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Today I bumped into a friend of mine, an Italian native speaker, on the street I hadn't seen for quite a while. I'm pretty sure she said:

Sarà un'eternità e mezza che non ti vedo!

Looking back on it, the tense used here piques my interest: despite the fact that we have already seen each other just now, what is the rationale for using the future "sarà" rather than the imperfect "era"? It almost sounds like we have yet to meet in person (the state of not seeing each other is still ongoing) and our next encounter will be some time in the near future.

{vs}: Era un'eternità e mezza che non ti vedevo!

I'm all the more curious, since in French and German we express the same idea in complete different tenses, perfect tenses, conveying the sense of a completed action:

Ça faisait longtemps qu'on ne s'était pas vus ! --- {imperfect + past perfect}

Dich habe ich ja schon ewig nicht gesehen! --- {present perfect}

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    I feel these should be two separate questions. This use of the future tense can appear in other contexts too. For instance: “Quant'è lontana Napoli da Roma?” “Boh, saranno 250 chilometri”: it's not that they will be 250 km while now are more or less; it's a way to express a guess, an uncertain statement. – DaG Jul 30 '18 at 16:44
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    On the other hand, you might well say an analogous sentence with a precise time indication: “Sono sette mesi che non ti vedo!” (but, both in the question and here, I'd say “...che non ci vediamo!”). – DaG Jul 30 '18 at 16:46
  • I agree with @DaG: could you please ask these in two separate questions? – Charo Jul 30 '18 at 16:51
  • Yes, I mean this: in that way it would be easier that you get an answer because these are two different aspects of usage of verb tenses. – Charo Jul 30 '18 at 17:16
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To express an action that will happen in the future is not the only use of the simple future tense in Italian. According to Federica Colombo in her book Grammatica e pratica della lingua italiana per studenti stranieri:

Il futuro semplice può essere usato anche per esprimere direttamente l'atteggiamento personale di chi parla rispetto al contenuto della frase [simple future can also be used to directly express the personal attitude of the speaker with respect to the content of the sentence]. Si distinguono soprattutto questi significati [these meanings are the ones mainly used]:

  • supposizione [supposition, guess]:
    Avrà 30 anni.
  • ordine [order]:
    Stasera starai in casa.
  • incertezza [uncertainty]:
    Che faranno senza di me?
  • opinione diversa / contrarietà [different opinion / contrariness]:
    Sarà una brava persona, ma non mi piace.

In your case, the future "sarà" is used to express uncertainty, so as to give the nuance of "I'm not completely sure, but I think that...".

As you can see at Treccani encyclopedia (and as it's pointed out by @DaG) the future simple used to express a supposition, a doubt, a hypothesis or an uncertainty is what is called "futuro suppositivo" or "epistemico". Another exemple of such a use of future can be found at this encyclopedia:

Non so chi abbia scritto questo messaggio: sarà Francesco?

The book Italiano by Luca Serianni explains at section XI.387 that "futuro suppositivo" or "epistemico" is used "in relazione a un avvenimento contemporaneo che si intende presentare in forma incerta, dubitativa, ipotetica", that is, in relation to a contemporary event that is intended to be presented in an uncertain, doubtful or hypothetical form. It also says that "spesso una frase col futuro suppositivo potrebbe essere realizzata con l'indicativo presente accompagnato da un avverbio come forse, probabilmente, presumibilmente, ecc. (si noti che avverbi del genere – a sottolineare il valore dubitativo della frase – sono spesso compresenti col futuro). Translated to English, it says that a sentence with "futuro suppositivo" can frequently also be realized with present indicative accompanied by an adverb such as "forse", "probabilmente", "presumibilmente", etc. (note that this kind of adverbs – to highlight the dubitative value of the sentence – are often present together with the future tense). This book gives these examples:

  • "Dio sa quant'è che non avete mangiato! [...] Poverina! Avrete bisogno di ristorarvi” (Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi, XXIV 20; in the first edition: "avete").
  • "Ah sì? Avete portato con voi l'ottavino? [...] E... sonerete bene, m'immagino!” (Pirandello, Lumie di Sicilia, VII 117).
  • "Ieri sera mi dimenticai di caricare l'orologio... Ma dev'essere tardi. Saranno forse anche le due" (Cassola, La ragazza di Bube, 92).
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  • Now I'm curious: How does this specific use of the future tense compare with "dovere / dev'essere un'eternità" used in the sense of probability? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jul 30 '18 at 17:49
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    Let me add (and feel free to add this to the answer) that it's the so-called futuro suppositivo or epistemico (for the “supposizione” and the “incertezza” cases), used “in relazione a un avvenimento contemporaneo che si intende presentare in forma incerta, dubitativa, ipotetica”. Serianni's grammar cover this in XI.387, with examples, among others, from Manzoni (“Poverina! Avrete bisogno di ristorarvi”) and Pirandello (“Ah, sì? Avete portato con voi l'ottavino? [...] E... sonerete bene, m'immagino!”). – DaG Jul 30 '18 at 17:49
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    It's especially usual when giving an information you're not sure about (“Che ore sono?” “Mah, saranno le due”). You are right, @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens, a similar sense can be expressed by the verb dovere; and indeed Serianni, XI.46, also speaks about an epistemic sense of dovere (and potere), but in general dovere express a stronger likelihood. I might wildly guess “Saranno le due”, but if I say “Devono essere le due” it's because some time ago I checked a clock, it was 1pm and I estimate an hour has elapsed. – DaG Jul 30 '18 at 18:09
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    @DaG: I now have Serianni's book (thanks to your recommendation), so I will have a look and see how I can complete my answer (but not now because I'm not at home). – Charo Jul 30 '18 at 18:32
  • @Charo :) I hope you'll find it as useful as I do. – DaG Jul 30 '18 at 20:35

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