Italian Language Blog

Quanti Anni Hai? Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in Grammar, Italian Language

‘Quanti anni hai?’ (How old are you?). This, and the corresponding reply ‘Ho dodici anni’ (I am twelve years old) is something that students of Italian learn within their first few lessons. The first thing to note is that we use the verb avere (to have) instead of essere (to be), i.e. Ho dodici anni’ (I have twelve years) rather than ‘I am twelve’.

But as is usual with Italian, the plot thickens! Although you would always ask a child ‘Quanti anni hai?’ it is very common as an adult to be asked ‘Di che anno sei?’ (literally: what year are you from?), the corresponding reply being: ‘Sono del Settantotto’ (I’m from 1978), i.e. ‘I am 32 years old’.

Due to this usage of avere, the way we talk about age is quite different from the English model. For example, although we learn in Italian classes to reply with ‘Ho venti anni’, (I am twenty) it is more common to say simply: ‘Ne ho venti’ (I have twenty of them [years]). As you can see from this example, when we talk about age we often use the pronouns ne (of them) or li (them) to substitute the word anni, e.g.

‘Lei quanti anni ha?’

‘Ne ho ottantadue’

‘Complimenti, non li dimostra!’

‘How old are you?’

‘I am eighty two’

‘Congratulations, you don’t show them!’, i.e. ‘You don’t look that old!’

You might also hear the reply:

‘Complimenti, non ne dimostra!

lit.: ‘You don’t show [eighty two] of them

Another nice expression that we use in this situation is:

‘Complimenti, li porta bene’

lit. ‘Congratulations, you carry them well’, i.e.: ‘You look young for your age’

Another example is:

‘Mio babbo ha ottantanove anni’

‘Caspita, non glieli avrei dati!’

‘My father is eighty nine years old’

‘Wow, I wouldn’t have given [eighty nine of] them to him!, i.e. ‘I wouldn’t have thought he was that old!’

You may sometimes hear the less grammatically correct reply:

 ‘Non gliene avrei dati!’

‘I wouldn’t have given him [eighty nine] of them!’

N.B. For babies and children up to about the age of two we ask (of the parent obviously!) ‘Quanto tempo ha?’ (lit.: ‘How much time does it have?’, i.e. ‘How old is he/she?’). The reply would be: ‘Ha cinque mesi’ (‘He/she is five months old’).

When you are talking about the past and you want to state how old you were when something happened you should say:

‘quando avevo otto anni siamo andati in vacanza in Inghilterra’

‘when I was eight years old we went on holiday to England’

If on the other hand you are not certain how old you were at the time, you should say:

‘Da bambina/o, avrò avuto otto o nove anni, siamo andati in vacanza in Inghilterra’

N.B. ‘avrò avuto’

‘When I was a child, I must have been about eight or nine, we went on holiday to England’

literally: ‘I will have had’

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  1. Gail:

    Thanks for explaining what I didn’t quite grasp the last time I was in Italy with my dog Puccini. People would stop and ask, “Quanto tempo ha?” while looking at Puccini so I didn’t think they were asking me the time of day. So I would say, “Quanti anni ha?” and they would nod yes. Mystery solved.
    Your articles are fantastic, and you explain the nuances of the language so clearly. Grazie!

    • serena:

      @Gail Salve Gail, benvenuta nel mio blog. Sono molto contenta di essere stata di aiuto.

      Saluti da Serena

  2. Leigh:

    This was helpful but I was trying to find out how to say ” I will be 40 next birthday.” Do you still use avere: Avrò 40 il compleanno promissimo.

    • Serena:

      @Leigh Salve Leigh!
      L’espressione più comune forse è questa:
      “quest’anno compio/faccio 40 anni”
      “a settembre compio/faccio 40 anni”.
      Saluti da Serena

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