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:
- It expresses the possibility of doing something depending on external circumstances (as in “can” or “to be able to”).
- It expresses permission to do something (as in “may”).
Learn more about potere conjugations.
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 QuizletHere'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:
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.
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