Italian word of the day: ‘Tanto’

There are lots of ways to say 'lots of' in Italian, but here's the one you'll really need to master.

Italian word of the day: 'Tanto'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you want to say there’s ‘loads of’ or ‘lots of’ of something in Italian, you can use today’s word: tanto. It also means both ‘many’ and ‘much’.

It’s a word you’ll need right from the start of your Italian language-learning journey, and it can be a little tricky to get the hang of.

But you don’t need advanced grammar knowledge to use it. It’s pretty straightforward to use tanto as an adjective, as long as you know that the form of the changes (tanto/a/i/e) depending on the noun (whether it’s masculine or feminine, and singular or plural).

See what we mean in the following examples:

non abbiamo tanto tempo(masculine singular)

We don’t have much time

c’è tanta neve sulle montagne (feminine singular)

There’s a lot of snow on the mountains

ho speso tanti soldi (masculine plural)

I spent a lot of money

ci sono tante mele sull’albero (feminine plural)

There are a lot of apples on the tree

So what’s the difference between tanto and that other common Italian quantifier, molto?

Sometimes, nothing. These two words can in many cases be used interchangeably to express the fact that there’s simply a lot of something.

But, other times, tanto has a more emphatic feeling to it than molto, as you can see from the following example:

Maria ha molti gatti as opposed to Maria ha tanti gatti

Maria has a lot of cats as opposed to Maria has loads of cats.

So there are situations where you might want to use tanto to stress your point:

Ti ho detto tante volte di non toccare le forbici!

I told you loads of times not to touch the scissors!

Tanto as an adverb

Tanto (like molto) is also used as an adverb. In this case it means ‘very’, ‘very much’, or ‘a lot’. 

When used as an adverb, the ending stays in the masculine singular form.

Grazie, siete stati tanto gentili

Thank you, you were very kind

Oggi ho lavorato tanto

Today I worked a lot

The superlative

And if you really want to stress your point, you’ll be pleased to know that you can add the suffix -issimo(/a/e/i) to tanto to create the superlative form.

You can use it on an adjective:

C’era tantissima gente alla festa 

There were loads of people at the party

Or an adverb with a verb:

Oggi ho lavorato tantissimo 

Today I worked really hard

But as an adverb with an adjective it sadly doesn’t work.

For example, don’t say ‘questa torta è tantissima buona’.

Instead, here you could use another word that commonly gets confused with tanto, troppo; meaning ‘too much’ or ‘too many’, but also often used to stress that something is ‘really’ or ‘so’ good/bad/etc.

Questa torta è troppo buona!

This cake is really good!

Note how, as troppo is used as an adverb (to modify the adjective buona), you don’t need to change the ending depending on the noun.

Who knew there were so many ways to say ‘many’?

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Tirocinio’

Let us offer you some (unpaid) experience with this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Tirocinio'

If you’re entering the world of work in Italy, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll be offered a tirocinio (pronunciation available here). Should you accept?

That all depends on whether you think you’ll get enough benefit (and money – in the unlikely event there is any) out of an internship, which is what this slightly odd-sounding word means.

According to the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s oldest linguistic academy and the guardians of the Italian language, it comes from the Latin word tirocinium, which has two components.

The first part of the word comes from tirone, the name for a recruit to the Roman military (tirare means – among others things – ‘to shoot’ in Italian).

The second, cinium, comes from canere, meaning ‘to sound’ (a horn) or ‘to play’ (music); a tubicinium was a horn or trumpet player.

Joined together, the two words meant something like ‘a rousing of the recruits’, in the sense of an initiation or learning experience. An intern is a tirocinante.

Tirocinio isn’t the only Italian word for internship: you’ll also hear people talk about a stage (pronounced the French way, like this, as it’s borrowed from French); an intern is a stagista.

That’s the title given to Alessandro, one of the main characters in the Italian comedy series Boris, who starts an internship on the set of the medical soap opera Eyes of the Heart 2 and is soon initiated into the bizarre and dysfunctional world of Roman TV production.

Ho dovuto lavorare presso la mia azienda per sei mesi come stagista prima che mi offrissero un lavoro.
I had to work at my company for six months as an intern before they offered me a job.

Domani inizierò il mio tirocinio – auguratemi buona fortuna!
I start my internship tomorrow – wish me luck!

If you do end up working as a tirocinante or stagista, hopefully it will be less surreal and better remunerated than that of Boris’s protagonist.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.