Time expressions - part IV - Years and centuries.

Other parts:
part I - The parts of the day
part II - The days of the week
part III - The months and the seasons of the year
part V - Duration forms - prepositions
part VI - Duration forms - constructions
part VII - Duration forms - more constructions

Note - years and centuries require the knowledge of numerals.

In Italian, years are spoken as if they were plain numbers:

1979 is spoken as millenovecentosettantanove
1650 is spoken as milleseicentocinquanta
2006 is spoken as duemilasei
1700 is spoken as millesettecento
1943 is spoken as millenovecentoquarantatré (any final -tré requires an acute accent, unlike tre alone)

Since the number implicitly refers to anno ("year"), it always takes the definite article (masculine, singular). Remember that the definite article agrees phonetically with the following word:

il 1979
il 2006
il 1700
l'831 spoken as l'ottocentotrentuno

Time phrases require the preposition in, which takes the articulated form:

nel 1979 = in 1979
nel 2006 = in 2006
nel 1700 = in 1700
nell'831 = in 831

Other prepositions too take the articulated form before years (except per, tra and fra, which do not have one):

dal 1979 = since 1979
fino al 2006 = until / up to 2006
dal 1700 al 1800 = from 1700 to 1800
tra il 1700 e il 1800 = between 1700 and 1800
dall'831 = since 831

When a month is referred to a specific year, the preposition di ("of") is used in articulated form; the month too then becomes definite and requires a definite article, or an articulated preposition:

il maggio del 1979 = May of 1979
l' agosto del 2006 = August of 2006
nel dicembre dell'831 = in December of 831

The English "BC" (Before Christ) and "AD" (Anno Domini = Latin for "in the Year of the Lord") in Italian translate to aC (spoken as avanti Cristo) and dC (spoken as dopo Cristo = "after Christ"), usually spelt without full stops (i.e. periods). Both of them stand after the year.
In many cases, dC is not explicitly mentioned, unless doubts might arise:

il 10 aC = 10 BC
il 10 dC or il 10 = AD 10

nel 250 aC = in 250 BC
nel 250 dC or nel 250 = in AD 250


The Italian word for "century" is secolo.
Before this word, usually Roman numerals are used, which stand as ordinal numerals (e.g. X = 10th). Western numerals are seldom used; in this case, a small ° should be added next to the last digit (e.g. 10°). However, Roman numerals are considered a more elegant choice.
The word secolo that follows an ordinal numeral is always definite; remember that the definite article must agree phonetically with the ordinal number:

il I secolo (spoken as il primo secolo) = the 1st century
l'VIII secolo (spoken as l'ottavo secolo) = the 8th century
nel X secolo (spoken as nel decimo secolo) = in the 10th century
nell'XI secolo (spoken as nell'undicesimo secolo) = in the 11th century
dal XIV secolo (spoken as dal quattordicesimo secolo) = since the 14th century

Alternatively, but less often, secolo can also stand before the Roman numeral. This position is preferred when secolo is spelt in abbreviated form, sec. (remember that now the article agrees phonetically with secolo):

il sec. I (spoken as il secolo primo)
il sec. VIII (spoken as il secolo ottavo)
nel sec. X (spoken as nel secolo decimo)
dal sec. XIV (spoken as dal secolo quattordicesimo)

BC and AD work in the same way as with years:

il III secolo aC (spoken as il terzo secolo avanti Cristo) = the 1st century BC
il III secolo dC (spoken as il terzo secolo dopo Cristo) or il III secolo = the 3rd century AD

Sometimes, within a text the ordinal numeral is also spelt in letters, i.e. as it is spoken.

When a time length of two or more centuries is mentioned, the numeral part should be preferably postponed after the word secoli (in plural form); but the ordinary sequence with the singular form secolo is also accepted, despite not being fully grammatical:

nei secoli VIII e IX (spoken as nei secoli ottavo e nono) = in the 8th and 9th centuries
nell'VIII e IX secolo (spoken as nell'ottavo e nono secolo) = (same as above)

nei secoli XVI e XVII (spoken as nei secoli sedicesimo e diciassettesimo) = in the 16th and 17th centuries
nel XVII e XVIII secolo (spoken as nel sedicesimo e diciassettesimo secolo) = (same as above)

Also in these expressions secoli can be abbreviated, either as the singular form sec. or, alternatively, as secc.:

nei sec. or nei secc. XVI e XVII (spoken as nei secoli sedicesimo e diciassettesimo)

