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What does presto really mean?

 

If you play or listen to classical music, you will have seen the indication presto on a playlist, tracklist, concert program, or score. It usually means the music should go fast. The fastest tempo you might see is prestissimo (very fast).

But there are two other, more mundane, meanings of presto, and they're both pretty important in everyday conversation. 

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Presto means "early"

Presto is not the only way to say "early," and it depends on the context, but it's a very important way.  One way we use presto almost every day is in talking about our daily schedule. When do we get up? Presto (early)? Non troppo presto (not too early)? Molto presto (very early)? Prestissimo (super early)?

Eh, giusto. -Noi, per esempio, cuciniamo tutti insieme, mangiamo tutti insieme, la sera dormiamo tutti nello stesso letto, poi andiamo a ballare, facciamo baldoria, e la mattina ci svegliamo presto per andare all'università.

Uh, right. -We, for example, we all cook together, we eat all together, at night we all sleep in the same bed, then we go dancing, we have a blast, and in the morning we wake up early to go to the university.

Captions 34-37, Serena vita da universitari

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We can qualify presto with molto (very) or troppo (too):

Dovrei consegnare questi documenti al Dottor Del Serio. Ma è troppo presto, sta dormendo.

I should deliver these documents to Doctor Del Serio. But it's too early. He's sleeping.

Captions 27-28, La Tempesta film - Part 19

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Everyone has their own idea of what "early" is and there are some sfumature (nuances), too. In the following example, we have presto, prestissimo and prestino

Senti, non è che domattina presto potresti accompagnarmi dai genitori di una mia allieva? Sì, sì. Presto quanto? Eh, be', be', non prestissimo, però un po' prestino.

Listen, tomorrow morning early, you wouldn't take me, would you, to the parents' house of one of my students? Yes, yes. How early? Oh well, well, not real early, but earlyish.

Captions 26-29, Provaci Ancora Prof! S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 23

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Presto means "soon"

If you have been reading the Yabla Italian newsletters, you will have seen the sign-off at the end:

a presto, literally, "until soon," but commonly translated as "[I'll] see you soon".

 

Allora a presto, caro, eh?! -A presto. Ciao. -Arrivederci, signora. -Ciao, Giovanni, ciao. Ciao.

So, see you soon dear, OK? -See you soon. Bye. -Goodbye ma'am. -Bye Giovanni, bye. Bye.

Captions 28-30, Il Commissario Manara S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 4

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Here's a little telephone conversation about starting a new job. The way we form the comparative and superlative of adjectives is with più (more). The presence of the definite article indicates it's in the superlative. 

 

Ti andrebbe bene cominciare già domani? -Sì, certo, non c'è problema. Voglio mettermi al lavoro il più presto possibile. Domani è perfetto. -Molto bene.

Would it be all right with you to start tomorrow? -Yes, of course. That's no problem. I want to get to work as soon as possible. Tomorrow is perfect. -Very good.

Captions 17-21, Italiano commerciale Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 1

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Note that we have two similar but different ways to say "as soon as possible." One way is in the previous example, il più presto possibile. The other common way is in the following example, where we have the preposition a (at, too, until): al più presto. In this case, we don't add possibile.

 

Sei riuscita a vedere che c'è nella valigetta? Un mucchio di soldi. Dobbiamo agire al più presto, OK?

Did you manage to see what's in the briefcase? A bunch of money. We have to act as soon as possible, OK?

Captions 40-41, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 6

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Presto means "fast"

It can be just the single word, said with urgency:

Mi sa che è della polizia! Professoressa, andiamo. Andiamo, che è gente pericolosa! Sbrigatevi! Presto! Forza, prof! Forza!

I think she's from the police! Prof, let's go, let's go because they're dangerous people! Hurry up! Quickly! Come on, Prof! Come on!

Captions 23-27, Provaci Ancora Prof! S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 13

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Presto means fast, even though, in the following example, that's not how it's translated. This is because it's part of an idiomatic expression: si fa presto a dire, which, taken literally, means "Saying it is done quickly," or "We can be quick to say..."

 

Si fa presto a dire Europa. Il termine è una costruzione dello spirito, derivata da una realtà geografica mal definita.

It's easy to say "Europe." The term is a construction of the spirit, derived from a poorly-defined geographical entity.

Captions 1-3, Umberto Eco Proust e l'identità europea

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Sometimes it's hard to decide if presto means "fast," "soon," or "early." It may be a combination, like in the following example, where a fire has started in a film lab.

 

Chiama i pompieri e per sicurezza pure un'ambulanza, non si sa mai. -Sì, alla Cine Service. Fate presto.

Call the firemen and to be on the safe side, an ambulance, too. You never know. -Yes, at the Cine Service. Come quickly.

Captions 27-29, Il Commissario Manara S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 8

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Generally speaking, fare presto means "to be quick," or "to do something quickly."

 

Facciamo presto, che tra poco torna il [sic: la] signora Franca.

Let's be quick, because in a little while, Missus Franca is set to return.

Caption 2, Questione di Karma Rai Cinema - Part 3

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We hope you have gained some insight into how "fast," "early," and "soon" can be intertwined in the Italian adverb presto.

 

A presto!

 

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Vocabulary

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