In a recent episode of Scampia D’Oro, there’s some talk of time. There’s talk about how long something takes: how long it took Lupo and Enzo to set up the gym, how long it took Enzo to get home. Let’s take a look at the differences between how English and Italian express this kind of time.
In English, we use an impersonal "it" when talking about time: "It takes me three hours." The person appears as an object (me). Italian gets personal right away, and the subject is the person who "puts in a certain amount of time" to do something: metterci del tempo (to put in some time). If you think of it this way, the Italian makes more sense, since mettere means “to put”!
Here's an example, with a literal translation, to show how the ci fits in: indirect object (with included preposition).
Io ci metto tre ore (I put three hours into it).
In plain English, we'd usually say, "It takes me three hours."
In the example below, note that the plain verb mettere (to put) has been used as well, with its direct object pronoun lo attached to it.
Ma in realtà è nu [un] garage con un tatami dentro.
But actually it's a garage with a tatami inside.
Io e il mio maestro Lupo ci abbiamo messo una vita a metterla su.
It took my teacher Lupo and me ages to set it up.
Captions 5-6, L'oro di Scampia - filmPlay Caption
In the following examples, note that ci is part of a contraction, and so the i is silent, but still determines the "soft" pronunciation of the c.
Enzo, c'ho messo vent'anni per insegnarti 'ste cose
Enzo, it took me twenty years to teach you these things,
e mo vuoi pretendere che Toni le faccia subito?
and now you expect Toni to do them right away?
Captions 38-39, L'oro di Scampia - filmPlay Caption
Here's another example, this time in the second person singular (informal).
Papà ma quanto tempo c'hai messo? Avevi detto due minuti.
Dad, but how long did it take you? You'd said "Two minutes."
-E vabbuò [va bene], so' stati cinque, ià.
-OK OK, it was five, hey.
Captions 62-63, L'oro di Scampia - filmPlay Caption
If you’ve followed previous lessons, you know that the little word ci really does get around, and has different meanings depending on how it’s placed. That said, metterci del tempo is good to learn as a formula, and to practice. Once it becomes a solid part of your Italian repertory, it will be worth comparing it to other ways ci is used.
Think about how long it takes you to do something and how long it might take someone else. Say it in Italian! No one's listening. Here's something to get you started.
Ci metto cinque minuti per fare il caffè. Mio fratello ci mette venti minuti per farsi la doccia. Ci mettiamo sempre tanto tempo per decidere quale film vedere, ma questa volta c'abbiamo messo due secondi. Ma quanto tempo ci mettete per salire in macchina! Non è possibile metterci così tanto!
It takes me five minutes to make coffee. It takes my brother twenty minutes to take a shower. It always takes us so long to decide what movie to see, but this time it took us two seconds. How long does it take you to get in the car? It's not possible to take so long!