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 ?
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 ?



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?


more formal


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?


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

sameer

Kwiziq community member

29 November 2018

1 reply

do you refer to animals as who or what? In English we refer to animals as it how do you do it in french

Chris

Kwiziq community member

29 November 2018

29/11/18

Quite often there are different nouns for male and female animals. For instance:

un chat - une chatte
un chien - une chienne
un oiseau - une oiselle
un cheval - une jument
un taureau - une vache
un coq - une poule
un merle - une merlette
un lapin - une lapine

If you're unsure of the gender you use the male version, normally.

Some animal names only come in a male of female version, for example: la souris. Here the grammatical gender wins:

J'ai une souris blanche, elle s'appelle Auguste, c'est un mâle.
J'ai un hamster noir, il s'appelle Louise, c'est une femelle.

K

Kwiziq community member

18 November 2018

4 replies

Hi, I’m having difficulty with this.

The lesson said that a correction had been made to allow both « qu’est-ce que c’est le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) and qu’est-ce que c’est que le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) to be considered correct. However, today my answer with « qu’est-ce que » was marked wrong

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

20 November 2018

20/11/18

Hi K,

Can you use the  'Report it' button in your correction board, as it will link directly to the quiz you are referring to and make it easier to answer you.

K

Kwiziq community member

20 November 2018

20/11/18

Hi,

I did that first and was redirected here. But, I will try it again

K

Kwiziq community member

20 November 2018

20/11/18

Plus, I said the lesson but I ment the discussion. This topic was already being discussed. 

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

27 November 2018

27/11/18

Bonjour à tous !

The question "What is the Quai d'Orsay?" has now been (finally) fixed to include "Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay ?" as a correct answer.

Sorry for the delay and thank you for your feedback !

Bonne journée à tous !

Phillip

Kwiziq community member

30 October 2018

2 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"

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

27 November 2018

27/11/18

Hi Phillip,

If you use the 'Report It' button in your Correction Board it will link directly to the specific quiz you're referring to and will make it easier for us to answer you.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

27 November 2018

27/11/18

Bonjour à tous !

The question "What is the Quai d'Orsay?" has now been (finally) fixed to include "Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay ?" as a correct answer.

Sorry for the delay and thank you for your feedback !

Bonne journée à tous !

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.
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