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Italian word of the day: ‘Oretta’

Italian word of the day: 'Oretta'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
When is an hour not an hour? When it's in Italy, of course.

Time is a fluid concept in Italy, as anyone who’s ever waited for a bus in Rome can tell you.

And Italians have a way to describe those hours that aren’t really hours: oretta, literally ‘little hour’. 

The word is the regular word for hour, ora, combined with the diminutive suffix ~etta, which is like adding ‘little’ or ‘small’ to describe the noun.

The result is something not quite as definite as un’ora (‘an hour’): a bit fuzzier, and subject to variation. Un’oretta is like ‘an hour-ish’.

Tornerò tra un’oretta.
I’ll be back in an hour-ish.

Quel pane è uscito dal forno un’oretta fa.
That bread came out of the oven barely an hour ago.

While you might assume that a ‘little hour’ is necessarily shorter than a regular hour, in fact that’s not the case: what you’re emphasizing is that it’s around the 60-minute mark, not always under it.

Ieri abbiamo passato una buona oretta a discutere sulla politica italiana.
Yesterday we spent a good hour or so talking about Italian politics.

– Quanto ci metti da Milano a Torino?
– Un’oretta di treno.

– How long does it take to get from Milan to Turin?
– Around an hour or so by train.

By extension, you can also have several orette (‘around X hours’), una mezz’oretta (‘a half-hour-ish’) and un quarto d’oretta (‘a quarter of an hour or so’).

Ci vuole mezz’oretta

It takes about half an hour

And you can do the same thing with other periods of time, too.

Vivi qua da solo un mesetto

You’ve only lived here for about a month

Siamo stati insieme per un annetto

We were together for about a year

Just think of it as a reminder that you’re on Italian time now.

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


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