Italian modal verbs
The Italian modal verbs (verbi modali) are used to express the specific modality of an action.
Structure of clauses with modal verbs
The modal verbs are used with the infinitive form of the specific verb that specify the particular action.
- Subject + modal verb + infinitive
|Io devo spedire questa e-mail entro stasera.||I must send this e-mail before this evening.|
|Fabrizio vuole assolutamente andare a quella festa stasera.||Fabrizio certantly wants to go to that party tonight.|
|Voi potrete andare al bagno soltanto quando avrete consegnato il compito.||You could go to the toilet just once you had finished your test.|
Main modal verbs in Italian: dovere, potere, volere
The principal Italian modal verbs are three:
- dovere (to must, to have to), that is used to express duty;
- potere (to can, to may), that is used to express possibility;
- volere (to want), that is used to express will.
Other verbs with modal value
A few of other verbs has also a modal value. They are:
sapere with the meaning of can, to be able to, similar to potere;
e.g. Tu sai nuotare? (Can you swim?)
parere and sembrare with the meaning of to give the impression of;
e.g. Sembra aver raggiunto il suo obiettivo. (He gives the impression of having reached his aim)
Peculiarities of modal verbs
The main characteristics of these verbs are:
- they have always the infinitive form of the specific verb after them;
- they have the same subject of the infinitive clause that follows them;
- if there is a clitic pronoun, it could be both before the modal verb and after the infinitive.
|Gli voglio parlare. > Voglio parlargli.||I want to speak with him.|
|La devo cercare. > Devo cercarla.||I have to find her.|
|Ci posso andare. > Posso andarci.||I can go there.|
Choosing the auxiliary for the compound tenses
Avere as auxiliary with modal verbs
Modal verbs usually use avere as auxiliary. It happens in particular when:
- the verb that follows the modal verb uses avere as auxiliary;
e.g. Ho parlato > Ho dovuto parlare. (I spoke. > I had to speak)
- they are followed by essere or by a passive form of the infinitive mood;
e.g. Ha voluto essere ascoltata. (She wanted to be listened to).
Avere and essere with modal verbs
They use essere or avere according to the clitic pronoun:
- if the pronoun occurs before the auxiliary, essere is used;
e.g. Non ci sono potuto andare. (I couldn't get there)
- if the pronoun occurs after the infinitive form, avere is used;
e.g. Non ho potuto andarci. (I couldn't get there)
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