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Poi: A Short Word That Carries a Big Punch

Poi is a short word, and it's an adverb, but it is used extremely often, and more often than not, it means something other than its basic translation of "then." The English word "then" is also one of those words we find in all sorts of situations, meaning various things. Sometimes it's tricky to find the "right" English equivalent of poi, since it is also used as a kind of filler word in Italian.


Let's look at the dictionary definition of poi. The first definition is "then." How helpful is that? Not so helpful, except in the most basic cases.


At its most basic, poi may be used like "then" to put things in order, in a series. For example, if you are giving someone instructions, you will use "Then you do this..." The same thing can be done in Italian. Here, Daniela is listing the colors and how they work in Italian.


I colori positivi sono: grigio.

The positive colors are: gray.

Grigio. La maglia di Sandra è grigia.

Gray. Sandra's sweater is gray.

Poi abbiamo il nero.

Then we have "nero" (black).

La mia maglia è nera.

My sweater is black.

Poi abbiamo la maglia di Ingeborg che è... bianca.

Then we have Ingeborg's sweater, which is... white.

Captions 4-8, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori

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When someone is telling a story, you might ask:


E poi cosa è successo?

And then what happened?

Caption 30, Acqua in bocca - Rapimento e riscatto - Ep 12

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But poi can also mean later. Maybe the easiest way to remember this is in the expression prima o poi (sooner or later).


Se nascevo da un'altra parte,

If I was [had been] born somewhere else,

prima o poi, il destino bussava.

sooner or later, destiny would have come knocking.

Caption 20, Chi m'ha visto - film

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Speaking of expressions, another one that's used a lot is d'ora in poi from now on:


Siamo una cinquantina

There are about fifty of us

e siamo tutti pronti ad avere,

and we are ready to have,

d'ora in poi, come soli referenti voi.

from now on, you as our sole representative,

Captions 24-25, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

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In other words, we're talking about "later than this moment," or "henceforth." But we can also say da quel moment in poi, when we're talking about the past or the future — from then on, from that moment forward.


Sometimes poi is used like "besides," "in the end," "all in all."


Poi, adesso che ha deciso di candidarsi alle elezioni,

Besides, now that he has decided to run for election,

ha in testa soltanto la politica e il Movimento Comunità.

he has only politics and the Community Movement in mind.

Captions 4-5, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

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In the following example, we could even leave poi out, and the sentence would make sense.


...perché questo serve per

...because this serves to

rendere ermetica la chiusura,

create the hermetic seal,

quindi non far entrare l'aria,

meaning it doesn't let in any air,

che poi è quella che va a far deteriorare la marmellata.

which is, in the end, what makes the jam deteriorate.

Captions 75-78, Andromeda - Marmellata anti spreco

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So, often, poi is just used as filler. In fact, here, it's even left out of the translation, because del resto is already complete. But poi embellishes it a bit, to mean "also" or "too."


Come prosciutto e melone poi del resto, però la mozzarella...

Like cured ham and melon, for that matter, but mozzarella...

Caption 23, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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We have just scratched the surface. If you find instances of poi that you don't understand, please let us know and we will add on to this lesson.