Italian expression of the day: ‘Ci ha messo una vita’

It won't take you a lifetime to master this simple phrase.

Italian expression of the day ci ha messo una vita
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

From completing a simple bureaucratic task at the comune to waiting for the bus, sometimes it feels like things can take forever in Italy.

Fittingly, there’s a phrase for that: Ci ha messo una vita (chee-ah-MESS-oh-oo-nah-VEE-ta). It translates literally as ‘it took a lifetime’, or as we’d be more likely to say in English, ‘it took forever’. 

L’autobus ci ha messo una vita ad arrivare.
The bus took forever to get here.

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Ci ha messo una vita can mean ‘it took forever’ or ‘it took him/her forever’ – the meaning is understood from context.

Ci ha messo una vita per chiederle di uscire.
It took him forever to ask her out.

Sono appena uscita dalla banca, ci ha messo una vita.
I just got out of the bank, it took forever.

The messo (past participle of mettere) stays the same regardless of the sentence subject – but you can conjugate the avere differently depending on your subject to say ‘it took me/you/them/us forever’.

Ci ho messo una vita a risparmiare per questa vacanza.
It took me forever to save up for this holiday.

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Ci hai messo una vita a fare la doccia.
You took forever in the shower.

Ci hanno messo una vita ad alzarsi.
It took them ages to get up.

You’ll notice that the phrase can be followed by either or per directly before the verb, and the expression doesn’t just work with una vita – you can switch that out for any time period, from a minute to a week to a year.

Ho fatto una domanda al comune e ci hanno messo un mese a rispondere.
I wrote to the comune and it took them one month to get back to me.

Ci abbiamo messo una settimana per trovare le piastrelle che volevi.
It took us a week to find the tiles you wanted.

You’re not restricted to the past tense: ci mette (along with the slightly more common ci vuole) can mean ‘it takes’ when followed by any time duration, and can also be conjugated in the future tense.

Ha detto che ci mette un’ora per arrivare in centro con l’autobus.
She said it takes an hour to get to the centre by bus.

Ci metterai 5 minuti per riscaldare gli avanzi che ti ho lasciato in frigorifero.
It’ll take you 5 minutes to heat up the leftovers I left in the fridge for you.

Have a go at mastering all the different variations of this phrase – we bet it won’t take you long!

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It would only be polite to master the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It usually doesn’t take long for foreign nationals residing or merely vacationing in the bel paese to realise that Italians have three different ways to express what in the English-speaking world is generally conveyed by means of a simple, unproblematic ‘please’.

Now, more often than not, the trio of expressions available in the Italian language – ‘per cortesia’, ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’ – creates a fair deal of confusion as to what form should be used and in what social circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no official grammar rule on how to juggle the above-mentioned expressions and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules and etiquette. So, to help you familiarise yourselves with the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian, here’s a breakdown of what each form is used for and, above all, on what occasions.

Of the three forms used by locals, ‘per cortesia’ is surely the most peculiar. The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as an act of courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though, of course, it is generally rendered into English with the catch-all ‘please’.

According to tacit social rules, ‘per cortesia’ and its kin adverb ‘cortesemente’ are generally employed in formal settings, especially in interactions with people one is not acquainted with or does not know very well. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

Q: Mi scusi, ci potrebbe portare il conto, per cortesia?

A: Certo, arrivo subito.

Q: Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

A: Sure, I’ll be right with you.

Q: Mi perdoni il disturbo, Dottor Rossi. Riuscirebbe a mandarmi i documenti in questione entro sera, per cortesia?

A: Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

Q: I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Rossi. Could you please send me the documents in question by this evening?

A: Sure. I’ll send them right away.

As you can see from the above examples, ‘per cortesia’ is usually placed at the end of a question and it is generally used together with the so-called ‘polite form’ (forma di cortesia), that is by addressing the person you’re communicating with as ‘Lei’ and conjugating verbs in the third person singular. 

The ‘polite form’ is usually scrapped in informal settings and so is ‘per cortesia’. Notably, in ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of ‘tu’ (i.e. they address the speaker with verbs in the second person singular) and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.

The difference in meaning between the two expressions is somewhat negligible, so much so that they are often used interchangeably by most native speakers. 

However, for the sake of nitpicking, while both forms are used to ask something of people one knows very well, ‘per piacere’ is specifically used for fairly urgent and/or dramatic pleas. In other words, when you’re begging someone to do something, ‘per piacere’ is the right expression for the job at hand.

Q: Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla per piacere? Abbiamo ospiti a cena stasera.

Q: Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up? We’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Q: Lo so che non ti piace come persona ma puoi fare uno sforzo e provare ad essere gentile, per favore?

Q: I know you don’t like her but can you please make an effort and try to be nice?

Q: Mi puoi prestare una penna, per favore? Mi sono dimenticato l’astuccio.

A: Ancora? Neanche per sogno! 

Q: Could you lend me a pen? I forgot to bring my pencil case.

A: Again? No way!

Hopefully, the above scenarios have given you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’. However, please bear in mind that the former will get the job done in almost any informal conversation, so, when in doubt, go for that and you’ll hardly ever go wrong.

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