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Tricky Adverbs: Sempre, Ancora, and Mai

In a recent video, Marika talks about avverbi di tempo (time adverbs). Some of these are pretty straightforward, but some have multiple meanings, depending on the context. We have already looked at some of the tricky ones in previous lessons: ancora (yet, still, again) andsempre (always, still).

 

The title of a TV series offered on Yabla is Provaci Ancora Prof. (“Try Again, Professor,” or “Play it Again, Professor”). In this case, ancora clearly means “again,” but as we can see in the following example, it can also mean “still.”

Camilla è ancora in casa?
Is Camilla still home?
Caption 52, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 1 of 28

 

And when used with the negative nonancora  means “yet.” In English we usually say “not yet,” and this is true in Italian as well.

Sicura? -Be', ho compiuto quarant'anni, ma non sono ancora del tutto rimbecillita.
Are you sure? -Well, I'm forty years old, but I'm not yet totally senile.
Caption 57, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 7 of 28

 

Ancora can also mean “even” as an adverb modifying another adverb.

Uno si stanca ancora prima di cominciare.
You get tired even before you begin.
Caption 4, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 4 of 28

 

When sempre means “always,” it’s pretty easy. But sempre also means “still,” which is a bit less familiar.

Sei sempre qua?
Are you still here?

 

And we might feel even more challenged, because we can also use ancora to mean the same thing.

Sei ancora qua?
Are you still here?

 

We use sempre when in English we would say “more and more” as an adverb. Semprereplaces the first “more.” To harmonize with the Italian, we could say “ever more.”

Sì, però, volendo si può anche fare la cena a lume di candela sul Tevere.
Yes, but if you want to, you can also have dinner by candlelight on the Tiber.
Mh, sempre più romantico.
Hm, ever more romantic/more and more romantic.
Captions 56-57, Anna e Marika: Il fiume Tevere

 

Another “time” adverb that can get a bit tricky is mai (never, ever).

 

It’s basically straightforward, but we need to remember that although English does not allow double negatives, Italian does allow them. So we will usually see non together with mai to mean “never.” It may be helpful to remember that in English we have “never” or “not ever.” They mean the same thing.

Io, in vita mia, non l'avevo mai vista la pizza bianca e neanche sapevo cosa fosse.
Me, in my life, I'd never seen white pizza and I didn't even know what it was.
Captions 14-15, Anna e Marika: Pizza al taglio romana - Part 1 of 2

 

In questions, where in English we would use “ever,” we still use mai in Italian, but we don’t use the negation non.

Hai mai viaggiato in aereo?
Have you ever traveled by plane?

 

In the response, if negative, we use mai to mean “never” or “not ever.”

Non ho mai viaggiato in aereo. 
I have never/I haven’t ever traveled by plane.

 

Mai is used in some modi di dire, so take a look at these lessons about them.

Casomai (if need be, if at all)
Come mai (how come)?

 

Are there particular Italian adverbs of time that confuse you? Let us know, and we’ll see what we can do to help. 

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