Italian word of the day: ‘Aspetta’

Italian word of the day: 'Aspetta'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Hold on a minute. Aren't you using this word yet?

As far as the most commonly-used Italian words go, I think aspetta must be up near the top of the list.

When I first arrived in Italy, I started hearing aspetta used almost constantly. And the meaning was perfectly clear: wait!

It’s an interjection, or the imperative form of the verb aspettare (to wait, or wait for something) and you’d use this form in place of phrasal verbs like “hang on” in English.

– Aspetta, penso che abbiamo dimenticato qualcosa

– Hold on, I think we’ve forgotten something 

– Aspetta, non ho finite

– Wait up, I haven’t finished

– Aspetta un attimo, a chi si sta riferendo in questo punto?

– Wait a moment, who are we talking about here?

Of course, it's often just used alone as an exclamation.

And you might hear Italians just shortening it to aspè.

– Aspè, quel semaforo era rosso?

– Wait, was that traffic light red?

Living in a country where people always seem to be either rushing through things (including red lights) or taking their sweet time for no reason I can see, I now find this word comes out of my mouth multiple times a day – much like andiamo (let’s go/come on/hurry up).

You can also hear aspetta used not as an exclamation, but as the third-person singular form of the verb aspettare.

– Giorgio aspetta l’autobus tutti giorni per andare a lavaro

– Giorgio waits for the bus to work every day

If you want to talk about waiting you could also use the verb attendere, which is slightly more formal.

It’s also where this comes from:

sala d'attesa

– Waiting room

And you might hear people say attenda instead of aspetta. Again, same thing but slightly more formal.

– Attenda il suo turno dietro la linea gialla, per favour

– Wait your turn behind the yellow line, please

After a job interview you could hear:

– Attenda che le faremo sapere

– We’ll let you know (literally: wait for us to let you know.)

And finally, an Italian saying:

– Chi la fa l’aspetti

– Literally “Who does it waits for it”, meaning that a person who does bad things can expect bad things in return.

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

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