The meaning of the word “TANTO” and its different uses in Italian

In this lesson, we are going to talk about the different uses and meanings that the word “tanto” can have based on the specific context in which it appears. Moreover, we will explain some commonly used expressions that contain the term “tanto” and that you should learn and use to improve your Italian expressive abilities.

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The MEANINGS of the word TANTO in Italian

THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE WORD “TANTO”

“Tanto” is a synonym of  “molto”; therefore, it can be employed to indicate a large amount of something or the high intensity of something.

Therefore, we can either use “tanto” or “molto” indiscriminately, in sentences in which we want to indicate a large amount of something, such as:

  • In cielo ci sono tante/molte stelle → There are a lot of stars in the sky
  • Ieri ho comprato tanti/molti cioccolatini → Yesterday, I bought a lot of chocolates

It is important to remember that to express “high intensity” in spoken language, it is more frequent to find the word “molto” rather than the word “tanto”; for instance, in sentences such as:

  • In questi giorni ho molto male al ginocchio → These days, my knee has been hurting a lot
  • Giorgio è un ragazzo molto strano → Giorgio is a very weird guy

However, it would not be wrong to say:

  • In questi giorni ho tanto male al ginocchio → These days, my knee has been hurting very much
  • Giorgio è un ragazzo tanto strano → Giorgio is a really weird guy

 

IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS AND MEANINGS OF THE WORD “TANTO”

There are also various fixed expressions and formulas that contain the word “tanto”. Let’s see some of the most important ones!

 

1. The first expression is  “tanto… quanto…”, which can be translated as “as… as…”: it is used to indicate that two objects or concepts are of the  same quantity or intensity. For example:

  • Ho mangiato tante fragole quante more → I ate as many strawberries as blackberries
  • Filippo è tanto simpatico quanto intelligente → Filippo is as likable as he is intelligent

 

2. There is also the expression: “è da tanto che non ci vediamo!”. Two possible translations are “it has been a while since we last saw each other” and “we have not seen each other in a long time”. In this case, the word “tanto” means “tanto tempo”, but the noun “tempo”(time) is implied. An example of how to use this expression is:

  • È da tanto che non ci sentiamo! → We have not heard about each other in a long time

In this case, we are using a fixed expression that allows just a few alternatives. For instance, in the sentence used as an example, we could substitute the word “tanto” with “sacco”. Then, it would be:

  • È da un sacco che non ci vediamo! → It has been forever since we have seen each other

 

3. Another common expression is  “con tanto di…” (“complete with…”): it is employed to indicate that you attribute to a specific event an added value, which could be either positive or negative. Let’s make some examples:

  • Oggi il mio capo mi ha promesso un nuovo ufficio con tanto di scrivania e computer! → Today, my boss has promised me a new office complete with a desk and a computer!
  • Mi hanno dedicato un articolo sul giornale con tanto di foto e biografia! → I have been dedicated an article in the newspaper complete with photos and biography!
  • Dopo quel disastro, è stato licenziato con tanto di denuncia a suo carico → After that mess, he was fired with a complaint against him

 

4. Another expression often used is “tanto vale!” (“may/might as well…”). We usually use it when we want to say that in a specific context, given the circumstances, there is no point in making an effort because it would be useless, or it makes sense to endeavor because the situation does not require much sacrifice. Let’s see some examples:

  • La settimana scorsa ho dato il primo esame di italiano: ho studiato giorno e notte per un mese, e sono riuscita a prendere solo 18. La prossima volta preparerò l’esame in due giorni. Tanto vale! → Last week, I took my first Italian exam: I had studied day and night for a month but I only got an 18. Next time, I might as well prepare for the exam in just two days!
  • Se riparare la tua macchina costa così tanto, allora tanto vale comprarne una nuova! → If fixing your car costs that much, then you may as well buy a new one!
  • Non è molto lontano il duomo, tanto vale andare a piedi! → The cathedral is not very far, we may as well walk there!

 

5. The word “tanto” is also used to suggest that a possible failure of our attempt would not be so terrible or that even if we were to make a mistake, nothing really bad would happen. For example, we could say:

  • Vieni pure a prendermi più tardi, tanto gli altri saranno tutti in ritardo → You can pick me up later. The other will be late anyway.

Basically, you are saying: “Even if we get there late, nothing will happen because the others will be late too”.

Or:

  • Se ti piace diglielo, tanto non hai niente da perdere! → If you like him, tell him! It is not like you have something to lose.

In other words: “Even if he were to say that he does not like you back, you would not lose anything. At least try… It is worth a shot!”

Or again:

  • Domani non andrò a fare la spesa, tanto ho abbastanza cibo per almeno altri due giorni → Tomorrow, I will not go grocery shopping, I have enough food for the next two days

 

6. Another frequently used expression is “se tanto mi dà tanto…” (“if that’s the case…”): it is a fixed expression that does not allow modifications and that it is used to say “well, if that is the case, then…”. For instance, we could say:

  • Ho lavorato senza pause per due settimane, ho fatto gli straordinari e ho concluso tantissimi affari con diversi clienti. Per tutta risposta, il mio capo mi ha diminuito lo stipendio. Beh, se tanto mi dà tanto, la prossima volta non alzerò un dito… → I have worked nonstop for two weeks, I have worked overtime and I closed a lot of deals with different clients. In response, my boss decreased my salary. Well, if that’s the case, next time I will not lift a finger…

That is like saying: “If this is what I get from all my work, then next time I will not make any kind of effort because it is not worth it”

 

7. The last widely used expression is “tanto di cappello!” (“hats off to…”) that we can use to express admiration for an action performed by someone else. Basically, it has the same meaning as the French expression “chapeau!” which is also often used in Italian. For example:

  • A 21 anni aveva già avviato la sua attività imprenditoriale e a 25 si è laureata in Economia. Tanto di cappello! → At 21 years old, she had already started her business and at 25 she graduated in Economics. Hats off to her!

This expression refers to the fact that, decades ago, people used to take off their hat and bow when something raised their admiration. Therefore, it is like saying: “Wow, in front of this, I take off my hat!”

 

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Whereas, if you are tired, and you do not want to keep studying, watch the video about the Italian alternatives to the expression “I am tired” (sono stanco). It will be super useful to enlarge your vocabulary and improve your Italian!

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