Time expressions - part I - The parts of the day.

other parts:
part II - The days of the week
part III - The months and the seasons of the year
part IV - Years and centuries
part V - Duration forms - prepositions
part VI - Duration forms - constructions
part VII - Duration forms - more constructions

The general word for "day" is giorno. It can indicate either the full day, speaking of a a calendar day, or a date, or only the daylight hours, i.e. "daytime", especially when it is used as opposed to notte ("night-time"): 

  • Di giorno e di notte. = During the day and at night-time.

The more proper word for "daytime" is  (spelt with an accented 'i'), a word which is now no longer commonly used.
When giorno is used in the adverbial expression di giorno ("during the day") it refers either to the daylight hours alone (di dì would sound terrible!), or to the time from early morning to late in the evening, being notte usually restricted to hours from 11 pm or midnight to dawn.

In Italian, the day is divided into four main parts:

la mattina (il mattino) = the morning (from about 5 am to 2 pm)
il pomeriggio = the afternoon (from about 2 pm to 6 pm)
la sera = the evening (from about 6 pm to 11 pm)
la notte = the night (from about 11 pm to 5 am)

The masculine form mattino sounds more polished, more literary; it is less common in conversation (although regional differences in use may exist).

In order to form time phrases (i.e. adverbial expressions) with the parts of the day (e.g. "in the morning", "at night", etc.), the most common solution is by adding the simple preposition di (this can be used also with giorno, i.e. di giorno):

di giorno = during the day
di mattina = in the morning
di pomeriggio = in the afternoon
di sera = in the evening
di notte = at night-time

  • Di mattina studio. = During the morning I study.

  • Maria lavora di pomeriggio. = Mary works in the afternoon.

  • Di notte la gente dorme. = At night-time people sleep.

Alternatively, the articulated forms of the preposition a can be used or, more colloquially, only the definite article, without any preposition:

al mattino, alla mattina, la mattina = in the morning
al pomeriggio, il pomeriggio = in the afternoon
alla sera, la sera = in the evening
la notte = at night-time ← alla is not used with notte!

Note that the masculine form mattino is used only after the preposition a (→ al mattino).

The preposition al / alla or the article alone are more often used for starting the sentence, while the preposition di is generally used at the end of the sentence, where the time expression also takes a slight emphasis due to its position. This is not a strict rule, but it reflects the common use by native speakers.

  • La mattina / Al mattino studio. = During the morning I study.

  • Maria lavora di pomeriggio. = Mary works in the afternoon.

  • La notte la gente dorme. = At night-time people sleeps.

A further preposition used in time phrases is verso ("towards"), which indicates the part of the day more roughly than di or a. But it is only commonly used with sera:

  • Roberto tornerà verso sera. = Robert will be back (roughly) in the evening.

  • Verso sera fa abbastanza fresco. = In the evening it is rather cool.


A second set of nouns is commonly used for the parts of the day, by appending the ending -ata to the standard ones:

la giornata
la mattinata
(pomeriggio has no such form)
la serata
la nottata

Note that il giorno changes gender → la giornata.

These words are generally used when speaking of what happens during the relevant part of the day (e.g. engagements, errands, business, facts), rather than the part of the day itself. For instance

  • È stata una brutta giornata. = It has been a bad day.

this means that what happened to the speaker over the day was negative (it does not refer to the day's time span alone).

  • Una serata trascorsa con gli amici. = An evening spent with the friends.

this refers to the time spent with friends during the evening. It is not a strict rule, so in many cases one can also use the standard form of the word. For instance, one could also say:

  • Una sera trascorsa con gli amici. = An evening spent with the friends.

With -ata words the preposition used for forming time phrases is always in:

in giornata = sometime during the day
in mattinata = sometime in the morning
in serata = sometime in the evening
in nottata = sometime during night-time

These phrases differ from di giorno, di mattina, etc. in that they refer specifically to the same day the sentence is spoken, unless a different day is clearly mentioned in the sentence:

  • In giornata (io) passo a pagare il conto. = (Sometime) during the day (today) I'll call in / stop by to pay the bill.

  • Pioverà in serata? = Will it rain (sometime) in the evening (today)?

  • (Noi) siamo tornati lunedì scorso in nottata. = We returned last Monday (sometime) at night-time.

  • L'idraulico verrà dopodomani in mattinata. = The plumber will come the day after tomorrow (sometime) in the morning.

In the last two sentences, the day mentioned 'cancels' the effect of the -ata word for referring to the same day, so one could also say:

  • (Noi) siamo tornati lunedì scorso di notte. = We returned last Monday at night-time.

  • L'idraulico verrà dopodomani di mattina. = The plumber will come the day after tomorrow in the morning.

  • L'idraulico verrà dopodomani mattina. = (literally) The plumber will come the day after tomorrow's morning.

Since pomeriggio lacks the -ata form, the word alone can be used with the same meaning, or the articulated preposition nel can be added:

  • Pomeriggio (io) passo a pagare il conto. = In the afternoon (today) I'll call in / stop by to pay the bill.

  • Nel pomeriggio (io) passo a pagare il conto. = In the afternoon (today) I'll call in / stop by to pay the bill.

