How Long Will It Take: Metterci and Volerci to Express Time

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 04:22
clock in Venice

Time may be relative, but 2020 has stretched, condensed, and emptied it of meaning like no other year. Months feel like years, days fly by in what seem like minutes, and all of us are wondering how long this strange and unsettling pandemic period will last.

The question that seems to be on everyone’s lips this year is, “How long will it take to develop a vaccine?” though, of course, what we are all really asking is, “How long before we can get back to our normal lives?”

In Italian, there are two ways of talking about a time period and how long it will last: “volerci” and “metterci”. These two transitive verbs are not used in the same way, however, as their meanings vary slightly.

Read on to see how to use each:

How to Use Volerci to Express Time

Use “volerci” to indicate the time period required to complete a specific act.

Example:
Ci vogliono 2 ore per andare in treno da Assisi a Roma. - It takes 2 hours to travel from Assisi to Rome by train.

Since the subject of the sentence is the time spent on completing the act, the verb “volerci” is used in the third person singular in cases in which the time period is a single hour, minute, day, or other measure and in the third person plural in cases in which the time is a multiple of measure (four hours, three minutes, ten days, etc.)

Example:
Ci vuole un’ora per pulire la camera. - It takes an hour to clean the bedroom.
Quanto ci vuole per arrivare a casa? - How long does it take to get home?
Ci vogliono due settimane per leggere il libro di testo. - It takes two weeks to read the textbook.
Quanti giorni ci vogliono per avere i risultati? - How many days does it take to have the results?

How to Use Metterci to Express Time

Use “metterci” to indicate the time required by a person or a thing to complete a specific act.

Example:
Ci metto un’ora solo per spiegare come funziona. - It takes me an hour just to explain how it works.

In this case, the subject of the sentence is not the time spent on completing the act, as is the case with “volerci”, but the person or thing that is completing the act. The verb “metterci” here is conjugated based on the subject - in the example above, the first person singular to indicate “me” - and not the measure of time, regardless of whether it is singular or plural. Where “volerci” is always in the third person singular or plural”, metterci can be conjugated in any way to match the subject of the sentence.

Example:
La guida ci mette due ore per visitare il museo. - The guide takes two hours to visit the museum.
Quanto ci mette la guida per visitare il museo? - How long does it take the guide to visit the museum?
I medici ci mettono 7 ore per finire l’intervento chirurgico. - The doctors take seven hours to complete the surgery.
Quanto ci mettono i medici per finire l’intervento chirurgico? - How long does it take the doctors to complete the surgery?

Volerci and Metterci in the Past Tense

“Volerci” and “metterci” are different even in the past tense:

The auxiliary verb “essere” (to be) is used to form the past tense of “volerci“.

Example:
Ci sono volute 2 ore per riparare la lavatrice! - It took two hours to repair the washing machine.
 
The auxiliary verb “avere” (to have) is used to form the past tense of “metterci“.

Example:
Ci ha messo 2 ore per riparare la lavatrice! - It took him two hours to repair the washing machine.

The next time you’re wondering how long something will take in Italian, remember these rules!