0

I have seen "tanti/tante" translated as "many" and "so many". How can I decide when they mean the former or the latter? Examples:

  • Ci sono tanti temporali. (= There are so many thunderstorms)
  • In estate ci sono tanti temporali. (= There are many thunderstorms in (the) summer)
  • Come mai tante mosche in questa stanza? ( = How come there are so many flies in this room? )

The question arose when I translated "tanti" as "so many" in the second sentence and a native Italian speaker told me "tanti" was closer to "many" in that sentence.

11
  • 2
    Mmmm... I've always find very difficult trying to learn the meaning of a word in a language in terms of translations to another language.
    – Charo
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 14:31
  • 2
    «Tanto» si usa spesso come «molto», sia nel senso di aggettivo che di pronome; prende un significato enfasi nei casi in cui c’è «così», sottinteso o meno. Dei tre esempi proposti, il primo e il secondo sono di fatto uguali: forse le frasi hanno poi una continuazione?
    – Benedetta
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 20:50
  • 3
    I agree with @Benedetta: why are you distinguishing between your first two examples? Without a context, there is no way of knowing whether the utterer meant “many”, “so many”, “as many as [something else]”...
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 21:06
  • 2
    Not quite, Alan: it must not be learnt case by case, but understood case by case. The first sentence may well mean both things and other ones too, as I mentioned. Not knowing what is being said before and after, however, we cannot decide which. Consider this: in the sentence “it is red”, does “it” refer to a chair?
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 16:19
  • 2
    @AlanEvangelista Si capisce da quello che si dice prima o dopo.
    – Benedetta
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 16:32

2 Answers 2

3

The basic meaning of tanto/tanti is “in such a large quantity”.

In the simplest case this may simply conclude an explicit comparison. Take the famous lines by Dante:

dietro le venìa sì lunga tratta
di gente, ch'i' non averei creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta

In Dorothy L. Sayers's translation, this is “...there the folk forlorn / Rushed after it [a moving ensign], in such an endless train, / It never would have entered in my head / There were so many men whom death had slain”. So here tanta (feminine as it refers to gente) is rendered as “so many.” (This is alluded to in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.”)

It is not necessary to make the comparison term explicit. If you said:

Non credevo che d'estate ci fossero tanti temporali.

you'd be implicitly saying “...as many as there actually are” or simply “so many”. To take one of the examples from Treccani's entry on tanto:

ci vuole tanto tempo per rispondere?

(“do you need such a long time to answer?”, more or less), here you are precisely referring to, say, the five minutes your interlocutor waited before answering.

Notice that in all of these examples, if you used molto/molti, either the sentence wouldn't work or the meaning would change. You cannot use molto in a correlation (Dante's sentence or one with an analogous structure wouldn't mean anything with molta). If you asked

ci vuole molto tempo per rispondere?

you'd just be asking whether an answer is due in a long time or not.

In common use, it's frequent to find tanto as almost a synonym for molto, but even then there is often a sense of correlation with something unexpressed or, at least, a particular emphasis. If I say

Ho tanta voglia di vederti

I'm saying “I have such a desire to see you”, as if implying that I can't stand it any more (“tanta voglia ... che verrei lì stanotte”, say). On the other hand “ho molta voglia di vederti” is just that my desire is, say, 8 in a 1-10 scale.

You may well find cases where tanto is used as a plain molto: complex or hyperbolic words and expressions are often attenuated through use.

Just think about troppo: its meaning is too much or too [adjective/adverb]. So, if I say that a thing is troppo bella, literally I'd be saying that it is “too beautiful” (so, for instance, we should find a less beautiful one for a particular use). But is it usual to hear this as a positive description, as if it meant that that thing is exceptionally beautiful.

4
  • this has indeed helped. Thank you for the effort.
    – Easymode44
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 10:46
  • Thanks for the answer! So, in short, tanto/tanta/tanti/tante has an implied "così" and mean "so much/many" when the sentence expresses a comparison. I do not mean to be rude, but I'd like to make a constructive criticism: IMHO your answer would me more didactic and much easier to understand with a simpler example instead of the literary example from Dante. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 17:51
  • 1
    Thanks for your suggestion, @AlanEvangelista. I do not mean to be rude either, but I'd like to make a constructive criticism: IMHO your learning would proceed less haphazardly and much quicker if you abandoned your “learning tools”, which prove daily to be ridden of mistakes and unidiomatic--or plain wrong--examples and started appreciating actual Italian texts (not necessarily Dante).
    – DaG
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 23:20
  • Could you provide an example (with context) when "tanti"/"tante" would not contain an implicit/explicit comparison and therefore should be translated as "many" to English? I cannot find one in treccani.it/vocabolario/tanto Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 21:52
1

The translation on the first example is wrong because "così" is not implied at all. The correct Italian translation for "There are so many thunderstorms" is: "Ci sono così tanti temporali".

On the third example instead the translation is correct although shortened and the "così" is implied. The full sentence would be: "Ci sono così tante mosche in questa stanza".

8
  • 2
    Welcome to Italian SE!
    – Easymode44
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 6:52
  • 1
    Matteo, are you aware of the fact that the basic meaning of tanto is precisely “così grande, in così gran quantità, e con sign. più determinati, così lungo, così ampio, così esteso, così forte, così intenso, ecc.”? (See Treccani, quoted, or any other dictionary). It may also simply mean “molto/i”, but as a secondary meaning. Don't worry, however, it's a misconception common to some Italians too.
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 11:44
  • @DaG is it really secondary though? I feel that in quite a lot of those sentences one could without second thoughts substitute "tanto" with "molto".
    – Easymode44
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 7:32
  • @Easymode44: Right, but the meaning would sometimes slightly change (there are basically no synonyms in human languages). “Ci sono molti temporali” is more factual, while “Ci sono tanti temporali” suggests, even in a stand-alone sentence, an implicit comparison (more than last year, I didn't expect so many and so on). It's one of the many precious little things of Italian. (In any case, I only meant “secondary” in a historical, etymological sense; I wouldn't know about the relative prevalences of the two meanings. Studying this could be interesting.)
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 10:10
  • @DaG interesting. Might be a generational thing, but I would personally not know how to distinguish between "tanti" and "molti" in your example. Also, every source that tries to lay out the difference clearly tends to be a bit blurry, IMHO. Also, is the logical consequence of all this that "così tanti" is generally wrong?
    – Easymode44
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 10:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.