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Ahora beyond Now: 10 Expressions to Help You Sound More Native

Learn to Decipher Ahora in Contexts Where “Now” Doesn't Make Any Sense

Ahora is one of the most ubiquitous words in the Spanish vocabulary.

Photo credit: Dimitry B. licensed cc by 2.0

HomeBlogAhora beyond Now: 10 Expressions to Help You Sound More Native

An entire article on ahora, seriously? Bear with me and soon you’ll see why it’s worth the exercise. If you haven’t exposed yourself to any amount of real-world Spanish out there, I’d suggest you do. And once you do, you’ll quickly see there’s a whole lot more to ahora than meets the eye. Isn’t this the case with most words in most languages anyway? On the surface, ahora means now which is what they taught you in the class. Fair enough, that’s not going anywhere. But when used in the street, the word takes on a wide range of related connotations, from right now to today. And these interpretations are not readily apparent to the non-native speaker, thus causing a great deal of frustration. This article attempts to lay all these issues to rest and take ahora off your Spanish-learning to-do list.

In the interest of completion, the article not only discusses the ten ahora expressions promised, but also addresses other topics such as confusing near-synonyms, dialectical variations, colloquial usage, etc. As is the tradition here, we will also learn a nifty mnemonic trick to remember the word in question, in case you don’t already. So, hop on ahora and vamonos!

Quick Trick to Remember Ahora

Ahora is a corruption of Old Spanish agora which traces its origins in the Latin expression, hāc hora. Hora sounds an awful lot like hour because that’s what it means. As for hāc, it translates into something like this way and happens to be how we get the Spanish word  acá. So all put together, the expression roughly translates into this hour, i.e. now. Small world, right? Now if the above lesson in etymology feels too loaded for you to keep track of, there’s always some word-association trick ready for use.

Ahorita looks like, and is, a diminutive of ahora. In Spanish, you slap an -ito/ita to anything to make it sound cuter, smaller, lesser, or more personal. Given this diminishing effect the suffix has on the word it latches on to, they call it a diminutive.

If you are familiar with the Spanish preposition a, life just got a tad easier for you. A means to or at, and hora means, well, hour. So bring the two together and you end up with ahora or, in other words, at hour. Think of it as at this hour, which is just a contrived way to say now. This is, of course, far from how ahora actually came to be but who cares as long as it simplifies things for us? Word association is less about etymological accuracy and more about memory aid anyway. And with just a little out-of-the-woods brainstorming, you can just as easily come up with something even better.

Don’t Confuse Ahora with What Looks Like Ahora

Languages are just as crazy as the people who speak them. That’s how something as organic as language works. Many words and expressions could practically mean the same thing and a single word or expression could mean many things. Sometimes, even if there are differences in nuance or meaning, they’re too subtle to drive home spontaneously. Take now and nowadays, for instance. We native English speakers can comfortably tell that the two words are far from synonymous. But the rest, not so much. Or take now and right now. The English lexicon is packed with a gazillion similar cases. It happens in Spanish too.

Here, we will discuss a few such scenarios involving ahora. The differences might not be readily apparent but let me assure you, they exist. Let’s see how.

Ahora vs. Ahorita

Ahorita looks like, and is, a diminutive of ahora. In Spanish, you slap an -ito/ita to anything to make it sound cuter, smaller, lesser, or more personal. Given this diminishing effect the suffix has on the word it latches on to, they call it a diminutive. Ahora refers to the current moment in time, so ahorita with its diminishing effect, makes that moment smaller, making it more specific. In other words, if ahora is now, ahorita is a more specific right now. How specific, though, is always a matter of dialect, culture, and context.

Having said that, ahorita doesn’t figure much in formal communication, not in writing anyway. The word can largely be seen as colloquialism, a Central American and Mexican one at that. Another curious usage of ahorita is when you want to buy time. In fact, Mexicans have been heard liberally using the word in this sense. In this interpretation, think of ahorita as ahora but not quite, i.e. in a moment, rather than now. Some cultures might further stretch it to mean an outright later!

Ahora vs. Actualmente

In English, now can indicate two related but very different ideas. It can mean right now and it can also mean nowadays or presently. Look at the following examples:

She wants to go home now.

The two countries are at war with each other now.

