Italian Phrase: Cosa vuoi? (What do you want?)

If you wish to inquire about someone’s desires or preferences in Italian, you can always turn to the phrase Cosa vuoi? This expression directly translates to “What do you want?” in English and is commonly used in casual or informal settings to seek information about someone’s wishes, needs, or choices.

Italian phrase "Cosa vuoi?"

Cosa means what in Italian when used as an interrogative pronoun, but it can also mean thing. For example:

In Italian, there are actually three interrogative pronouns that can refer to an unknown thing: cosa, che cosa and che. The use of cosa is more common in Northern Italy (e.g. Milan and Turin) and Sardinia, while che is prevalent in the center-south. Che cosa is the classic literary form, and is universally accepted. In spoken Italian, they are all interchangeable. (Accademia della Crusca)

Vuoi is the second person singular of the modal verb volere (to want). You can see the full conjugation of the verb in the present tense below:

io voglio = I want
tu vuoi = you want (informal)
lui vuole = he wants
lei vuole = she wants

Lei vuole = you want (formal)
noi vogliamo = we want
voi volete = you want (plural)
loro vogliono = they want

Note: The phrase Cosa vuoi can come off as rude, much like What do you want? may sound unpleasant in English if delivered with the wrong tone. The context and your familiarity with the person usually help in discerning the intention, but it’s crucial not to assume that cosa vuoi is always polite in Italian.

The notorious Italian hand gesture that often accompanies Cosa vuoi? is often referred to as the “pinched finger” gesture, known in Italian as il gesto del carciofo (literally, the artichoke gesture) or mano a borsa (literally, purse hand). To make this gesture, bring your fingers and thumb together, then shake your hand in front of your face. This gesture is so wide-spread that it has even earned its own emoji, dubbed the Pinched Finger Emoji: 🤌 🤌🏾.

Young man in scarf and hat showing italian gesture that means what do you want over yellow background.
Cosa vuoi? = What do you want?

One of singer-songwriter Loredana Bertè’s more recent hits is called Che cosa vuoi da me? which means What do you want from me? You can listen to it on YouTube below!

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