I have learned a curious thing about the word ahorita since living in Mexico for a couple of years. It has two seemingly contradictory meanings: “right now” and “in a minute.”
When I first studied abroad, I found that when my host mother asked my host sister to do something “ahorita,” she jumped to attention and performed whatever it was in that moment. Yet, years later, when my boyfriend would tell me he would do the dishes “ahorita”, I would stare at him, perplexed, as he continued to play a couple more rounds of Xbox. What was going on?
I soon realized that ahorita has a different meaning depending on the intention of the speaker. My boyfriend was not lying when he promised to do the dishes “ahorita” – he just meant it in the “in a little while” sense of the word. My host mother was equally clear when she demanded a chore be completed “ahorita” – referring to the “at this very moment” meaning.
So, how are you to know which is which? Should you expect that email right now, or within the next hour? Is your friend around the corner, or just leaving her house? Sometimes, one can tell the difference from the tone of voice. Additionally, an “in a while” ahorita can be accompanied by a particular hand gesture: thumb and forefinger held up about a centimeter apart, similar to the sign Americans make when they exclaim “I was this close to…” (This hand gesture is also used to mean “Hold on” or “Give me a minute,” such as you might see when you try to speak someone and he or she is on the phone.)
Many times, however, it is difficult to know which meaning the speaker intends. Perhaps your best bet is to clarify with ahora mismo, unequivocally “right now.”
Some common phrases using ahorita:
Necesito que lo hagas ahorita. I need you to do it right now.
¿Dónde estás ahorita? Where are you right now?
Ahorita le atiendo. I will attend to you in a minute.
Ahorita regreso. I will be back in a minute.