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What Does Presto Really Mean?


If you play or listen to classical music, you will have seen the indication presto on a playlist, tracklist, concert program, or score. It usually means the music should go fast. The fastest tempo you might see is prestissimo (very fast).

But there are two other, more mundane, meanings of presto, and they're both pretty important in everyday conversation. 


Presto means "early"

Presto is not the only way to say "early," and it depends on the context, but it's a very important way. One way we use presto almost every day is in talking about our daily schedule. When do we get up? Presto (early)? Non troppo presto (not too early)? Molto presto (very early)? Prestissimo (super early)?


Eh, giusto. -Noi, per esempio, cuciniamo tutti insieme,

Uh, right. -We, for example, we all cook together,

mangiamo tutti insieme, la sera dormiamo tutti nello stesso letto,

we eat all together, at night we all sleep in the same bed,

poi andiamo a ballare, facciamo baldoria,

then we go dancing, we have a blast,

e la mattina ci svegliamo presto per andare all'università.

and in the morning we wake up early to go to the university.

Captions 34-37, Serena - vita da universitari

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Ma Dante non ha detto dove andava?

But didn't Dante say where he was going?

No. È arrivato presto, poi ha fatto una telefonata, è uscito.

No. He came early, then he made a phone call. He went out.

Captions 32-33, Marika commenta -La Ladra - Espressioni idiomatiche - Part 3

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We can qualify presto with molto (very) or troppo (too):


Dovrei consegnare questi documenti al Dottor Del Serio.

I should deliver these documents to Doctor Del Serio.

Ma è troppo presto, sta dormendo.

But it's too early. He's sleeping.

Captions 27-28, La Tempesta - film - Part 19

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Everyone has their own idea of what "early" is and there are some sfumature (nuances), too. In the following example, we have presto, prestissimo and prestino.


Senti, non è che domattina presto

Listen, tomorrow morning early,

potresti accompagnarmi dai genitori di una mia allieva?

you wouldn't take me, would you, to the parents' house of one of my students?

Sì, sì. Presto quanto?

Yes, yes. How early?

Eh, be', be', non prestissimo, però un po' prestino.

Oh well, well, not real early, but earlyish.

Captions 26-29, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 23

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Presto means "soon"

If you have been reading the Yabla Italian newsletters, you will have seen the sign-off at the end:

a presto, literally, "until soon," but commonly translated as "[I'll] see you soon".


Allora a presto, caro, eh?! -A presto.

So, see you soon dear, OK? -See you soon.

Ciao. -Arrivederci, signora. -Ciao, Giovanni, ciao. Ciao.

Bye. -Goodbye ma'am. -Bye Giovanni, bye. Bye.

Captions 28-30, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 4

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Here's a little telephone conversation about starting a new job. The way we form the comparative and superlative of adjectives is with più (more). The presence of the definite article indicates it's in the superlative. 


Ti andrebbe bene cominciare già domani?

Would it be all right with you to start tomorrow?

-Sì, certo, non c'è problema.

-Yes, of course. That's no problem.

Voglio mettermi al lavoro il più presto possibile.

I want to get to work as soon as possible.

Domani è perfetto. -Molto bene.

Tomorrow is perfect. -Very good.

Captions 17-21, Italiano commerciale - Cominciare un nuovo lavoro

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Note that we have two similar but different ways to say "as soon as possible." One way is in the previous example, il più presto possibile. The other common way is in the following example, where we have the preposition a (at, too, until): al più presto. In this case, we don't add possibile.


Sei riuscita a vedere che c'è nella valigetta?

Did you manage to see what's in the briefcase?

Un mucchio di soldi. Dobbiamo agire al più presto, OK?

A bunch of money. We have to act as soon as possible, OK?

Captions 40-41, La Ladra - EP. 8 - Il momento giusto

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Presto means "fast"

It can be just the single word, said with urgency:


Mi sa che è della polizia!

I think she's from the police!

Professoressa, andiamo. Andiamo, che è gente pericolosa!

Prof, let's go, let's go because they're dangerous people!

Sbrigatevi! Presto! Forza, prof! Forza!

Hurry up! Quickly! Come on, Prof! Come on!

Captions 23-27, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 13

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Presto means fast, even though, in the following example, that's not how it's translated. This is because it's part of an idiomatic expression: si fa presto a dire, which, taken literally, means "Saying it is done quickly," or "We can be quick to say..."


Si fa presto a dire Europa.

It's easy to say "Europe."

Il termine è una costruzione dello spirito,

The term is a construction of the spirit,

derivata da una realtà geografica mal definita.

derived from a poorly-defined geographical entity.

Captions 1-3, Umberto Eco - Proust e l'identità europea

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Sometimes it's hard to decide if presto means "fast," "soon," or "early." It may be a combination, like in the following example, where a fire has started in a film lab.


Guarda là, è la Cine Service, sta bruciando.

Look over there. It's the Cine Service. It's burning.

Sì, alla Cine Service. Fate presto. C'è nessuno?

Yes, at the Cine Service. Come quickly. Anyone here?

Captions 26-29, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 8

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Generally speaking, fare presto means "to be quick," or "to do something quickly."


Facciamo presto, che tra poco torna il [sic: la] signora Franca.

Let's be quick, because in a little while, Missus Franca is set to return.

Caption 2, Questione di Karma - Rai Cinema - Part 3

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We hope you have gained some insight into how "fast," "early," and "soon" can be intertwined in the Italian adverb presto.


A presto!




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