The Italian Verb POTEREThe Italian Verb POTERE is a “modal” verb. In fact it belongs to that class of Italian Verbs such as DOVERE, VOLERE and SAPERE that are always followed by an infinitive. That class of verbs also specifies the way in which (il “modo” in cui) the speaker interprets the action.
Today we want to discuss about the way in  which the speaker can interpret the action when she/he uses POTERE. Therefore we we would like to discuss about the Italian Verb POTERE and its meanings.


The Italian Verb POTERE in relation to the English CAN and MAY

First of all we can say that two different English Verbs correspond to the Italian Verb POTERE: CAN and MAY. It means that POTERE is used for expressing the ABILITY of doing something (CAN) or the PERMISSION of doing something (MAY).

Here some examples:


  • Luca, puoi comparare il pane al supermercato oggi pomeriggio? Mi dispiace non posso, questo pomeriggio lavoro al ristorante. (ABILITY)
  • Mamma, posso uscire con gli amici questa sera? Sì puoi andare, ma fai attenzione. (PERMISSION)


  • Luca, can you buy the bread this afternoon? I am sorry I cannot, this afternoon I will work at the restaurant.
  • Mamma, may I go out with my friends this evening? Yes you can, but pay attention.


The Italian Verb POTERE in relation to the Italian SAPERE

Remember also that in Italian there is another way of referring to the ability of doing something: through the use of SAPERE followed by an infinitive. If you want to say that you CAN play the guitar, speak Italian, ride a bike, playing tennis the right verb in Italian is SAPERE, not POTERE. Here some examples:

  • Maria sa suonare la chitarra;
  • Giorgio sa parlare italiano;
  • Luca sa guidare la bicicletta;
  • Mario sa giocare a tennis.

The use of the Italian Verb POTERE is never correct here.

Finally we can consider the English expression “know how to do something”. The Italian in this case is similar to English, the expression “know to” corresponds to the Italian “sapere come”. Here an example:

  • I know how to fix my computer (English)
  • Io so come come aggiustare il mio computer (Italian).

We dedicated more than one post to the verb SAPERE, here is the one that summarises al the others: The Use Of The Verb Sapere in Italian


The Conjugation of the Verb POTERE

The Italian Verb POTERE is an irregular Verb. Just to review it, here you have its conjugation:







In conclusion, remember that POTERE has not its own auxiliar (ESSERE or AVERE) because it depends on the auxiliar of the infinitive that follows. See these examples:

  • Non sono potuto partire, ero troppo stanco. (PARTIRE wants ESSERE) (In English “I couldn’t leave, I was too tired”)
  • Non ho potuto comprare il pane fresco, il negozio era chiuso. (COMPARE wants AVERE) (In English “I couldn’t buy the bread, the shop was closed.”


Additional meanings of POTERE

POTERE in Italian is a Verb but it is also a Noun, “IL POTERE”. The Noun POTERE means POWER.



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