This is the video you didn’t know you needed, but that will help you, once and for all, understanding the meaning of all those time-related expressions in Italian. I’m talking about those usually made of a preposition and a specific temporal reference, that could be days, months, years… For example: a 3 anni, per 3 anni, da 3 anni, di 3 anni, tra/fra 3 anni, in 3 anni, 3 anni fa, entro 3 anni, fino a 3 anni, da 3 a 5 anni, con 3 anni.
Prepositions and temporal references
For beginners, I hope this will be a clear and useful summary to finally understand all these expressions; for the experts, I hope it will be a quick and effective way to revise whenever you want all these troublesome expressions. Let’s start with the explenation, and at the end of the video, you will find an exercise to revise what you learnt during the lesson.
There’s something I have to point out: I chose “3 anni” (3 years) as a temporal reference for all sentences. Of course, it’s a random choice, but you can change it with anything you want, whatever you need in that situation. Let’s begin with the first expression:
A 3 ANNI
In Italian we use this to talk about the age we or someone else were when a specific event took place, in this case we were 3 years old.
In short, it’s a bit like saying “when I was 3”, or “when he/she was 3”, etc.
A 3 anni ho cominciato a frequentare la scuola materna. → I started attending primary school when I was 3.
Lucia, a soli 3 anni, sapeva già parlare inglese, italiano e francese. → Lucia, when she was barely 3, could already speak English, Italian and French.
I figli di Antonio hanno imparato a sciare a 3 anni. → Antonio’s children learnt how to ski when they were just 3.
PER 3 ANNI
This expression, on the other hand, is used in Italian to talk about an action that happened during a precise time frame (meaning with a clear beginning and end), in the past or in the future, but not in the moment you are talking. In short, an action that took place during a time frame and is already over, or an action that will happen during a specific time frame but has yet to start.
Lorenzo ha vissuto a Madrid per 3 anni prima di tornare a Pisa. → Lorenzo lived in Madrid for 3 years before going back to Pisa.
Sono stati insieme per 3 anni ma poi si sono lasciati. → They’ve been together for 3 years but then they broke up.
Dopo la nascita di sua figlia, Stefania smetterà di lavorare per 3 anni. → After her daughter’s birth, Stefania will stop working for 3 years.
Dopo questo intervento, non potrai giocare a livello agonistico per 3 anni. → After this surgery, you won’t be able to play at competitive level for 3 years.
DA 3 ANNI
This expression is often confused with the previous one, however it has a completely different meaning. It refers to an action that started in the past (in this case 3 years ago), but is still going on in the moment you are talking (present or past).
Let’s look at some examples to better understand:
Laura vive a Parigi da 3 anni. → Laura has been living in Paris since 3 years ago. (and she hasn’t moved out, she is still living there)
Quando lui mi ha chiesto di Giuseppe, gli ho detto che ormai era un imprenditore da 3 anni e che non aveva intenzione di cambiare il suo lavoro. → When he asked me about Giuseppe, I told him that he has been a Businessman since 3 years ogo and had no intention of changing his job. (Giuseppe was still a businessman the moment I said this to the other person, even if it happened in the past)
Studio italiano da 3 anni. → I’ve been studying Italian for 3 years ago.
Gli ho detto che studiavo italiano da 3 anni e mi ha chiesto come andasse. → I told him that we’ve been studying Italian for 3 years.
DI 3 ANNI
We use instead the proposition DI + a temporal reference to simply talk about somebody’s (or something’s) age. Easy enough, right?
Al supermercato ho incontrato un bambino di 3 anni che aveva perso sua madre e io l’ho aiutato a ritrovarla. → At the supermarket I met a 3-year-old kid who had lost his mother and I helped him look for her.
Ho preferito scambiare la mia moto vecchia di 3 anni con quella di mia sorella, di soli 4 mesi. Ho fatto un affare! → I preferred trading my 3-year-old motorcycle with my sister’s, which was only 4 months old. A great deal!
TRA/FRA 3 ANNI
This is another of the most confusing expressions for those trying to learn Italian. To clarify its meaning once and for all, I can tell you that (both with”tra” or “fra”, it doesn’t make a difference)it is used to talk about an action that will happen at a specific time in the future, meaning after a specific amount of time (in this case 3 years) from the present moment.
