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Giorno or Giornata? Posted by on Jun 30, 2009 in Grammar, Italian Language

A reader wrote to me asking: “Can you explain the difference between giorno and giornata (both meaning “day” in English) if there is one?”

I thought that the answer to this was going to be short, and straightforward, but when I looked in my Italian dictionary, just to check that my comment would be correct, I realized that this wasn’t going to be the case, and I decided to write a whole post about it. I hope I’ll be able to explain the difference clearly, let’s see.

Giorno

The first meaning for giorno is astronomical, referring to the time that it takes for the Earth to complete a rotation around its axis. From this comes the use of giorno to indicate a 24 hours period from midnight to midnight, i.e. to indicate a date or a day of the week. E.g. il giorno di Natale (Christmas day); ho due giorni di tempo per finire questo articolo (I’ve got two days to finish this article); il giorno seguente siamo andati al mare (the following day we went to the sea); nei giorni feriali l’autobus c’e’ ogni 10 minuti (on working days there is a bus every 10 minutes), nei giorni festivi l’autobus c’e’ ogni ora (during holidays there is a bus every hour); il giorno del mio compleanno voglio andare a fare una bella passeggiata (for my birthday I want to go for a nice walk); ritornero’ fra tre giorni (I’ll be back in three days).

Giorno is also used when talking about something that is characteristic of a particular day: mercoledi’ e’ giorno di chiusura degli alimentari (Wednesday is closing day for food shops); lunedi’ e’ giorno di riposo dei musei (Monday is the day when the Museums are closed); sabato e’ giorno di pagamento (Saturday is pay day).

There are several idiomatic expressions where the word giorno is used: e.g. ogni giorno / tutti i giorni (every day); tutto il giorno (all day long); uno di questi giorni (one of these days); da un giorno all’altro (suddenly / overnight); il piatto del giorno (dish of the day).

Finally, the word giorno is used with the meaning of “daylight”: sul far del giorno (lit. at the making of daylight, meaning “at the break of day”); e’ meglio partire prima che faccia giorno (it’s better to leave before it gets light); mi sono alzata che era giorno fatto (when I got up it was broad daylight); illuminare a giorno (to floodlight).

Giornata

This word derives from the previous one and is used to indicate an approximate period of time which goes from morning to evening, with particular reference to what takes place during that time: e.g ho passato tutta la giornata a pulire (I spent all day cleaning); e’ stata una giornata faticosa (it was a hard day); buona giornata! (have a good day!); verro’ a trovarti in giornata (I’ll come to visit you today). We also use the expression di giornata meaning “fresh” or “today’s” e.g. uova di giornata (fresh eggs).

When talking about work, giornata means the amount of work that a worker produces in a day, or the amount of hours worked in a day: lavorare a giornata (to work by the day); la giornata lavorativa e’ di 8 ore (the working day is 8 hours long); essere pagato a giornata (to be paid daily). From this comes the use of giornata to mean ‘a day’s pay’: riscuotere la giornata (to draw the day’s pay); mi sono guadagnato la giornata (I earned my day’s wage); e’ stata una giornata magra (it was a lean day, meaning that I didn’t earn much).

These days giornata is used to indicate a day dedicated to a special celebration or commemoration, often with a social or political aim such as ‘giornata della donna’ (‘Woman’s day’); ‘giornata europea della musica’ (‘European day of music’); ‘giornata missionaria’ (‘Missionary day’). It is also used to indicate some great historical event such as: ‘le Cinque Giornate di Milano’ (‘the Five Days of Milan’), which commemorates the days from the 18th to the 23rd of March 1848 when the population of Milan rebelled against the Austrians, who ruled over Lombardy at that time, and ‘le Quattro Giornate di Napoli’ (‘the Four Days of Naples’), commemorating the days from the 28th of September to the 1st of October 1943 when the population of Naples fought against the Germans.

Finally, there are a couple of situations in which both words can be used: 1. When talking about weather, e.g. ieri e’ stata una giornata ventosa or ieri e’ stato un giorno ventoso (yesterday was a windy day). 2. when discussing the hours of daylight, e.g. dopo il 21 giugno i giorni / le giornate si accorciano (after the 21st of June the days become shorter).

Vi auguro una buona giornata! (I wish you a good day!)

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Comments:

  1. Jane Pittella:

    Would you be kind enough to let me know which is the correct translation for “beautiful place” — bel posto or bello posto? We would like to name our new home, and are in need of guidance regarding the correct phrase in Italian. Thanks!

  2. Nathan:

    Grazie Serena! You’ve really helped me with this one, I just couldn’t see what the difference was. You cleared it up for me.

  3. Marie Hodge:

    Oh, how I enjoyed “Giorno or Giornata! I’m trying very hard to speak Italian, and reading it comes easily to me. Several of your examples were easily translated, some were not. Nevertheless they all bring back my parents (Papa -Avalino Naples e Mamma – Messina Siclia) conversing.

    My Sicilian nonna always used to say as we were leaving her house, “cuando ‘riva scriva” –

    Mille grazie!

  4. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    What is your policy (or company policy) on using material in your posts to make Byki lists that can be shared on List Central? The more indiums explained in a post, the more I like it. This post is a gold mine of idioms.

    A list of the use of the words ‘giornata’ and ‘giorno’ would be very helpful. I’d love to remember everything in your post but I would not be able to do it without frequent reinforcement. I wish I had Byki when I was in college!

    Thanks

    Vince

  5. Ian:

    Very insightful.
    I guess the same concept applies to la sera (eg buona sera vs buona serata).

  6. natasha:

    Great idea, Vince. I will talk to Serena to see what we can come up with. 🙂

  7. Serena:

    Salve Jane, the correct translation for “beautiful place” is “bel posto”. If you would like to find out more about the use of “bello”, you can read my blog:

    https://blogs.transparent.com/italian/buono-o-bello/

    Arrivederci!

  8. Serena:

    Salve Ian. Yes, you are right: the same concept applies to “sera” vs “serata”, “mattina” vs “mattinata”, and “notte” vs “nottata”. In fact we say “fare la nottata” to mean that we are doing a night shift or we are looking after somebody ill for the night. Interestingly, we don’t have another word for “pomeriggio”.
    Arrivederci!

  9. Mary:

    Hello, I am trying to find out the difference between ‘working days’ and ‘daily’ on the SITA bus schedule


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