Both examples use now but the connotations are very different. The first sentence indicates an instantaneous action in a specific point in time, right now. The second example indicates an ongoing event transpiring as we speak. Spanish prefers to keep the two separate. The second example here is where they prefer actualmente to ahora. Ahora is now in general. You won’t be wrong to use ahora in both the examples above. However, actualmente serves the second example better and hence, can be thought of as a subset of ahora. So to make things less complicated, just go with actualmente when the now can be rendered as nowadays, these days, or as we speak. You’ll be right more often than not.

Ahora vs. Ya

Ahora can often be confused with ya due to the way they keep getting used interchangeably. But don’t let that madness fool you. There’s a method to it. Ahora, like I said before, is now. Ya, on the other hand, is more like already. Not exactly synonymous, you see. But there are times you can use ya where you should ahora, native speakers do it routinely. Ya, when used for ahora, indicates a level of urgency the latter doesn’t and can’t. In such situations, read ya as right now or right away. Come to think of it, we do this with already in English too! Check out the following example:

¡Hazlo ya! (Do it now!)

Ya nos traen la comida (They’re bringing us the food right away).

¡Ya voy! (I’m coming right away!)

The closest English equivalent of this usage of ya would be sentences like these:

Just finish it already!

Would you please stop talking already?

Although the usage of already as illustrated above is not representative of educated speech, the Spanish version is perfectly legit.

10 Expressions Using Ahora

One good thing about ahora is that, unlike serhacer, or dar, it doesn’t have a shipload of derivatives and expressions to its credit. There’s just a handful of which an even smaller handful is worth learning. But don’t dismiss ahora over this just yet. They are few, but by no means less fun. Expressions like a partir de ahora and ahora resulta que have the potential to catapult you into the elite native Spanish-speakers’ inner circle with little effort. With that bit of small talk out of the way, let’s check out the meat and potatoes of this article, the ten most important Spanish expressions built around ahora. This is what you came for anyway, no?

1. Ahora Tiempo (Chile)

Meaning: A while ago

This one isn’t very common in general but enjoys massive currency in Chile. And that’s what makes ahora tiempo an interesting expression for lovers of castellano de Chile. What makes it all the more curious is that it seems to imply the exact opposite of its literal translation. Tiempo is Spanish for time in the sense of duration, among other things. So ahora tiempo translates into now time which, for all its incoherence, seems to mean something like this time or right about now. Whichever way you slice it, ahora tiempo doesn’t have any justification to mean what it apparently does, a while ago. I have also seen it used as once upon a time in some book. Frankly, ahora tiempo does sound slightly less of a mouthful than hace un rato, doesn’t it? But again, avoid the expression unless you’re keen on Chilean Spanish.

A partir de is a common Spanish idiom that roughly translates into as of, since, starting, or from. How does it work? Well, partir means to part or separate. So a partir de ahora literally means upon parting from now, i.e. from now on.

2. Ahora Último (Chile)

Meaning: Recently

Último means last and that’s a no-brainer given its striking resemblance to ultimate. Now although now last doesn’t makes much sense, it does give a hint of a point in time that’s close to now but not exactly. Last is in the past and now is, well, now. So ahora último can be seen as a less-than-literal way of saying recently. Too contrived? Well, don’t bother with it unless you’re visiting Chile any time soon because the expression is again a Chilean colloquialism. Personally, I prefer the recién + preterit construct to describe recently concluded actions. If Latin American Spanish isn’t your fancy, you could go with the acabar de + infinitive construct. Let the following examples drive this home:

I just/recently ate.

Ahora último comí. (Chilean colloquial)

Recién comí. (Latin American)

Acabo de comer. (Peninsular)

3. A Partir de Ahora, de Ahora en Adelante, desde Ahora

Meaning: From now on

Desde ahora is a no-brainer. Desde means from, so desde ahora is from now. But that’s the least fun of the three expressions under discussion here. So let’s move on to a partir de ahora. This curious expression has another curious expression, a partir de, built in. A partir de is a common Spanish idiom that roughly translates into as of, since, starting, or from. How does it work? Well, partir means to part or separate. So a partir de ahora literally means upon parting from now, i.e. from now on. Look at the following use-cases:

A partir de este día, dejaré de comer galletas (From this day on, I will no longer eat cookies).

