Ever heard about the Swiss Army knife that has 141 different functions?
It has a tweezer, toothpick, magnifying glass, nail file, fish scaler, laser pointer, tire tread gauge, hook disgorger and more—no, it doesn’t fit in your pocket!
“Allora” is like that Swiss Army knife—it has so many functions and meanings!
In this post, we try to tame this beast of a word by first looking into three reasons why “allora” is so difficult to learn and then explaining the most common ways to use this versatile Italian word!
Why Is “Allora” Difficult to Learn?
1. It’s an extremely versatile word.
Make no mistake: every language has its own words that make language learners stay up at night.
One of the reasons “allora” is so difficult to nail down has something to do with the nature of words and languages. Words can take on multiple meanings—each of them valid and useful. Rare is the word with only one meaning.
Take the English word “tie” for example. It’s a pretty common word. You might use it multiple times a day to mean very different things. It’s the thing you wear around your neck, it’s the thing you do to your shoelaces, it’s the pranking score between you and your wife. And all that’s before you get to work! At the end of the day, before you go home, you might also be tied up at the office.
And, if you’re an English learner who looks at this three-letter word used in different contexts, you begin to ask yourself, “What does tie really mean?”
In our case, as language learners building up our treasure chest of Italian words, we want to have a clean, one-to-one correspondence between English and Italian words. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
“Allora” is a versatile word that can mean so many different things.
One of the translations for “allora” is the English word “so.” (Herein lies the problem because “so” itself has so many uses.)
Check out the video below by Vaporetto Italiano (Italian Vaporetto) to see “allora” used as “so.”
To really appreciate this, think of it the other way around. Imagine you’re a native Italian speaker trying to learn the translation and uses for the word “so.” Can you imagine how many meanings and functions the word has in the English language?! There’s a huge number of different examples you have to go through just to get the flavor of the word.
An English speaker can nonchalantly drop “so” at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence and leave an English learner’s head spinning.
“So, are you gonna buy this?”
“She won’t come out of her room. She’s been so embarrassed by the situation.”
“Is that so?”
“Why? Because I said so.”
“So, how was the movie?”
“It was so-so.”
“English is so hard.”
Imagine trying to learn all that.
“Allora” is a bit like that for Italian students.
2. Context matters.
When it comes to meaning, context matters.
Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Words are meaningful in their immediate context. English words like “run,” “break,” “set” or “take” have a myriad of meanings, but they can be sufficiently understood in context.
“Allora” is a difficult word to nail down not only because it has multiple meanings but because native speakers tend to use it in different contexts.
You can learn about some of these meanings by watching the video below by Learn Italian with Lucrezia.
One native speaker might habitually use “allora” as a greeting, like when saying, “How are you?” or “What’s up?” as in this video by Living Language:
“Allora” might also be a teacher’s favorite word for her noisy students.
Or, it might be a mother’s word of warning to her kids.
And, just when you think you’ve got the hang of the word, somebody else will use it in a way you’ve never heard before.
To make matters worse, when you ask native speakers about the word—like Aziz Ansari’s character in “Master of None” does in the video clip below—they’ll have very different explanations, and you may begin to wonder which native speaker is right about “allora.”
Context really matters, and this includes the speaking habits of the native speaker you’re talking to.
3. Tone matters.
This is really an extension of context.
“Allora” can come with different nonverbal actions, facial expressions and gestures.
It can be followed by an exclamation point, a question mark, a comma, a period or an ellipsis.
“Allora” can be a statement unto itself.
It can be a question when accompanied by a rise in tone.
It can be an expression of different emotions, from anger to indignation, nonchalance, surprise or even encouragement.
So, if you’re a language student who hopes to fit “allora” into the same box where the flashcards for cane (dog) and gatto (cat) are neatly piled, then you’ll have a difficult time.
That said, let’s go over some of the most common functions and meanings of “allora.”
How to Use “Allora” in Italian: Meanings, Expressions and More
Looking for ways to practice “allora” and other Italian words?
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And now, let’s take a look at some of the most common uses of “allora.”
“Allora” as a Lone Word
We’ve already alluded to this in the previous section when we talked about why the heck “allora” is so hard to nail down as a translated word. The truth is that there’s no single translation for the word.
