When we want to say how long something will take, we often use the Italian expressions ci vuole or ci metto. However, the fact that they can’t be used interchangeably often leads my students to confusion.
So, what exactly is the difference between ci vuole and ci metto?
Volerci (it takes, without explicit subject)
Ci vuole has a couple of meanings.
In its primary meaning, it’s used with the meaning of “it takes” (a certain amount of time).
- Ci vuole un’ora per andare in centro – it takes an hour to go downtown
The base form of the verb (the infinitive) is volerci (volere + ci), which has only two conjugations in the present tense.
ci vuole and ci vogliono
What’s the difference between the two?
Ci vuole is used when it’s followed by a singular noun or noun phrase, like:
- Ci vuole un minuto – it takes one minute
- Ci vuole una vita – it takes a lifetime
Ci vogliono is used when it’s followed by a plural noun or noun phrase, like:
- Ci vogliono molti anni – it takes many years
- Ci vogliono 5 minuti – it takes five minutes
The secondary meaning of ci vuole or ci vogliono, is “it’s necessary”.
- Ci vogliono due uova in questa ricetta – it takes two eggs in this recipe
- Ci vuole pazienza in questo lavoro – it takes patience in this job
Note that we can’t make the subject explicit when using “ci vuole” or “ci vogliono” in either case; we can’t say “
io ci voglio” or “tu ci vuole.” This is the main difference between “volerci” and “metterci.”
How to use “volerci” in the past, future and conditional.
Of course “ci vuole” and “ci vogliono” can be conjugated in all the different tense.
Volerci in the past tense (passato prossimo) goes to
- Ci è voluto/a – it took (followed by a singular noun)
- Ci sono voluti/e – it took (followed by a plural noun)
Volerci in the future tense goes to
- Ci vorrà – it will take (followed by a singular noun)
- Ci vorranno – it will take (followed by a plural noun)
Volerci in the conditional form goes to
- Ci vorrebbe – it would take (followed by a singular noun)
- Ci vorrebbero – it would take (followed by a plural noun)
Metterci (it takes, with explicit subject)
Metterci has a similar meaning to volerci, but it is used differently.
Ci metto also means it takes, but it is used when the subject is explicit, unlike ci vuole. In other words, whoever is “taking the time” is obvious. So you could say “io ci metto”, “noi ci mettiamo”, etc..
As a result of the foregoing, metterci and can be conjugated in all the forms, unlike “volerci”
|Ci metto 30 minuti ad andare in centro a piedi
|It takes me 30 minutes to walk downtown
|Ci abbiamo messo tre ore ad arrivare in cima
|It took us three hours to get to the top
|Quanto ci metti a prepararti?
|How long does it take you to get ready?
The conjugation of ‘metterci’ with the present tense
|it takes me
|it takes you
|it takes her/him
|it takes us
|it takes you
|it takes them
Ci vuole vs. ci metto
Another explanation we can give is that, while ci vuole or ci vogliono mean “it takes”, ci metto means “it takes me/you/her/him/us/them”.
How to use “metterci” in the past, future and conditional
|Ci ho messo
|I took me
|it will take me
|it would take me
for the complete conjugations please, check this website out.
The particle “ci”
The particle “ci” remains the same and is invariable in both verbs (volerci and metterci). In my classes, I occasionally hear those verbs conjugated incorrectly as reflexive verbs, because the ci in volerci and metterci is not a reflexive pronoun, it can’t take the forms ti, si, vi, etc.
Quanto tempo ci vuole? – How long does it take?
|Quanto tempo ci vuole in treno da Roma a Milano?
|How long does it take from Rome to Milan by train?
Quanto tempo ci metti a (+ infinitive)? – How long does it take you to (+verb)?
|Quanto tempo ci metti a preparare questo piatto?
|How long does it take you to prepare this dish?
Quanto/a”x” ci vuole (or Quanti/e “x” ci vogliono?)
|Quanto sale ci vuole in questo piatto?
|How much salt do you need in this dish?
|Quante uova ci vogliono in questa torta?
|How many eggs do you need in this cake?