Ça sert à quoi?
sah say rah KWAH? Click below to hear this.
What’s it for? What does it do?
This is my grandson’s second favorite question, preceded only (and always) by What’s that? Henry will be three next week, and his unbounded curiosity regarding the world is a delight. He wants to know what everything is called, how it works, what it does.
Learning a second language is a lot like learning our first. In order to navigate our world and communicate with it, we have to know what to call the things around us, the actions we and others perform, the expressions we see on people’s faces. Everything has a name, and our job is to learn them all.
Ça sert à quoi? is one tool for this task. Servir à means to be used to do something. A spoon is used to stir with. (Une cuillère sert à tourner.) Literally, the question is That’s used for what? and is colloquial French, that is, the way real people talk.
This question can also be used to put down someone’s suggestion of what action to take. In that case, it is likely to be asked in the future (Et ça servira à quoi?) Then the meaning is more like What good will that do? Don’t forget the sarcastic tone of voice that goes so well with that version.