When? How much?
These are two of the first words tourists learn in Italy—for good reason. Once you know when a shop opens or a train leaves and how much a cappuccino or a ticket costs, you are set to go (siete a posto).
Sometimes quando is all you need to ask. If you want to find out “until when,” ask “Fino a quando?” If you’re curious about since when, ask “Da quando?" My favorite Italian response is an authoritative, “Il quando te lo dirò.” (I’ll tell you exactly when.)
The whole world began asking "when" in 1962 when the Italian pop song “Quando, Quando, Quando” became an international hit, with a catchy tune and lyrics like these:
Dimmi quando tu verrai,
dimmi quando… quando… quando…
l'anno, il giorno e l'ora
in cui forse tu mi bacerai…
Tell me when you will come
Tell me when…when…when
The year, the day, and the hour in which
Perhaps you will kiss me.
Pat Boone, Engelbert Humperdinck and Michael Bublé popularized English versions with only one irreplaceable Italian word: quando.
Quanto is used mostly for counting–but not just money. At one of my favorite trattoriain Florence, the jovial owner greets each group of customers with a hearty “Quanti siamo stasera?’ (How many are we this evening?)
Quanto can be used more abstractly for things that you can't quantificare (quantify). “Quanto ha sofferto!” *How much he suffered!” Italians say of a hapless soul who may have lost “tutti quanti, tutto quanto” (everybody, everything).
“Quanto rumore!“(What a racket!) I’ve complained in noisy restaurants. "Quanto mi manchi!" (How much I miss you) I say to a faraway friend. And of course, I've sighed, "Quanto ti voglio bene!" (How much I care about you!) to those I hold dear.
Quanto, combined with mai (never) and an adjective, comes in handy for all sorts of exclamations: How important is something? Extremely, very much, utmost? Then you would say, “Quanto mai importante!” How much salt or sugar should you add to a recipe? "Quanto basta” (Just enough, as needed).
If you're admiring a muscular athlete, you might comment on quanto sia forte (how strong he is). Although you probably wouldn't talk in such a flowery way, you could write poetic words such as, “bella quant’altra mai,” to a woman you consider lovelier than any other.
When politicians or academics launch into speeches, they unfurl quanto in rhetorical flourishes such as “per quanto mi riguarda” (as far as I’m concerned,” “in quanto che” (inasmuch as) or “quanto a me” (as for me). But with too many of these, “quanto” (how much) quickly becomes troppo (too much).
Words and Expressions
Quand’ecco –- Lo and behold! Just then, that’s when…, when suddenly…
Quand’anche –- even if
Ma quando mai! – No way! Are you kidding? Not at all!
Di quando in quando— now and again, every so often or from time to time
Per quanto strano sembri— strange as it may seem
E quant’altro–- and what not, and what have you
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.