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Short periods of time in Italian

In English, we say, "Wait a minute," "Wait a second," "Wait a moment," Just a moment," and so on. In Italian, we have cognates that work just fine: un minuto, un secondo, and un momento.


We can say (using the familiar form):

Aspetta un minuto/secondo/momento (wait a minute / second / moment).

Luca, Luca, Luca, aspetta, un minuto.

Luca, Luca, Luca, wait, one minute.

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 4

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Grazie, fratellino. Un secondo solo, eh.

Thanks, little brother. Just a second, hey.

Caption 32, Il Commissario Manara S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1

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Un momento!

Just a moment!

Caption 17, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 5

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But in English, we usually use a verb or adverb, such as "wait" or "just." In Italian, there are some additional choices and the word order can change. The method can be applied to all three nouns mentioned above.

Solo un momento (just a moment).
Un minuto solo (just a minute).
Un momento (just a moment).


But there are two other words describing an instant of time that can be used interchangeably with the cognates we have looked at thus far.

L'istante (the instant)

In English, we don't use the cognate "instant" in this context very often, but we can easily guess its meaning.

It's common to say un istante solo, for example. (Note there is only one N in this word!)

Eh, se mi può scusare un istante, perché dovrei mandare un messaggino.

Uh, if you'll excuse me a moment, because I have to send a text.

Caption 11, La Ladra EP. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 12

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Un attimo (an instant)

In a recent segment of Provaci ancora Prof, we hear yet another word describing a very short interval of time: un attimo. It also means "an instant" but it's not easy to think of a cognate for this. Sometimes it's helpful to find out the etymology of a word to help remember it.

Interestingly, some scholars say it comes from the word for "atom": Latin, atŏmum, from the Greek átomos — indivisible quantity. We think of an atom as being pretty tiny. 

But other scholars say it might come from the German for "breath": "der Atem." One breath is pretty quick, too.

So in the context of "Wait a minute!" we can add attimo to the list of choices.

Oppure: "Aspetta un attimo, ora lo chiamo".

Or else: "Wait a moment. I'll call him right away."

Caption 56, Corso di italiano con Daniela Ora - Part 1

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We can also say:

un attimo solo (just a second).


or, with a bit more impatience or irritation:

un attimo (just a second)!


La prego Marzio, un attimo!

Please, Marzio, just a moment!

Caption 35, Il Commissario Manara S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 10

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So un attimo is a very short period of time, likened to "an instant," "the blink of an eye." It rolls off the tongue nicely, but don't forget the double T (which gives it the feel of irritation) and the single M.


And even though un attimo is a very brief period of time, Italians like to make it even shorter. Un attimino

Libero, potrei conferire con te un attimino?

Libero, could I confer with you a moment?

Caption 70, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3 EP2 - Un nuovo medico in famiglia - Part 13

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Italians like to use the word attimo in conversation, and it can find its way into sentences quite easily. We'll look at some example in a future lesson.