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One of the questions that we are most frequently asked by readers is: ‘why oh why is there a non in the expression finché non or fino a quando non (meaning: until)?’ Ah, the dreaded pleonastic non, enemy of every student of Italian!
Well, this is one of those cases in which you just have to accept that it works that way in Italian, even if it doesn’t make sense in English. My advice is to kick that bad habit of translating everything word for word, it’s usually more of a hindrance than a help.
Let’s begin by looking at finché without the non, and work our way forward from there, va bene?
Finché on its own means: ‘as long as’, or ‘while/whilst’. Here are some everyday examples of how we use it:
finché piove non possiamo uscire di casa = we can’t go out while it’s raining
restate finché volete = stay as long as you (plural) want
ti amerò finché vivrò = I will love you for as long as I live
ha continuato a camminare finché c’era luce = he kept walking while there was still light/for as long as the light lasted
Fino a quando …
Fino a quando is synonymous (and interchangeable) with finché:
fino a quando c’è acqua possiamo continuare a innaffiare l’orto = whilst there’s water we can continue watering the vegetable garden
N.B. When used as a question, fino a quando? means ‘until when?’ E.g.:
Fino a quando resti in Italia? = until when are you staying in Italy?
And now … the dreaded Finché non!
Finché non means ‘fino al momento in cui‘ (‘until the moment in which’), and is normally translated as ‘until’. The ‘non‘ in this case is a false negative which is not translated. Here are some examples of how we use it:
finché non smette di piovere non possiamo uscire di casa = we can’t go out until it stops raining
non ti muovere finché non lo dico io = don’t move until I say so
ha continuato a camminare finché non ha fatto buio = he kept walking until it got dark
abbiamo aspettato finché non è arrivato Mario = we waited until Mario arrived
finché non avrai finito i compiti non andrai fuori a giocare = you can’t go out to play until you’ll have finished your homework
Fino a quando non …
Fino a quando non is synonymous (and interchangeable) with finché non:
Fino a quando non ritiro i risultati dell’esame non saprò com’è andata = until I get the exam results I won’t know how it’s gone
finché/fino a quando = ‘as long as’ or ‘while’
finché non/fino a quando non = ‘until’