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The underlying meaning of cioè:

In every language, there are words that are used as "filler." In English, we have "so," "you know," and  "I mean," among others, as common filler words. A very common filler-type conjunction in Italian is cioè, so let's get familiar with it.


Cioè is made up of two words, ciò and è. Ciò means "that" (see this lesson about ways to translate "that") and è means "is," in other words, the third person singular of the verb essere (to be). Sometimes, it works to simply translate cioè "word for word," with "that is."

Ah, io ero venuta a cercare Michele, il quale lavora, cioè lavorava per il Professor Lenni.

Ah, I had come to look for Michele, who works, that is, used to work for Professor Lenni.

Captions 19-20, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 2

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However, it's used in so many contexts that "that is"  doesn't do the trick in all cases. Alternative translations are "in other words," "that is to say," "I mean," or even "you know," depending on the context. And there are surely others!



Cioè is often used as a one-word question. It's a way of saying, without actually forming a question, "What do you mean?"

Ho giocato da solo. -Cioè?

I went solo. -Meaning?

Captions 15-16, La Ladra EP. 12 - Come ai vecchi tempi - Part 4

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L'italiano, praticamente, è una lingua soltanto letteraria per molti secoli, cioè fino a, praticamente, a dieci o vent'anni fa.

Italian, practically, has been solely a literary language for many centuries, that is to say, until, practically, until ten or twenty years ago.

Captions 1-2, La super storia Via Pasolini - Part 3

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E non devono essere arance normali, cioè, devono essere arance biologiche, non trattate chimicamente.

And they mustn't be normal oranges, in other words, they have to be organic oranges, not treated chemically.

Captions 15-16, Adriano L'arancello di Marina

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E infatti m'han' detto: "vogliamo un bianco e nero molto contrastato", sia per dare forza, insomma, a quello che, che, che accade, sia per distinguere i, questi due momenti che si vivono nel film, cioè la, tutta la preparazione allo spettacolo e poi lo spettacolo in sé.

And in fact, they told me, "We want a very contrasted black and white," both to give strength, basically, to what, what, what is happening, and to distinguish the, these two moments that are experienced in the movie, in other words the, all the preparations for the show and then the show itself.

Captions 3-6, Fratelli Taviani La passione e l'utopia - Part 17

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Come è possibile che questi stanno girando, [attore] queste due persone non litigano, non litigano mai. Cioè, io di solito ho delle idee che non condivido,

How is it possible that these guys are filming, [actor] these two people don't argue, they never argue. I mean, I usually have ideas that I don't share,

Captions 38-40, Fratelli Taviani La passione e l'utopia - Part 24

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Cioè is definitely a word to become familiar with. Listen to people use it (in real-life conversations or Yabla videos) and soon you will be including it in your conversation at just the right moment.


Of course, you can search this word yourself, to check out other examples of cioè. Which English translation to use is not set in stone and you can disagree with (and challenge) our translations. But the important thing is to get a feel for cioè, for when and how it is used. 


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