A pretty simple word, really, but a couple of months ago I began to think about how nuanced it is.
I was doing some Italian exercises on Duolingo, and began to notice that the app would use two words to mean now: adesso and ora. I wondered if there were a difference between the two words, or if they were interchangeable. After a while and a little research, I began to formulate the theory that they’re basically synonymous, but that adesso generally refers to the immediate present, and ora a more general current time period. I’m working in Dublin now, for example, Ora sto lavorando a Dublino.
Though as is often the case with Italian, there are some regional differences, so it’s not a hard and fast rule. I began to appreciate this little degree of subtlety in Italian, especially when I became familiar with two more words which can also sometimes be used to mean now: ormai and subito.
Because for all the degrees of subtlety the English language possesses, it doesn’t have many when referring to the present. We don’t really qualify the word now much, apart from turning it into right now, or using at the moment to indicate a situation’s temporary, so now actually serves to provide us with a few different shades of meaning.
Look at all of these examples:
I’m writing a sentence now.
Now we’ll see what you’re made of.
I live in Dublin now.
I’ve just finished it now.
The doctor will see you now.
He used to be friendlier, but now, not so much.
I tried to think of the most generic, everyday sentences with now. And I’m sure none of those seemed odd to you. But look at how we use now in all of those sentences. It means at this precise present moment, the present in a more general sense (living in Dublin), in an even more general sense (he’s not so friendly anymore), and even the (admittedly recent) past (with a present result), and the (immediate) future.
English is often very good at coming up with specific words and phrases to fill niches but equally, if one word does the job of a few different meanings, it’s perfectly happy letting it work away. And in none of the examples above do we find now confusing.
Still though, I’m glad other languages like Italian have a variety of words where we just now, as situations like this are what make you step outside your own language, and see that learning another language is really about learning another system of logic that you have to respect.
And with that, I’m going to go now (future)!