I have read the following sentence in an Italian learning tool:

Arrivano ben prima di mezzanotte. (= They arrive well before midnight)

Does that mean that they will arrive well or that they will arrive much earlier than midnight? Given the context and that the sentence refers to the future, I believe that the intended meaning is the latter. However, if the sentence was in the past, the intended meaning would be harder to grasp (eg Sono arrivati ben prima di mezzanotte). Maybe a comma would make a difference ?

  • Arrivano would be they arrive, arriviamo would be we arrive.
    – abarisone
    Sep 5, 2019 at 6:28
  • Right. Fixed it Sep 5, 2019 at 6:30
  • 1
    The elision of bene, in itself, denotes that the word connects to prima. You wouldn't say sono arrivati ben to say that they are “well arrived” (and even sono arrivati bene sounds somewhat unusual).
    – DaG
    Sep 5, 2019 at 8:38
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    @abarisone To make it clear, my main question is how to differentiate the two possible meanings of the sentence. Using a comma was only a suggestion. I think that your statement "inserting the comma, the meaning could become ambiguous" is confusing. Adding a comma to this sentence as I suggested removes any ambiguity instead of introducing it. Sep 6, 2019 at 4:53
  • 1
    @AlanEvangelista Better rewrite my comment: inserting the comma, the meaning consistently changes
    – abarisone
    Sep 6, 2019 at 5:15

1 Answer 1


You're right, the meaning without punctuation would be the latter, they will arrive much earlier than midnight.

If the sentence was in the past you would have these two cases, using a comma:

Sono arrivati, ben prima di mezzanotte (they will arrive much earlier than midnight)

and the other case where ben becomes bene, since the apocope wouldn't sound natural.

Sono arrivati bene, prima di mezzanotte (they arrived well, before midgnight)

So the usage of a simple comma would make a difference in meaning.

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