El precio subirá un cinco por ciento, a partir de abril (The price will rise five percent as of April).

A partir de su inscripción ha sido una estudiante aplicada (Since her enrollment she has been a dedicated student).

You could slap anything to this expression and come up with your own, e.g., a partir de ahora, a partir de hoy, etc. This one is also my personal favorite among the three. Having said that, de ahora en adelante isn’t far behind either. Literally translating into from now in ahead, it’s just a slightly convoluted way of saying from now on. If you’re in Argentina, you’ll hear an even more interesting version, de ahora en más. It’s the exact same thing.

4. Ahora Resulta Que

Meaning: Now it turns out that

Resultar, as you can tell, is a Spanish verb. And if it looks like it has something to do with result, it’s because it does. Resultar means to result in or, in other words, to turn out. With this piece of new knowledge, ahora resulta que must already look a whole lot predictable now. Now it turns out that? The expression literally translates into what it conveys. Let the following example drive home the idea:

Ahora resulta que nunca fue a la fiesta (Now it turns out that she never went to the party).

Although the expression hardly warrants much of a memory hook, it would be a disservice to move on without referring you to a wildly popular Mexican track titled Y Ahora Resulta. The song, as the title implies, makes use of this expression as a recurring prop and would serve well to familiarize you with its usage. The track earned Voz de Mando a Latin Grammy Nomination for the best norteño album in 2013. Check it out if the likes of mariachi and banda move you.

5. Ahora Bien

Meaning: Nevertheless, however; having said that

Just as is the case with any idiomatic expression, ahora bien doesn’t make sense when translated literally. Ahora means now and bien means well, but ahora bien isn’t exactly now well. That wouldn’t mean anything, would it? But if you think of this usage of well as the one in English where you begin a sentence with it to imply a contradiction, it kinda does:

She said she was 30. Well, turns out she isn’t.

In the above example, well offers a sort of a pause before a contradiction. Think of ahora bien as serving a similar purpose in Spanish. Thus you can use the expression for however or nevertheless, although a more accurate interpretation would be that being said or having said that. However can more accurately be rendered as sin embargo and nevertheless as no ostante. But we are getting too formal here. In the real world, none of these three are commonly heard. Native speakers favour a far less verbose pero for obvious reasons.

6. Ahora Que

Meaning: Although

The most intuitive translation of ahora que is, you guessed it, now that. It can also be read as come to think of it, when paired with the verb pensar, with little distortion to the conveyed meaning. There’s no rocket science here. We already know ahora and those who don’t know que, it’s that. That’s all there is to it. Let a few examples illustrate this:

Se cree adulto ahora que chupa una pipa (He thinks he’s an adult now that he puffs on a pipe).

Ahora que lo pienso, no estan locos (Come to think of it, they’re not crazy).

Ahora que lo dices, tengo hambre (Now that you said it, I’m hungry).

Don’t ask me why or how but ahora que can also be translated as although in some contexts. As with most idiomatic expressions, let the context be your guide when it comes to picking the right interpretation for this one.

Es listo, ahora que bastante vago (He’s bright, although quite lazy).

Speaking of although, I personally still feel more comfortable with aunque though. And that’s what I would recommend to you too. Aunque is less complicated and more widely accepted as Spanish for although than ahora que.

7. ¡Hasta Ahora!

Meaning: See you in a minute!

Hasta is Spanish for until. So hasta ahora is until now. You can also read it as so far, hitherto, or as yet. Pretty intuitive and predictable, isn’t it? But the expression also has a slightly different but unexpected interpretation, as an interjection. When used thus, it translates into something like see you soon. Yes, you can still use what they taught in the classroom, i.e. hasta pronto. But hasta ahora is a tad more idiomatic, which is what makes it cooler to me. See for yourself:

¡Que tengas un buen viaje y hasta ahora! (Have a safe trip and see you soon!)

Although idiomatic expressions usually don’t make much sense when translated literally, nor do they look or feel like having anything to do with their implied meaning, this one does. To an extent, at least. Since you’re already familiar with hasta pronto, or so I hope, let’s pick apart pronto. It means soon and should ring a bell if you’re familiar with its English friend, prompt. And soon is technically a point in time close enough to the present, you can think of ahora as the closest. I mean, what could be closer to now than now itself, right? So you can take hasta ahora as a more urgent alternative to hasta pronto, which itself exhibits a stronger sense of urgency than hasta luego.

