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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) and sempre (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! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 1

 Play Caption


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,

Are you sure? -Well, I've reached forty years,

ma non sono ancora del tutto rimbecillita.

but I'm not yet totally senile.

Caption 57, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 7

 Play Caption


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


Uno si stanca ancora prima di cominciare a...

You get tired even before you begin to...

Caption 4, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 4

 Play Caption


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

Yes, but if you want to, you can also have dinner

di candela sul Tevere.

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

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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

Me, in my life, I'd never seen white pizza

e neanche sapevo cosa fosse.

and I didn't even know what it was.

Captions 14-15, Anna e Marika - Pizza al taglio romana

 Play Caption


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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