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 present tense "vedo" rather than the imperfect "vedevo"? 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}: Sarà 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}

  • To Italian native speakers: in a context similar to one explained by the OP, do you see any difference between "Non ci vediamo da un bel po' di tempo" and "Non ci siamo visti da un bel po' di tempo"? – Charo Jul 30 at 22:55
  • I have asked a similar question on Spanish.SE. – Charo Jul 31 at 10:18
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    I would say that in colloquial Italian the present tense can often (though not always) to express actions that are not necessarily happening in the present. This usage communicates more immediateness and is conveniently complemented with adverbs or other specifications that clarify the timing. It can also be done for future actions: "Domani vado al mare", which is "Tomorrow I am going to the seaside". – Giovanni Mascellani Aug 3 at 15:40
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    In a sense, when you use this type of present you want to say something like "This action is not happening just now, but it is so close that it belong to the present more than it belongs to the future or the past". If you say that you are going to the seaside tomorrow, you basically already preparing and waiting for it. If you have just seen your friend after an eternity and a half, it means that two minutes ago you really couldn't not see them. – Giovanni Mascellani Aug 3 at 15:43
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    @GiovanniMascellani: It may be that way, but I think that your example about a future action expressed with present tense ("Domani vado al mare") is clearly explained in grammars as "presente pro futuro", whereas I haven't found any explanation about the use of present to talk about a fact that happened very recently in the past. – Charo Aug 3 at 16:08

It is more clear in a sentence like "I don't see you since 1999" in Italian "Non ti vedo dal 1999". The example you reported above uses the present tense evaluating in the present the amount of time you've spent apart. It is colloquial. We use too the past tense in a formal version like "We hadn't meet for several years". Here we use the verb "vedere" indicating the period in the past: "Non ci siamo visti per diversi anni".

  • Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Aug 3 at 20:52

To me, these "time-shifts" are much useful to enrich the verve of colloquial Italian:

  • immediately upon meeting after a long time I would also say (more or less)

    Sarà (È) un'eternità e mezzo che non ti vedo

    • on the contrary, after a while, talking about the long separation, I would say

      Sarà stata (Era) ... che non ti vedevo/ non ci siamo visti per ..

where the use of the future (sarà) gives an "approximating" sense to the "one and half". By the way, I much appreciate your friend's hyperbole of "un'eternità e mezzo".

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