Talking about the time Posted by Serena on Jun 21, 2009 in Italian Language
Many people say that we Italians have a different concept of time, and that domani (tomorrow) often means mai (never). This may or may not be accurate, but it is certainly true that concepts of time are expressed quite differently in English and Italian. This is one of the many cases in which English uses one word to cover many different situations, whilst in Italian, being the poets that we are, we use several different words depending on the context.
In Italian, tempo means time, it also means weather, the speed of music, and grammatical ‘tense’. We use the word tempo to express time in the following ways: tempo fa = some time ago, or tanto tempo fa = a long time ago, il temporale e’ durato molto tempo = the storm lasted a long time, il primo tempo della partita di calcio = the first half of the football match, tempo di cottura = cooking time, and that all important resource tempo libero = free time, or leisure time.
However, and this is where it gets confusing, in many of the common everyday constructions involving time we don’t use the word tempo at all. So what do we use instead?
When talking about the time as measured by the clock we use the word ora, e.g. che ore sono, or che ora e’ =what time is it?, a che ora arriva l’autobus per Siena? = what time does the bus for Siena arrive?
We also use ora when it is time to do something or for something to happen e.g. e’ ora di partire = it’s time to go, or credo che sia ora di tagliarmi i cappelli = I think it’s time I got my hair cut.
Volta on the other hand is roughly equivalent to the English word ‘occasion’ e.g. questa volta ci vado in treno = this time I’m going there by train, or ci sono gia’ stata tre volte = I’ve already been there three times. If you want to say ‘from time to time’, ‘every once in a while’ or ‘occasionally’ you can use the expression una volta ogni tanto, and to say ‘two at a time’ (or any other number) you can say due alla volta, cinque alla volta, etc.
There are various other situations in which you can use the word ‘time’ in English that require you to use words other that volta, ora, or tempo in Italian. For example, where in English you might say ‘to have a nice time’, in Italian we would use the verb divertirsi e.g. ti sei divertito/a? = did you have a nice time? and instead of saying ‘by the time’ you should use quando e.g. ‘by the time we arrive it will be dark’ would be quando arriviamo sara’ buio. To say ‘on time’ we use in orario e.g. il treno e’ in orario? = is the train on time?, ‘behind time’ is in ritardo, and ‘ahead of time’ in anticipo, so in the unlikely event that your train is 10 minutes ahead of time you would say caspita! il treno e’ dieci minuti in anticipo (caspita = wow!). Yet another word, fra, is used to express the idea of ‘in X amount of time’ e.g. la macchina sara’ pronta fra due giorni = the car will be ready in two days time.
Infine (finally), here is a useful list of time vocabulary:
quando = when
adesso = now
subito = at once/straight away
gia’ = already
dopo = afterwards
poi = then
presto = early
tardi = late
il secondo = the second
il minuto = the minute
l’ora = the hour, time
l’orologio = the clock, watch
la sveglia = the alarm clock
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