Italian Word of the Day: Cioè (that is / namely)

Today we’re going to talk about a little word with a very big meaning: the conjunction cioè. It is a fusion of the pronoun ciò (this, that) and è, which is the verb essere (to be) conjugated in the third person singular of the present tense.

IPA: /cio·è/

Cioè is used to introduce detailed information, a correction of something already said or a specific example, much like the following English expressions:

  • that is (to say) – when you want to give further details or be more exact about something
  • namely – when you want to give a specific example or introduce additional information
  • in other words – when you want to clarify a statement
  • rather – when you want to correct what’s been said

Parliamo delle partite giocate dalla Juventus in casa, cioè a Torino.

We’re talking about the games played by Juventus at home, that is, in Turin.

view of the Mole Antonelliane in Turin with the mountains in the background
Torino = Turin

Abbiamo imparato molto sui grandi felini, cioè leoni e tigri.

We learned a lot about the big cats, namely lions and tigers.

Ho usato un chilo di farina, cioè tutto il pacco.

I used one kilogram of flour, or in other words, the whole packet.

Ha risposto a tutte le domande, cioè, a quasi tutte.

He answered all the questions, or rather, almost all of them.

A sad dog waiting for its owner.
Sono cinque ore che aspetto, cioè tutto il pomeriggio! – I’ve been waiting for five hours, the whole afternoon, that is!

Cioè can also be used with an interrogative tone in response to a statement that requires clarification or elaboration as in the following example:

Ho una domanda da farti. – Cioè…?

I have something to ask you. – And that would be…?

In everyday speech, cioè is also used (and some might even say overused) as a filler, that is, a word that allows us to take the time to gather our thoughts about what we want to say next. It corresponds to a number of English fillers including I mean, like and you know.

Cioè… non volevo farlo ma non avevo altra scelta.

I mean… I didn’t want to do it but I didn’t have a choice.

Important: Because it tends to be said very quickly, it may sound like the speaker is saying c’è (there is) rather than cioè.