If you are studying Italian, you have probably heard the word appena. This word may cause some confusion, even to advanced learners, as it can have different meanings depending on the context.
Let’s learn how to use it correctly!
When used with adverbs of time or place, or when we use it with compound verbs, appena can be translated as “just”.
Have a look at the examples below.
With compound verbs:
Ho appena finito di mangiare.
I just finished eating.
Sei appena tornato dal lavoro?
Have you just got back from work?
With adverbs of time:
Abbiamo litigato appena prima di uscire.
We had a fight just before leaving.
With adverbs of place:
Il negozio è appena dietro l’angolo.
The shop is just around the corner.
Appena: as soon as
When used before a verb, appena takes the meaning of “when”, “as soon as”. In this case, and only this, you might see we sometimes add a non before appena.
This addition does NOT change the meaning of the sentence.
In this case, appena and non appena have exactly the same meaning.
(Non) appena arrivo a casa ti chiamo.
As soon as I get home I will call you.
(Non) appena finisco di lavorare vado a fare la spesa.
When I finish working I will go shopping.
L’ho visto (non) appena sono arrivata.
I saw him as soon as I got there.
Appena: only and hardly
There are two more meanings of appena that you must at least be able to recognize, even if you might not use them just yet.
When we use it after the verb, it takes the meaning of “hardly”, as in “with difficulty, or “only”, which can often be replaced by the Italian word solo (just, only).
In this case, you will need to learn how to guess the meaning from the context. But do not worry, it is not complicated at all!
Have a look at these examples to get an idea of how it works:
Ne voglio appena (solo) un goccio.
I only want a sip.
Ne ho bevuto appena un bicchiere.
I only had one glass of it.
Mi fa male la schiena, riesco appena a camminare.
I have backache, I can hardly walk.
Mio fratello è piccolo, sa appena leggere e scrivere.
My brother is young, he can hardly read and write.
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