So for example, we would say:
Matteo mi ha detto che si sposerà fra 3 anni. → Matteo told me that he will get married in 3 years from now. (so, his marriage will take place after 3 years from now)
Tra 3 anni cambierò la mia auto. → I’ll change my car in 3 years from now.
However, you must be careful when using this expression to talk about the past. In reality, while the others don’t change when used when talking about the past, this one does. So, to talk about the future in the past you can’t use “tra” or “fra”, you will have to use “dop” (after), either before or after the temporal reference. I will show it to you right away! Let’s change the previous sentences from the present to the past.
Matteo mi aveva detto che si sarebbe sposato dopo 3 anni / 3 anni dopo. → Matteo told me that he would get married after 3 years.
Avrei cambiato la mia auto dopo 3 anni / 3 anni dopo. → I would have changed my car after 3 years.
IN 3 ANNI
Let’s make it clear right away: NO, it’s not used to talk about something happening in the future. NO.
Rather this expression is used to talk about the overall time needed to carry out an action, in the past or in the future. In short, it’s like saying “it took 3 years”, “it will take 3 years” to do that thing.
Ho raggiunto il livello B2 di italiano in 3 anni. → I reached the level B2 in Italian In 2 years.
Hanno garantito che costruiranno il nuovo centro commerciale in 3 anni. → They assured that they will build the new mall in 3 years.
3 ANNI FA
We use this expression to simply point out the exact moment (in the past) when something happened.
3 anni fa abbiamo cominciato a lavorare qui. → We started working here 3 years ago.
Il suocero di Elena è morto 3 anni fa. → Elena’s father in law died 3 years ago.
3 anni fa andava ancora a scuola e oggi si è sposata. Incredibile! → 3 years ago she was still going to school and today she is getting married. Incredible!
This one changes when used in the past as well, because the “fa” turns into “prima” (before).
For example, if we turn the previous sentences in the past form, we get:
3 anni prima avevamo cominciato a lavorare lì. → We had begun working there 3 years before.
Il suocero di Elena era morto 3 anni prima. → Elena’s father in law had died 3 years before.
3 anni prima andava ancora a scuola e quel giorno si era sposata. Incredibile! → 3 years before she was still going to school, and that day she got married. Incredible!
ENTRO 3 ANNI
This expression refers to the facy that the time expressed in the sentence (in this case 3 years) is time limit in the future in which a certain action can take place. However, it would be better to do it before the time runs out, and definitely not after. That’s why this expression is often found on food packages to point out the expiration date.
Dobbiamo cambiare casa entro 3 anni, perché il nostro contratto scade. → We must change house within 3 years, because our contract will expire.
Questi fagioli in scatola hanno una scadenza molto lunga: bisogna consumarli entro 3 anni. → These canned beans have a long-term expiration date: we have to eat them within 3 years.
FINO A 3 ANNI
This expression refers to the max age or time limit required to do(or to not do) something, including all the ages and time periods within that limit.
I’ll explain right away with some examples:
I bambini fino a tre anni non possono salire su questa giostra. → Children up to 3 years can’t go on this attraction. (meaning that children between 0 and 3 years can’t go there. They can once they are 4 years old)
Per una rapina si possono ricevere fino a 3 anni di carcere. → You cen recieve up to 3 years in jail for robbery. (meaning that you can recieve up to 3 years, but also anything between 0 and 3 years).
DA 3 A 5 ANNI
In this case, we make use of not 1 but 2 numbers and, consequently, 2 prepositions. the 2 numbers represent the minimum and maximum limit (of time or age) within which something must be done.
I bambini da 3 a 5 anni in Italia frequentano la scuola materna. → Children between 3 and 5 years in Italy attend primary school.
Gli attori delle serie TV firmano contratti da 3 a 5 anni così che non cambino idea. → TV series actors have contracts that last between 3 and 5 years, so that they can’t change their minds.
CON 3 ANNI
Lastly, this last expression is probably the least used in Italian, because it has a very specific meaning. It’s used to point out a characteristic (that somebody or something has) regarding time, meaning an extra value, that further defines them.
Ho comprato una nuova auto con 3 anni di garanzia. → I bought a new car with a 3 years warranty.
Paolo è un medico con 3 anni di servizio. → Paolo is a medic with 3 years of service.
Once again the lesson is over, but if prepositions are still a nightmare for you, you should watch the 3 video-lessons we dedicated exclusively to prepositions:
I’m super sure that by watching all our lessons, you won’t have any doubt or problem when using prepositions in Italian!