Centuries from the 13th onwards can be alternatively expressed also by means of a shortened date, in which the thousands are replaced by an apostrophe; alternatively, the same number (without the thousands) can be spelt in letters, usually capitalized:

il '200 or il Duecento = the 1200s
il '300 or il Trecento = the 1300s
il '400 or il Quattrocento = the 1400s
l'800 or l'Ottocento = the 1800s
nel '500 or nel Cinquecento = the 1500s
fino al '600 or fino al Seicento = up to / until the 1600s
dal '700 all'800 or dal Settecento all'Ottocento = from the 1700s to the 1800s

Note that when the apostrophe is needed because of the initial vowel – Ottocento is the only case – no space is left between the article (or the preposition) and the century.

Whenever this way of speaking centuries may cause a misinterpretation, it is better to express them in the standard way, e.g. when l'Ottocento is spoken, it can be perceived either as "the 1800s" or as "(year) 800". Usually, the context can easily disambiguate the correct meaning, but il XIX secolo (spoken as il diciannovesimo secolo) can clear any doubt.

Dates prior to 1200 do not follow this scheme, so the 1100s could only be il XII secolo (spoken as il dodicesimo secolo), i.e. the twelfth century (and so for earlier centuries, as well).

May 2, 2019


Civis. I've run out of .... abile words! Please don't forget to eat this evening! Grazie.

May 2, 2019

Thanks for reminding me! :-)

May 2, 2019

Grazie mille.

May 2, 2019

Enjoy a happy evening. :-D

May 2, 2019

It’s interesting that there isn’t any way of combining e and il, when the general rule seems to be that e should not be followed by a single-syllable word beginning with a vowel. :)

May 2, 2019

Actually there isn't. But in fast speech e il often sounds as e'l (dropping the 'i').
However, e a, e al, e ai, e in, are further examples of monosyllables that begin with a vowel but do not combine with e.
Besides these, I can't think of any other monosyllables that begin with a vowel, except è and est (but they begin with 'e' → ed è, ed est), and o or od, which make little sense after e (conjunction).

May 3, 2019

I’ve seen ad quite often (not a conjunction, I know). Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with the amount of syllables then? Phew. I think I will need to digest your comment for a while. Have you made a post in your series about making pronunciation easier by adding letters? Not just the d’s but the other subtle changes that Italian sometimes requires? :)

May 3, 2019

No, I haven't. I think that goes well beyond Duolingo's goal.
If I have understood correctly, what you mean are changes such as open 'e's and 'o's that turn close when they are no longer stressed.
For instance, in pronouncing orologio, the first, second and fourth 'o' have a close sound, while the third one (the stressed 'o') has an open sound (/oroˈlɔdʒo/).
When the noun takes the diminutive or the augmentative form (orologino, orologetto, or orologione), the stress shifts by one syllable to the right, so the third 'o' is no longer stressed, therefore it must sound close (/orolo'dʒino/).
Also the syntactic doubling rule is almost contantly disregarded by language courses, also because it is barely heard at all by northern speakers.
But neither of the two pronunciations, if incorrect, could cause a misunderstanding. So for the sake of simplicity they are very rarely mentioned in a course.

May 3, 2019

Hello Civis, can I ask? I asked my teacher of Italian today about the closed/open vowels and also when do I pronounce 's' as 's' or 'z' and she told me that these exist, but in every region sound differently and I should not bother. can you please confirm or should I delve deeper into pronounciation?

It troubles me a bit because I am not sure if I hear the disctinction between open and closed 'e' or 'o' when I listen to Italian radio or a movie.


May 15, 2019

Lo riconosco, sono un'ingrata!
Ti chiedo scusa...ho esagerato.

May 2, 2019

:-D :-D

May 3, 2019

Civis, have I ever mentioned before that you are wonderful? Thank you again.

May 3, 2019

Thanks CivisRomanus!

One thing I hear a lot is "negli anni ottanta" and "negli anni quaranta". That seems to be a pretty common expression nowadays, especially when referrring to music.

I found that practicing saying my birth year has always helped me remember how to construct years. Luckily I was born before 2000, so it's harder than saying "Sono nato nel duemila!" ma "Junebug e' nata nel duemilatre'"

Thanks for all of your help!

May 3, 2019

Fantastic, and thank you

May 4, 2019
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