Italian Language Blog

Present or Future? Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Grammar

“Va bene, adesso prendo un caffè poi me ne vado a casa così finisco di scrivere il blog”.

A literal translation of this simple sentence into English highlights a confusing aspect of the use of the present tense in Italian: ‘Okay, now I have a coffee, then I go home so that I finish writing the blog’. A ‘correct’ translation would read something like: ‘okay, now I’m going to have a coffee, then I’ll go home to finish writing the blog.

In fact, the rules for using the present and future tense in Italian are quite different from those in English. Generally speaking when we are talking about something in Italian that will definitely happen, we tend to use the present tense rather than the future tense. Here’s a typical example: ‘I’ll go to Sarzana tomorrow to see Maria Pia’. This uses the future tense in English, but in Italian I would say: ‘domani vado a Sarzana a trovare Maria Pia’ (which uses the present tense: vado = I go, instead of andrò = I will go). Likewise the statement: ‘I’ll buy some of that nice pecorino this afternoon’ would become ‘questo pomeriggio compro un po’ di quel buon  pecorino’ (compro = I buy, instead of comprerò = I will buy). Another good example is the common expression ci vediamo più tardi (literally ‘we see each other later’ rather than ‘we will see each other later’).

This is not to say that the future tense is redundant, far from it! In Italian we tend to use the future tense to express possibility and probability such as in English sentences that use ‘could be’, ‘would be’, ‘must be’, etc. Here are a few examples: Sarà stato Giovanni che ha lasciato il libro? = could it have been Giovanni who left the book (literally: will it have been Giovanni who left the book?); saranno state le nove quando è partita = it must have been nine ‘o’ clock when she left (literally: it will have been nine ‘o’clock when she left); Franco avrà un centinaio di pecore = Franco must have about a hundred sheep (literally: Franco will have about a hundred sheep). In phrases such as andrà tutto bene = everything will be fine, or vedrai che avevo ragione io = you’ll see that I was right, the usage of the future tense is identical both in English and Italian.

We also use the future tense in certain idiomatic phrases and expressions, a very common one being capirai! literally ‘you will understand!’ As with many idioms this isn’t easy to translate, but this exclamation is commonly used throughout Italy to express irony, such as in the English expression ‘big deal!’ or ‘wow!’ (said with irony), e.g. ho vinto due euro alla lotteria, capirai! = I won two euros in the lottery, big deal!

For more information about how and when to use the present and future tense in Italian I suggest you read this article.

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  1. Jackie Hymers:

    Thanks so much for continuing your great blog. I really love getting ‘inside’ the Italian language.

    Regarding the present tense in English – I tend to think of it as, for instance: I go, I do go, and I am going (present continuous with a hint of the future), and the present continuous helps me link more easily with Italian future tense.

    So perhaps your first example sentence could translate into English something like: I’m having a coffee now, then I’m going home and finishing (or to finish)writing the blog entry.

    I read all of your blogs – many thanks again.

  2. Eduardo:

    Thank you Geoff. You have clarified very well the use of the future in Italian in comparison with the English language.

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