spencer

Kwiziq community member

24 July 2018

24/07/18

I don't think its fixed...

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

10 August 2018

10/08/18

Bonjour Spencer !

Can you let me know which specific question you're referring to please?

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

29 January 2018

2 replies

Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?

Two of the questions in this lesson are as follows: - Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ? Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ? Could you please explain why the 2nd question has 'qu' inserted before 'un stylo'.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

29 January 2018

29/01/18

Bonjour Stewart ! These are simply two ways to ask questions in French. The second is actually more elegant and is explained as such: "Qu'est-ce que c'est que/qu' + [thing]?" I can't really justify the structure, all I can say is that it's literally very convoluted to an English ear : "What is it that it's that [a thing]?" I hope that helps :) Bonne journée !

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

29 January 2018

29/01/18

Thank you Aurélie, your answer is fine.

Terry

Kwiziq community member

16 January 2018

1 reply

When using « Qu’est-ce que c’est » is it appropriate to follow this statement with article?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

See my reply to your previous answer. -- Chris.

Terry

Kwiziq community member

16 January 2018

3 replies

When using « Qu’est-ce qu » is it always followed by an article?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

In asking "What is ...." kind of questions I can't think of an example where you wouldn't need either a definite or indefinite article in French. -- Chris (not a native speaker).

Terry

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

Thanks. I think what I’m actually confused about but didn’t state it well, is when to use ...que c’est? And when to use only ...que? I.e. the difference between Qu’est-ce que...(le stylo)? and Qu’est-ce que c’est (le stylo)? I keep getting them incorrect and i find the explanation in the ‘explain this’ section to not be very clear/helpful.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

5 September 2018

5/09/18

Hi Terry,

Qu'est-ce que is more formal than Qu'est-ce que c'est que

Hope this helps!

Stuart

Kwiziq community member

15 December 2017

3 replies

Longer ways of saying things are less formal

Than shorter ways of saying things? Is that right? Qu’est ce que is more formal than qu’est-ce que c’est que?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

15 December 2017

15/12/17

Bonjour Stuart ! In that case, it is indeed the case :) I cannot think of any other example that contradicts that statement. Bonne journée !

Chris

Kwiziq community member

16 December 2017

16/12/17

Well, I'll give it a try! Anne est malade? (Less formal) Anne est-elle malade? (More formal) -- Chris.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

19 December 2017

19/12/17

Yes, that works too :)
How has your day been?