5 Different Ways to translate the word TIME in Italian (tempo vs ora vs volte)

Updated: Apr 7

In English you have the beautiful word time that has many different meanings. Unfortunately in Italian, we have several words that translate time. Let’s try to understand how to use them!

Ciao a tutti and welcome to a new article. Many of my students always struggle with the word time. We’ve got tempo, volta, ora... how are we supposed to choose if in English only one word exists? No worries, we’ll understand this today. I will give you some useful example in context so that you can understand the proper word each time!

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Time as the idea, the concept of time

When we are using the word time to refer to the concept of time, then the proper word to use is tempo. Let’s look at a couple of examples!

  • Il tempo vola quando ci si diverte → Time flies when one has fun.

  • Mi dispiace, non ho tempo di chiamarti → I am sorry, I don’t have time to call you.

Time intended as “duration”

When we’re using the word time to ask how much time it is going to take you to do something, then, again, the correct word to use is tempo. For example:

  • Quanto tempo ci vuole per arrivare a casa tua? → How much time/how long does it take to get to your house?

  • Per quanto tempo sarai in vacanza? → For how long will you be on vacation?

Time as a specific hour

Be careful with this! When time does not refer to a duration but rather a specific time (e.g. what time is it? / What time are we going to meet?), then the correct word to use is ora. For example:

  • Che ore sono? → What time is it?

  • A che ora ci incontriamo? → What time are we going to meet?

  • A che ora inizia il film? → What time does the movie start?

Time as a (special) occasion

You just got home and it’s been a rough day. You want to relax and enjoy a nice bottle of Italian red wine. Then you might say: it’s time to open a bottle of wine! How would we translate this in Italian? We need to use the word ora again! For example:

  • È ora di aprire una bottiglia di vino → It’s time to open a bottle of wine!

  • È ora di andare → It’s time to go.

Time as instances

This might be easier, but some students tend to get this wrong sometimes. When you are referring to time as instances the correct word to use is volta or its plural volte. For example:

  • Quante volte alla settimana vai in palestra? → How many times a week do you go to the gym?

  • Vado una volta a settimana → I go once (one time) a week.

  • Sono stato in Italia due volte → I went to Italy twice (two times).

Time as an instant

When the word time refers to a specific instant, moment in time, then the correct word to use is momento. For example:

  • Dov’era lui in quel moment? → Where was he at that time?

  • Questo non è un buon momento → This is not a good time.

Time as “era”, historic period

This is pretty straightforward, when time refers to a specific “era”, the correct words to use are either epoca or periodo. For example:

  • Gli anni Sessanta sono stati un periodo interessante in America → The sixties were an interesting time in America.

Wait... what about the expression “com’è il tempo?”. In this case tempo means weather, don’t forget that!

È ora di fare un esercizio! It's time to do an exercise! Try your best and let me know how it goes!

I hope this article helped! How did you do? I am sure you did well and if you have any questions, just send me a message in the contact section of my website!

A presto,

Teacher Stefano