Voglio tradurre la seguente espressione in italiano:

There were a number of ships

Viene da una frase che dice "there were a number of ships at the time, all used to transport supplies".

Qual è la differenza tra queste due possibili traduzioni?

C'era un numero di navi

Ci fu un numero di navi

  • 1
    Welcome to Italian.SE! Can we have the context of this sentence? I believe it will be difficult to give you an answer without any context.
    – Charo
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 21:16
  • The article is describing a historical event. The full sentence says `that there were a number of ships at the time, all used to transport supplies'
    – DottoreM
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 21:31
  • 1
    The ships existed for a length in time, so you use the “imperfetto” c'era. The “passato remoto” would describe an event at a particular point in time. The translation might better be “C'era una quantità di navi, al tempo, usate per il trasporto di beni”.
    – egreg
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 21:37

1 Answer 1


Choosing between imperfetto and passato remoto/passato prossimo is sometimes difficult for people speaking languages where this distinction is missing.

English has a kind of imperfetto with the construction used to or the progressive form, but they don't fully overlap.

I used to live in Rome when I was a student ↔ Abitavo a Roma quando studiavo

I was living in Rome when I met my girlfriend ↔ Abitavo a Roma quando ho conosciuto la mia ragazza

Once I was a boy ↔ Un tempo ero un bambino

Both Italian sentences have the imperfetto. In the third sentence there cannot be the passato (either remoto or prossimo), because we need to convey the idea that being a boy lasted for a period of time.

Different languages, different use of verbs.

In your sentence, the ships existed for a period of time, during which they transported supplies, so you have to use the imperfetto:

Al tempo c'era una quantità di navi che trasportavano rifornimenti

I wouldn't translate “number” with numero, in this case, because it denotes an undetermined quantity. It could also be un certo numero. Yes, to express an undetermined number we use certo, but such usage is also common in English for “certain”. Even better (thanks to DaG)

Al tempo c’erano numerose navi che trasportavano rifornimenti.

The problem whether the verb trasportavano is conjugated with the grammatical subject (quantità, singular) or with the logical subject (navi, plural) has been discussed on the site, for instance at Is 'c'è' or 'ci sono' used with "un sacco di"

  • Or, more simply, ...c'erano numerose navi che trasportavano....
    – DaG
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 7:30
  • I may be wrong, but ho incontrato la mia ragazza sounds a bit like a calque from English to me; I'd say ho conosciuto la mia ragazza (or did you actually say that they already knew each other and met by chance in the street?).
    – DaG
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 7:32
  • @DaG Incorporated
    – egreg
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 7:49

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