This rule applies only to pomeriggio:

  • Mattina (io) passo a pagare il conto. → wrong!

  • Mattinata (io) passo a pagare il conto. → wrong!

When speaking about the weather, giornata is more often used for referring to the whole day:

  • Una fredda giornata di gennaio. = A cold day in January.

  • Una giornata piovosa. = A rainy day.

With parts of the day, instead, in many cases either form can be used (also different forms in the same sentence):

  • Pioverà al mattino ma schiarirà in serata. = It will rain in the morning, but it will clear up in the evening.

  • Pioverà in mattinata ma schiarirà verso sera. = (same as above)

The words that indicate the present day, the two following ones, and the two previous ones are:

oggi = today
domani = tomorrow
dopodomani = the day after tomorrow (literally, after tomorrow)
ieri = yesterday
l'altroieri (rarely avantieri) = the day before yesterday (literally, "the other yesterday")

Each of the last four can be coupled with mattina, pomeriggio, sera, notte:

domani mattina = tomorrow morning
dopodomani pomeriggio = the day after tomorrow in the afternoon
ieri notte = yesterday evening
l'altroieri notte = the day before yesterday at night-time

The expression domani mattina can be contracted into domattina (other words remain separate).

Alternatively, in + -ata words can be used:

domani in mattinata = tomorrow (sometime) during the morning
dopodomani nel pomeriggio (no -ata form!) = the day after tomorrow (sometime) in the afternoon
ieri in serata = yesterday (sometime) during the evening
l'altroieri in nottata = the day before yesterday (sometime) during the night

There is a very slight difference between domani mattina and domani in mattinata:

domani mattina = tomorrow morning ← this indicates a time

domani in mattinata = tomorrow (sometime) in the morning ← the nuance is something like "tomorrow among whatever things will take place during the morning"

The difference is so subtle that in many cases they are interchangeable:

  • (Noi) ci siamo incontrati ieri sera. = We met yesterday evening.

  • (Noi) ci siamo incontrati ieri in serata. = (same as above).

For oggi instead, questo is used, with some alternative contracted forms:

questa mattina (alternatively stamattina, stamane) = this morning
questo pomeriggio (alternatively oggi pomeriggio) = this afternoon
questa sera (alternatively stasera) = this evening
questa notte (alternatively stanotte) = tonight.

April 29, 2019


Citizen. Could you please consider making a directory for your lessons? They are pure gold and if all of them had a link to a page with links to all the lessons, even people who entered the forums after you had started giving them, or were on a long hiatus (that would be me; I have ulterior motives), would have the chance to read all of them. :)

(Also, a small, but potentially confusing typo. One of the -ata words is missing the preposition in on your list.)

April 29, 2019

Thank you Zzzzz..., you are right! I'll fix the typo straight away.

I do keep an ordered list of my major comments (so I don't have to type again everything each time I answer a query). I promise I'll try to find out a way to organise and post a list of links to the Civislingo series.

April 29, 2019

And then I hope it gets a prominent place at DL with a Sticky

April 29, 2019

This makes me very happy. :)

April 29, 2019

It would be phenomenal to have all your invaluable comments in one place!

May 1, 2019

I didn't know until now that you can create a directory on DL. That would be great, of course.

April 29, 2019

Civis. This is a humdinger:-) I lingot you and send you an imaginary gelato al pistacchio!

April 29, 2019

Grazie mille! :-D

April 29, 2019

Grazie tante Civis, se non riesco a raccapezzarmi sulle espressioni del tempo dopo aver letto questo capolavoro allora mollerò tutto. Questa è veramente una spiegazione formidabile.

April 29, 2019

Thanks for your efforts

April 29, 2019

Thank you Civis

April 29, 2019

The final paragraph, stasera should be this evening not this morning?

Also early on, "the people sleeps" should be "sleep" being a collective noun.

Many thanks for this gem, not trying to be critical, but to help clear the tiny flaws in this diamond :)

April 29, 2019

Have a lingot for spotting out two more typos!
I had spent half an hour proofreading it...

April 30, 2019

Mille grazie! You are so generous with sharing your knowledge. In fact, right now you are the only reason I check in with Duolingo. All these changes are just too frustrating. So thank you very much again.

April 30, 2019

Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum habemus...
finalmente, un argomento facile! (almeno...per me).

Dopo una giornata di... ooops!... una giornataccia, se non altro, questo mi rincuora.
Grazie, Civis! ;-D :-*

April 29, 2019

Thank you CivisRomanus! Great work! Lingots for you. :)

April 29, 2019

Thanks so much Civis for another great post. This is very helpful. So many of our every day conversations refer to parts of the day.

Whenever I've heard "Buona giornata" or "Buona serata," they've been used at parting rather than when first greeting someone. Am I correct that they are used mostly when saying goodbye?

April 30, 2019

Yes, you are correct. Buongiorno and buona giornata, or buonasera and buona serata, are virtually identical in meaning, except that they are used only when parting (something like "spend a fine day/evening", referring to whatever one will do).

April 30, 2019

Grazie mille, Civis!

April 30, 2019

Grazie mille, CivisRomanus!

May 1, 2019

Thank you so much.

May 2, 2019
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