Italian Verbs: POTERE or How to say “CAN” in Italian
Most students of Italian believe that they should use POTERE every time they need to say “CAN” in Italian.
This is not true though!
POTERE is more the equivalent of MAY than it is of CAN.
In Italian we use POTERE to talk about the POSSIBILITY of something or PERMISSION.
DOMANI POSSIAMO ANDARE A ROMA
Tomorrow we can go to Rome (as in, we have the possibility to go)
PUOI TELEFONARE A MARIA
Can you call Maria (as in, is it possible for you to call Maria?)
SCUSI, POSSO ENTRARE?
Excuse me, can I come in? (or more properly “may I come in?”, as in “do I have the permission to come in?”)
POTERE is an irregular verb. In the present tense it goes:
In many cases though, the correct way to render the English “CAN” is with the verb SAPERE, which literally means “TO KNOW“.
That’s because it also means “TO KNOW HOW TO DO SOMETHING“.
Also SAPERE is irregular and in the present tense it looks like this:
If I need to say that “I CAN SWIM” (meaning, “I am able to swim”, “I know how to swim”) I will NOT say:
* IO POSSO NUOTARE
IO SO NUOTARE
POSSO NUOTARE? is used when asking for permission (“may I swim?”)
IO SO PARLARE FRANCESE
I can speak French / I know how to speak French
IO SO SUONARE IL VIOLINO
I can play the violin / I know how to play the violin
In many cases, the best way to render an English “CAN” is NOT with POTERE or SAPERE…
I’ll soon be making a video on this, but here are some good alternatives:
– RIUSCIRE (to manage / to succeed)
– NOT TRANSLATING “CAN” AT ALL!
An example of each
NON RIESCO AD APRIRE LA FINESTRA. È BLOCCATA!
I can’t open the window. It’s stuck!
VIENI CON ME ALLA FESTA?
Can you come with me to the party?