Like if you pick up an unfamiliar tool in a hardware store and ask the clerk "What is this for?"

What would be a common way of phrasing that?

2 Answers 2


The first expression that comes to me is:

À quoi ça sert ?
Ça sert à quoi ?

You could also say:

À quoi cela sert-il ?

Quel est l'utilité/l'usage de cet objet ?

  • You might add the usual spoken French: Ça sert à quoi ?
    – jlliagre
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 12:42
  • Is there any chance of this coming across as a rhetorical question? "What a useless object."
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 12:46
  • @jlliagre: Effectivement, je l'ai ajouté.
    – Toto
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 12:50
  • @LukeSawczak: Désolé, je ne comprends pas bien ce que tu veux dire.
    – Toto
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 12:51
  • Toto: I think that @LukeSawczak is asking whether saying "ça sert à quoi ?" can come across as questioning whether the object has any use at all. As in, you'd say "ça sert à quoi ?" in a sarcastic tone to imply that this has no use. And to answer the question, Luke: yes, it can come across that way, but as with all spoken sentences, the tone is key. If you say it in an interrogative manner, it won't. If you say it in a demeaning manner, it will. If you say "à quoi ça sert ce truc/machin ?" for example it's much more likely to come across as rhetorical.
    – N.I.
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 17:07


What is this used for?

may, among other ways, be translated by

À quoi est-ce que ça sert ?


Strangely linguee.fr does not have any relevant example.


  • Just to be sure I understand, were you correcting my phrasing? I'm not sure what the difference is supposed to be between "What is this for" and "What is this used for"....both are ordinary and correct, and the former is probably more common. Commented May 5, 2018 at 14:07
  • Sorry I didn't want to insult you. I make a mistake. I was thinking about what is it for and not what is this for. Of course you are correct.
    – Dimitris
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 14:11
  • @Aerovistae I made the correction. I apologize again. I think now everything is ok.
    – Dimitris
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 14:15
  • I'm sorry, I did not mean to be abrasive. I see what you meant now. Commented May 5, 2018 at 14:31
  • @Aerovistae: No problem:-)!
    – Dimitris
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 21:54

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