The most used nouns: no. 001 (Il sostantivo più utilizzato!)

This post is the first in a series covering the most used nouns in the Italian language. 
(I sostantivi più utilizzati nella lingua italiana)

The number one most used noun in Italian is…

n.001 COSA definition and examples, excerpt from The most-used nouns digital magazine from Via Optimae
*Not currently available on mobile devices.

As you can see, it can be used quite literally (#1) or more metaphorically to refer to a "things" or a "situation." (2 & 3)

It is also used in questions (#4). "Che cosa" literally means "what thing" but it is used when English would just say "what."  

You can also just say "che" or just say "cosa" and they all mean the same thing:

Che cosa fai?
Che fai? 
         What are you doing?
Cosa fai? 

When "che cosa" or its shortened form "cosa" comes before the verb "è" (is), they get joined together by dropping the -a and adding an apostrophe:

Che cosa è?  -> Che cos'è? ✓   What is it?
Cosa è?  -> Cos'è? ✓   What is it?

Note: this only happens when 'cosa' is used as 'what'.  In the other contexts, 'cosa' and 'è' remain separate:

La cosa è difficile spiegare.  
The thing is difficult to explain.

As the most used noun, it isn't hard to find examples in books, film and music.  Let's look at different song titles and decide whether it should be translated as: thing/things or what?: (Select the area after each line to reveal my answer) Then, listen to each song and see if you can pick out "cosa" in context… HINT: You might also hear qualcosa which means "something."

Cosa sarà (Lucio Dalla & Francesco De Gregori)
_________ must it be (What)

Non è la stessa cosa (Fabrizio Moro)
It isn't the same  _________  (thing)
Non è la stessa cosa by Fabrizio Moro on Grooveshark

Che cosa c'è? (Gino Paoli)
_________ is there?  (What)
Che cosa c'è by Gino Paoli on Grooveshark

Cosa vuoi che sia (Ligabue)
_________ do you want it to be (What)
Cosa vuoi che sia by Luciano Ligabue on Grooveshark

La prima cosa bella (Nicola di Bari)
The first beautiful _________ (thing)
La prima cosa bella by Nicola di Bari on Grooveshark

Più bella cosa (Eros Ramazzotti)
Most beautiful _________ (thing)

L'amore è un'altra cosa (Modà)
Love is another _________ (thing)

Cosa hai messo nel caffè (Malika Ayane)
_________ did you put in the coffee (What)
Cosa hai messo nel caffè? by Malika Ayane on Grooveshark

In its many contexts, did you notice that the "s" in "cosa" is often more like a "z" sound?

See the full digital magazine* (including cartoons and videos for each term):

Italian: The most used nouns I sostantivi più utilizzati Digital Magazine cover by Alex for
Updated regularly!
*Not currently available on mobile devices.

As you listen to Italian music and watch Italian shows, be on the look out for cosa once you do, you'll find it everywhere!  

Also, try writing your own sentence in the comments below!

Happy studying!
Alex on

Ready for the next word in the series? 
See what it is… n.002 

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Frasi celebri su Via Optimae

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae
Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."