We can’t always be on time, so let’s look at some of the words you need when you or someone else is late. It’s not as simple as using the Italian word tardi (late).
In a recent episode of Stai Lontana da Me there has been a little car accident. This time nobody got hurt, but Sara is going to be late for work if she’s not careful.
Però è tardi. Senti, mi dispiace, io prendo la metropolitana. Ho fatto tardi.
But it's late. Listen, I'm sorry, I'll take the metro. I'm running late [or "I've gotten delayed," "It got late," "I'm late."]
Captions 11-13, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema - Part 11Play Caption
When she says, “È tardi,” she’s talking about the hour. She has to be at work, say, at nine, and it’s already ten to nine, and she is still far from her office. Objectively speaking, it is late!
When she says “Ho fatto tardi,” she is talking about herself and the fact that she got delayed. She is late.
Telling someone not to be late is important sometimes. Here’s one way to do this:
Ciao, mamma. Io vado da Flavia. -Ciao, amore. -Non fare tardi.
Hi, Mom. I'm going to Flavia's. -Bye, love. -Don't be late.
Captions 38-39, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in BluPlay Caption
Another way to say you’re late is to use the phrasal adverb, in ritardo (late). Ritardo is a noun meaning “delay.”
In an episode of Commissario Manara, Manara’s boss is not happy with him per niente (at all).
Lei è in ritardo di ventiquattro ore. Si può sapere che cosa aveva da fare di così urgente?
You're twenty-four hours late. Can you let me know what you had to do that was so urgent?
Captions 16-17, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di VetroPlay Caption
The noun il ritardo is commonly used when we apologize for being late.
Buonsera a tutti. Scusate il ritardo, ragazzi. Ma aspettavate solo me?
Good evening everyone. Sorry I'm late, guys. Were you just waiting for me?Play Caption
Both the adverb tardi and the noun ritardo also have verb forms: tardare and ritardare.
Non dovrebbe tardare ad arrivare.
It won’t be long before he arrives.
This doesn’t refer to a precise amount of time, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone or something is late. It just means they haven’t arrived yet.
The following is a bit more urgent and refers, most likely, to an agreed-upon hour.
Non ritardare, perché il film comincia puntuale.
Don’t be late, because the film starts punctually.
Here’s how we use comparatives and superlatives with tardi (late).
Vado a letto tardi il sabato sera.
I go to bed late on Saturday nights.
Più tardi means "later."
Ci vediamo più tardi.
We’ll see each other later.
Al più tardi means "at the latest."
Devi spedire questa lettera domani al più tardi.
You have to send this letter by tomorrow at the latest.
La consegna era prevista per domani, ma il pacco è arrivato in anticipo.
Delivery was scheduled for tomorrow, but the package arrived early.
Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno anticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they came back early.
Just to add a little twist, another opposite of anticipare is posticipare (postpone, to delay).
Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno posticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they postponed their return.
Attenzione! Italians do not use anticipare in the sense of “looking forward to something.” See this definition of the verb to anticipate. Definition number 2 doesn’t conform to the Italian. In fact, “looking forward to something” is difficult to say in Italian, and there is no precise translation. We will tackle this conundrum in another lesson.
To sum up
Tardi (late): With the adverb tardi, we use the verb fare when talking about someone being late. When talking about the hour, we use essere (to be).
Tardare (to be late, to run late)
Il Ritardo (the delay)
Essere, arrivare in ritardo (to be late or behind schedule)
Ritardare (to run behind schedule, to be late)