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Ahora: A versatile Spanish adverb

Alejandro Navarro • Dec 13, 2023 • 3 minutes
Updated Jan 31, 2024
Ahora: A versatile Spanish adverb
The Graf Method for Spanish Language

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In this volume, we discuss the alphabet, definite and indefinite articles, and verbs ser and estar, among other topics.

The Spanish word ahora comes from agora, an archaic Spanish term which in turn comes from the Latin hac hora. It is a word that changes meaning based on its context and the intention of the speaker. Yes, it has a literal definition, at this moment, but it can also point at times in the past or in the future. 

Many travelers and speakers and students of Spanish as a second language may have experienced dismay as the ahora they expected to happen immediately, turned into an uncertain moment, sometimes substantially distant from what they understood to mean right now. 

Ahora, however, has a bit of an original sin when it comes to precision. You see, the word hora has not always meant a period of sixty minutes. For the Greeks it could mean a limited time or season within a year. It could also mean a limited time within the day, thus giving hac hora a historical precedent for its current ambiguity. 

A methodical breakdown of the uses of ahora and some examples can help us make sense of this trickster, this shape-shifter. 

Ahora mismo

If we want to focus the conversation on this precise moment, we must resolutely pair ahora with mismo. This will narrow down the time to the specific moment in which the conversation is taking place. 

- Ahora mismo no estoy ocupado. 

- Ahora mismo no puedo. 

Otherwise ahora can lead to some confusing and annoying dillations. 

- Organiza tu cuarto.


In this last example an order is given for someone to tidy up their room. The reply is ahora, meaning within this time frame. 

Ahora no, ya.

- Ahora mismo no es posible.

The follow-up conversation tries to center the action in the now, using the word ya which literally means now. Notice that the reply clarifies that the “in the moment” timing of ahora, ahora mismo, is not possible. 

Scrabble board that reads do it now

Admittedly, ahora is a word that is used when precision is not possible. Rather than say en quince minutos or en una hora we say ahora. 

- Hablamos en quince minutos. The person knows they can talk in fifteen minutes.

Hablamos en una hora. The person knows they can talk in an hour. 

Ahora or ahorita hablamos. There is some vague availability to talk in the future, but there is no clarity on when exactly.

Por ahora and hasta ahora

Paired with por, hasta and desde, ahora provides a clear anchor to the present. 

Por ahora means for the time being and there isn’t much room for confusion, luckily. 

No estás en problemas, por ahora. You are not in trouble, for now.

- Ben y Jennifer están felices, por ahora. Ben and Jennifer are happy, for now.

Hasta ahora means up until now, and again, the usage and meaning are very clear. Keep an eye out for a verb participle, which should always be in the mix.

Hasta ahora no he podido encontrar un apartamento. I haven’t been able to find an apartment until now. 

- Hasta ahora no había conocido a una persona como Luisa. Until now, I hadn’t met someone like Luisa. 

Desde ahora and de ahora en adelante

Desde ahora and de ahora en adelante both mean from now on. 

- De ahora en adelante solamente voy a comer brócoli. 

- Desde ahora voy a dejar de comer nachos. 

Other uses of ahora

Ahora can also highlight a change in thought brought about by mentioning or thinking about something. 

Ahora que lo mencionas, su conducta es sospechosa. Now that you mention it, his behavior is suspicious. 

- Ahora que lo pienso, nunca recibí el dinero que me ofreció Bill Gates por correo electrónico en dos mil.  Lit. Now that I think about it, I never received the money Bill Gates offered me by email in two thousand.

Lastly, ahora can emphasize discomfort and annoyance at the timing of an action or a conversation. 

No cerré la puerta de la casa y no apagué la estufa. I didn’t close the front door and I didn’t turn the stove off. 

Ahora me lo dices… Now you say that to me...

Paired with bien, ahora provides a segway from a general statement to a nuanced variation. It can be loosely translated or interpreted as however.

- Muchos estudios confirman que una dieta vegana puede ayudar a reducir el colesterol y mejorar la salud de las personas. Ahora bien, esto no significa que comer grandes cantidades de pasabocas veganos como las papas fritas o los totopos con salsa y guacamole sea una opción saludable. 

- Many studies confirm that a vegan diet can help lower cholesterol and improve people’s health. This does not mean, however, that eating large amounts of vegan snacks such as french fries or chips with salsa and guacamole is a healthy option. 

Alejandro Navarro
Alejandro Navarro

Alejandro Navarro is a former Spanish language instructor at Berges Institute.

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