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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Allora’

This word is our most requested yet. Well then, let's take a look at it...

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

More people have asked us to feature allora than any other word so far. Probably because you've heard it in just about every other sentence uttered by Italians.

What is this word they turn to so often? It must mean something really important, right? Well, at the risk of disappointing you, allora means, quite simply, 'then'.

But of course, no word is quite as simple as it seems. Think about all the multitude of meanings 'then' can have in English: allora works the same way.

Firstly there's the 'then' that indicates 'at a certain point in time'.

Allora abitava ancora a Londra.
Back then she was still living in London.

Allora ha squillato il telefono.
At that moment the phone rang.

Da allora non ho fumato più.
I haven't smoked since then.

l'allora presidente
the then president (the president at that time)

The time you're referring to can be in the past or the future, so as well as 'back then' allora can also imply 'after that' or 'next'.

Quando vedrai, allora capirai.
When you see, then you'll understand.

Then (!) there's the 'then' that means 'so', 'in that case'.

Se vuoi venire, allora preparati.
If you want to come, then get ready.

Fa freddo, allora mettiti una maglia.
It's cold, so put on a sweater.

Il film era noioso e allora siamo usciti.
The film was boring and so we left.

Not forgetting the 'then' that's just a useful linking word, to help you introduce an idea, connect back to another, or simply launch your sentence.

Allora, cosa facciamo stasera?
Well then, what are we doing tonight?

Allora ci vediamo!
See you soon then!

Allora, cominciamo la lezione…
Right then, let's start the lesson…

You can even use it as a question all on its own, to signal to the other person that you want to hear more.

Allora? Com'è andata?
So? How did it go?

E allora?
Well then/What now/So what?

That's why allora can be tricky to pin down: because if you ask an Italian speaker why they said it, half the time the answer would be: “I don't know, I just did!” File it along with those other handy words such as quindi, insomma and cioè that you can reach for while you're still thinking about the rest of your sentence.

That's what US comedian Aziz Ansari's character discovers when he moves to Italy in the series Master of None: we can't recommend his pronunciation (make sure your tongue touches the top of your mouth for those two lovely Ls!), but we do give him full marks for enthusiasm.

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

Member comments

  1. When I first moved here I heard the word so often I decided to name my cat, Allora. My friends here think it’s a bit weird but they often ask how he is.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

90 Day Fiance Ellie GIF by TLC

According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca‘ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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

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