“Qu'est-ce que c'est?”
What's that?, What are those?...
One of our listeners asked: how do you say What are those? in French? We can say this in a number of ways.
First of all, let's imagine a context. You are in a pastry shop. There are pastries (des viennoiseries) at the counter but you don't know what kind they are, exactly. You want to ask the lady at the counter: What are those?
The question form you will need is:
- ... , qu'est-ce que c'est?
You can formulate your question like this:
- Ces viennoiseries-là, qu'est-ce que c'est?
= Those pastries, there, what are they?
... or like this:
- Qu'est-ce que c'est, ces viennoiseries-là?
= What are those, those pastries there?
In a less specific context...
Above, we have a specific context: we are talking about pastries. Where the context is not specific, we may meet any of the following question forms:
- Qu'est-ce que c'est?
- Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?
Each of these questions has the same meaning and can be used in a singular or plural context. Depending on the context, the English equivalent can be:
- What's that?
- What are those?
..., de [quoi] s'agit-il?... yet another possibility
This question form also means What is it?, What are those?, What's this?, etc. Consider the following:
- Je vois que tu lis. De quel livre s'agit-il?
= I see you're reading. What book is it?
- Ces oiseaux que l'on peut voir dans son jardin en hiver, de quel genre d'oiseau s'agit-il?
= Those birds you see in your garden in winter, what type of bird is it?
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