Italian word of the day: ‘Tempo’

Italian word of the day: 'Tempo'
Photo: DepositPhotos
It’s time to learn a bit more about this multi-purpose Italian word.

One of the first words you’ll probably learn in Italian is tempo, because it means both time and weather. (Of course, that never gets confusing…)

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

Com'è il tempo?

How's the weather?

Che tempo fa?

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?

Possiamo sederci per qualche tempo

We can sit down for a while

Non abbiamo tanto tempo 

We don’t have much time


As you might know, 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 be a bit 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 points in time, for example:

Il negozio era chiuso al momento del furto

The shop was closed at the time of the burglary

Meanwhile, good old tempo refers to time more generally.

il tempo vola! 

Time flies!

il tempo stringe 

Time is short

Volta is the one that most 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 phrases 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 our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.