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Какая разница между "Что это?" и "Что это такое?"

+1 vote
Is there a nuanced difference (оттенок) between these two expressions? Is there a situation where you would prefer one over the other? Is "Что это такое?" more of an emphatic expression, best translated as "Just what is this thing?" Or perhaps, are these expressions really synonymous?

Thanks for any suggestions to help a poor non-native Russian-speaker! Christopher
asked Jan 18, 2013 by tupelo (320 points)

1 Answer

+3 votes
Best answer

Hi Christopher,

  • In a normal, non-emphatic colloquial speech we would you "Что это".

For example,

Что это у тебя здесь? What do you have here?

Что это было? What was that?

  • We also often use the expression "Что это за?" (What type of? What kind of?)

For example,

Что это за фрукт? What kind of fruit is that? Это манго. It´s a mango.

  • "Что это такое" is a bit more of an emphatic expression, it can be translated as "What is that exactly?". It´s often used not with physical objects, but with abstract phemomena. But still, the difference between "Что это" and "Что это такое" isn´t that big.

For example,

"Креативный класс" - что это такое? Creative class, what is that (exactly)?

Мануальная терапия - что это такое? Manuel therapy, what is that (exactly)?

  • "Что это такое" can also be used in an agressive way, when you´re not pleased with a situation or with something another person has done. In these cases "что это" is also possible, but it´s less emphatic and emotional.

For example,

Ну что это такое! Почему она всë время меня обижает! How is that possible! Why would she always hurt me!

Так, что это такое? Почему посуду не помыл, а? Ok, what is that? Why haven´t you washed the dishes?

Kind regards,

Yulia Amlinskaya,

Russian Language Teacher.

answered Jan 18, 2013 by RussianTeacher (19,690 points)
selected Jan 18, 2013 by tupelo
Thank you very much for your clear and useful answer! I appreciate your help.