How to say “can”: Italian grammar lesson 21


Dive into the versatile world of the Italian verb “potere”! This guide breaks down how to use it for expressing possibility, ability, and permission, plus when to swap in “sapere” or “riuscire” for those tricky translations. 🇮🇹✨

– **Understand “potere”**: It’s the go-to verb for saying “can” in Italian, but remember, it’s a quirky irregular verb, so the rules bend a bit. 🌀
– **Modal verb magic**: “Potere” is a helper, always ready to team up with another verb in the infinitive to express what you can do—or can’t, thanks to those pesky external factors. 🤝
– **Permission granted**: Want to ask if you may do something? “Potere” is your polite pal, helping you navigate social niceties with a simple “Posso?” 🙋‍♂️
– **”Potere” vs. “Sapere”**: If you’re talking about knowing how to do something, like skating, switch to “sapere” to show off your skills. 🛼
– **”Potere” vs. “Riuscire”**: When it’s about pulling something off successfully, “riuscire” steps in to highlight your triumphs. 🏆
– **Practice makes perfect**: Get comfy with “potere” by using it in everyday situations, like complaining about the rain ruining beach plans or asking for help in a store. 🌧️➡️🏖️
– **Permission nuances**: Remember, “potere” can be a matter of etiquette. Use it to navigate what’s allowed, like checking if you can join a party or not. 🎉
– **Conjugation is key**: Since “potere” is irregular, spend some extra time mastering its forms. You’ll thank yourself later when chatting with native speakers! 🗣️📘
– **Real-life examples**: Embed “potere” into your Italian by mimicking sentences from the guide. It’s like having cheat codes for speaking Italian! 🎮🇮🇹

My thoughts

What is potere in Italian?

The English verb can is often translated in Italian with potere.

Like with other frequently used verbs, potere is an irregular verb, meaning that it does not follow the same pattern as other second conjugation verbs.

Potere is also a modal verb and is followed by a verb in the infinitive tense.

Modal verbs are also called helper verbs because their function is to “help” another verb, by communicating intention, possibility, need, or ability.

Potere has two main meanings:

  1. It expresses the possibility of doing something depending on external circumstances (as in “can” or “to be able to”).
  2. It expresses permission to do something (as in “may”).

Learn more about potere conjugations.

Potere: examples

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Let’s look at some sentences to see when it’s suitable to use the verb potere.

  • To express the possibility of doing something depending on external circumstances:

Oggi piove, non possiamo andare al mare.

Today it is raining, we can’t go to the beach.

Marisa ha un forte mal di gola, non può parlare.

Marisa has a bad sore throat, she is not able to talk.

Non ti abbiamo potuto aspettare, altrimenti avremmo perso il treno.

We couldn’t wait for you, otherwise, we would have missed the train.

  • To ask or express permission to do something:

Posso farti una domanda?

Can I ask you a question?

Non posso andare alla festa perché i miei genitori non vogliono.

I can’t go to the party because my parents don’t want me to go.

Come posso aiutarla?

How may I help you? (formal)

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

What are other meanings of potere?

Potere is not the only Italian verb used to express the meaning of the English verb can. We also have sapere and riuscire.

  • When potere means to be able to do something or to know how to do something it is translated with sapere + infinitive, as in:

Sai pattinare?

Can you skate? (as in: Do you know how to skate?)

  • When potere means to manage to do something or to succeed in doing something it is translated with riuscire, as in:

Non riesco a tradurre questa frase.

I can’t translate this sentence (as in: I can’t manage to translate this sentence properly)

Non riesco a capire Giorgio, parla troppo velocemente.

I can’t understand Giorgio, he speaks too fast.

Abbiamo risparmiato tanti anni, e finalmente siamo riusciti a comprare un appartamento.

We have been saving money for many years, and finally, we managed to buy an apartment.

What are the different meanings of "potere" in Italian?

"Potere" has two main meanings: it expresses the possibility of doing something depending on external circumstances (as in "can" or "to be able to") and it expresses permission to do something (as in "may").

Are there other Italian verbs to express can besides "potere"?

Yes, "sapere" followed by an infinitive verb can be used to express "to be able to do something" or "to know how to do something." Additionally, "riuscire" is used to express "to manage to do something" or "to succeed in doing something."

How is "potere" used in a sentence?

"Potere" is a modal verb, which means it is followed by a verb in the infinitive tense. For example: "Oggi piove, non possiamo andare al mare" (Today it is raining, we can't go to the beach).

Italian word of the day
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Do you feel like going for a walk?
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