Italian word of the day: 'Tempo'

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected] • 23 Mar, 2023 Updated Thu 23 Mar 2023 12:30 CEST
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Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It’s time to learn a bit more about this multi-purpose Italian word.


You’ll learn the Italian word tempo early in your studies. It's an essential word that, much to the confusion of many learners, can be used to mean both time and weather.

These are two subjects that you’ll need to discuss early and often in Italian, if not in real-life situations then in your language class. So you might already know a few phrases like:

Com'è il tempo?

How's the weather?


Che tempo fa?

What's the weather like? (Literally: 'What’s the weather doing?')

È brutto tempo

It's bad weather (literally: 'it's ugly weather')

Or for time:

Hai tempo per guardare un film con me?

Do you have time to watch a film with me?

Non abbiamo tanto tempo 

We don’t have much time

But of course, even though tempo means time, we don’t actually use it to ask what time it is. That would be:

che ora è? Or, che ore sono?

Both versions are correct.

In fact, talking about time in Italian can become tricky, because we might use tempo, ora, momento, or volta.

Ora literally means 'hour', and we usually use it when discussing the time of day. It also means 'now'.

Momento is used to discuss specific points in time, for example:

Il negozio era chiuso al momento del furto

The shop was closed at the time of the burglary


Meanwhile, tempo refers to the concept of time more generally.

il tempo vola! 

Time flies!

il tempo stringe 

Time is short

Volta is one that often trips people up. It means 'times', as in occasions:

L'ho incontrata solo tre volte

I’ve only met her three times

Of course, no one expects you to remember all of these words and their meanings immediately. But next time someone asks how your Italian is coming along, you can tell them:

Ci vuole tempo!

It takes time!

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.



Clare Speak 2023/03/23 12:30

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