Some say “allora” has no meaning. Others say “allora” can mean anything you want. They’re both correct.
So, instead of looking for its translation, why not look for its function? How is “allora” being used in the statement or conversation? What is its communicative function?
“Allora” by its lonesome, as a single word, can mean the following:
Allora? (It’s like asking, “So, what do you think of my paintings?”)
Allora! (It can mean, “Hey, how’s it going?”)
Allora!!! (It can also mean, “C’mon!” or when a mother screams it at her kids, it means something bad is about to happen if they don’t pipe down.)
Your job as an Italian language learner is not just to know the translation of individual words but to read communicative intent.
That’s why you don’t go running back to your flashcards to understand special words like “allora.” You refer to the situation, the context and the person talking.
Your journey with “allora” will begin by guessing what it means in context, then slowly anticipating its use and then, finally, liberally peppering it throughout your own conversations. You’ll make mistakes on this journey, but that’s okay.
“Allora” at the Beginning of a Sentence
“Allora” can be used as a filler word, like “uhm” or “uh.”
Native speakers often use it to buy time. For instance, you can use “allora” to introduce a thought that’s still being formed. Imagine your friend asks you when you’re free to hang out. You might respond:
Alloraaaaa… la prossima settimana. (Well… next week.)
“Allora” is so flexible because the thought that follows it can be about anything. For example, when pointing to a menu to signal to the waiter what you’d like, you might say:
Alloraaa… Voglio fare questo, questo, questo, questo, e questo. (Well… I want this one, this one, this one, this and this one.)
Still, you can use “allora” at the beginning of any sentence, even when not followed by a thoughtful pause:
Allora, andiamo! (Okay, let’s go!)
“Allora” as “Then”
“Then” is an important translation for “allora” and an important time marker in a sentence.
And, just as “then” has many nuances of meaning in English, so does “allora.”
“Allora” can demonstrate a sequence of things, showing what happened first and then what happened next, as in:
Trova un lavoro. Solo allora potrai pensare a sposarti. (Get a job. Only then can you think about getting married.)
Se sono arrivati, allora possiamo cominciare. (If they have arrived, then we can start.)
“Allora” as “then” can also give you a sense about the past, of what things were like “back then” or “at that time.”
Pensa a come doveva essere allora. (Think of what it must have been like back then.)
This look-back doesn’t necessarily have to be nostalgic or through some rose-colored glasses. “Allora” just gives you a chance to refer back to things in the past. The look-back may notice things that have changed or ceased to exist, as hinted in the previous example, or it may be about things that continue to be true in the present, as in:
Guarda com’era grassa già allora. (Look how fat she was, even then.)
“Allora” can also be translated as “since then” or “ever since,” where something has happened and it has brought lasting results/changes. So, “ever since” that event, “this” is the continuing result, as in “Ever since I saw her, I’ve been in love.”
Abbiamo parlato quella sera. E da allora siamo migliori amiche. (We talked that night. And we’ve been best friends ever since.)
“Allora” as “So”
“Allora” isn’t just an important time marker, but it can also serve as a bridge between “cause” and “consequence.” This is when the word is translated as “so,” “therefore” or “because of that.”
Pioveva forte. Allora sono rimasto a casa. (It was raining hard. So I stayed at home.)
Ero così spaventata, allora ho pianto. (I was very scared, so I cried.)
“Allora” as “so,” in addition to being used to bridge “cause” and “consequence,” can also be used to ask a question.
Allora, com’è stato il viaggio? (So, how was the trip?)
Allora, cosa vuoi? (So, what do you want?)
Notice from the previous two examples that “allora” is used at the beginning of the sentence, similar to our examples from the earlier section.
This is the reality of “allora.” If you look very closely, it overlaps, and there’s no clean and clear separation of its uses (although we tried).
But, I hope that you now have a little more grasp of the word. To review, “allora” can be used as a single word, as an introduction to Italian sentences, as a time marker (“then”) and as a connector between cause and effect (“so”).
These are the most common uses of the word, but I’m sure you’ll bump into others as you learn the language and talk to native speakers—it’s best to just have fun with it.
Good luck with this slippery fella!
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