Discover the French phrase "Qu'est-ce que c'est"

Are you ready to find out all the things you have to know about the basic phrase “Qu’est-ce que c’est”?

This include a full explanation of what it is and how you can use it in a normal conversation with an audio example. Along with the cool informations we added like dialogue example, slow pronunciation audio and more!

In case you are interested, you will find our others phrases guides on this page and the complete directory of all our French words pages on this page. Wish you a good learning!

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English translation

How to pronounce it?

Slow pronunciation

Normal pronunciation

What does it mean?


The literal meaning is:

  • Qu’est-ce → What is this
  • Que → That
  • C’est → This is

N.B: “Est-ce” = “C’est” but inverted.

This French sentence is (sadly) popular for being impossible to explain to beginners because the literal meaning is complete nonsense. This is generally translated as: “What is it?” or “What is that?“.

The trick is to keep in mind that “Qu’est ce que” = “What” in this situation and “C’est ?” = “Is it?“. Do not lose yourself in the literal translation, it’s not worth it.

You can see “Qu’est ce que” as a long and complex way to say “What“. That’s why we tend to use instead “C’est quoi ?” or “C’est quoi ça ?” (What is that?) which is much simpler, shorter and neutral.

How to use it

When you want to ask “What is it?” simply ask “Qu’est-ce que c’est ?” or “C’est quoi ?” or “C’est quoi ça ?“. All these variations have the same meaning.

For more variations, check the “synonyms” section below.

Fun stuff

The full variation of this expression is “Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça ?” which means “What is it?” but the literal translation is “What is this that this is that this?“.

Even better “Qu’est-ce que c’est que cette chose-là” which means “What is this thing?” and is literally translated as “What is this that this is this thing here?

But both are perfectly correct in French… This language is crazy…

Synonyms and similarities

  • C’est quoi ça ? (“What is that?“)
  • C’est quoi ? (“What is that?“)
  • Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça? (“Whats is that?“)
  • Kezaco? (“Whats is it?“)(Slang)

Example in a story with translation

Now, let’s see a complete example of this idiom in a story with slow French audio and the English translation below.
Le chariot volé
The stolen cart
Théo et Olivia ont décidé d’aller faire des courses pour la semaine.
Théo and Olivia decided to run errands for the week.
Olivia:   Je veux manger moins de bonbons et de biscuits. Arrête moi si j’en achète, s’il te plait !
I want to eat less candies and biscuits. Stop me if I’m buying any, please!
Théo:   Quand tu veux manger des biscuits, tu es inarrêtable…
When you want to eat biscuits, you’re unstoppable…
Olivia:   Je sais… mais essaie, d’accord ?
I know… but try, okay?
Théo:   D’accord.
All right.
Ils entrent dans le supermarché et prennent un chariot.
They enter the supermarket and take a cart.
Théo:   Tu as la liste de produits à acheter ?
Do you have the list of products to buy?
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