Many Mexicans use ahora to imply today. Many Mexicans use ahora to imply today.
Daniel Lobo licensed cc by 2.0

8. Ahora Mismo

Meaning: Right now

Ahora mismo could imply in this moment, recently, or anything in between. Mismo means same and is often used in Spanish to indicate reflexive action. So if yo means I, yo mismo means I myself. That way, ahora mismo should be easy to see grasp as Spanish for now itself. And now itself immediately implies right away or right now.

Given the lax definition of time in the typical Latino context, ahora can often indicate a point in time much later than the present in some situations. Many Mexicans, although colloquially, use ahora to imply today (especially when scolding their kids). Given this ambiguity of ahora and even ahorita, ahora mismo has quite a niche to fill. But try not to go overboard with ahora mismo, because it can quickly start sounding prudish in informal settings.

9. El Ahora Algo

Meaning: The present something

This one might surprise you because classrooms and textbooks rarely discuss it. And that’s actually a surprise given the ubiquity of ahora. The word can also be used as an adjective! Mind blown, right? At first it might make you uncomfortable because we don’t do this with now in English. The adjectival form we prefer in English is current. Or present. But Spanish speakers are mighty at home with using ahora for the job. Thus, the following usage makes perfect sense to a native Spanish speaker while none whatsoever to us English speakers:

La próxima semana viene el ahora presidente (The current president is coming next week).

Es el ahora primer ministro del Reino Unido (He’s the current prime minister of the UK).

So the next time you see ahora sandwiched between an article and a noun, don’t panic. Just take a deep breath and recall this lesson. Of course, a more pedantic adjective for the job would be actual (the Spanish one, which has nothing to do with its English namesake), ahora sounds way more advanced and hence, my favorite.

10. Ahora Sí

Meaning: Definitely this time

not only means yes but also stands for a strong affirmation in Spanish. This behaviour is much like that of surely and certainly in English. Ahora sí, thus, can be more or less correctly interpreted as now for sure. But that’s not all it’s good for. Native Spanish speakers use this idiom to express a whole range of ideas from alright then to finally and from definitely this time to now I do.

Ahora sí que me voy (I’m definitely going this time).

Ahora sí que os habéis equivocado (This time you’re definitely wrong).

Note that when you use ahora sí to express this time definitely, you use a que with it. See the examples above to see what I mean. Ahora sí by itself can be used as an interjection to mean alright then or finally. In colloquial speech in the streets of Costa Rica, the interjection means now it’s time.

Ahora and Ora

Orar is a Spanish verb and it means to pray. If the word sounds familiar, that’s because it shares a common Latin heritage with the English words like oration and orator. But that’s not what this is all about. The ora I’m gonna talk about here is not a conjugation of orar. This one is a word unto itself. Interestingly, ora and ahora both mean now. But you don’t hear much of ora these days and that’s because it’s archaic. Much like thou and hither in English. That being said, orar isn’t exactly an unconditional synonym. There’s a very specific scenario where ora replaces ahora and that’s referred to as distributive conjunction. Distributive what? Never mind, that’s grammarspeak for you. Just a prudishly fancy term for situations involving conjunctions in pairs, e.g. either/or, neither/nor:

El clima es muy inestable; ora hace frío, ora calor (The weather is very unstable; now it’s cold, now it’s hot).

No sabía ya qué sentir; ora alegría, ora tristeza (She didn’t know what to feel; one moment happiness, another moment sadness).

See what I mean by distributive? But like I said, ora is archaic and unless you’re into ancient texts, such as the Holy Bible in Spanish, you don’t have to bother with it. Go spend that energy on something more useful.

Concluding Thoughts

Ahora doesn’t have a gargantuan list of idiomatic constructs to its credit, but that doesn’t take away from its significance in the Spanish vocabulary. It’s nearly impossible to go too far conversing with a native speaker without having to use this word at least once. The 10 expressions we discussed aren’t the only ones ahora figures in, but they are by far the most ubiquitous. And if you venture into the non-idiomatic side of affairs, you’d come across a whole lot more, such as por ahora and ahora o nunca. Can you think of anything interesting about this word that I missed out on? Please don’t keep it to yourself, we’re eager to hear you out!

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