Vocabulary (Review)

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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What’s the difference between potere and riuscire?
Riuscire and potere are two verbs we use very often in Italian. Sometimes their meanings overlap, but other times they mean completely different things.
Potere is translated as "to be able to" or "can." It indicates the capacity and/or possibility to do a determinate action. For example:
Non devi cucinare, posso farlo io.
“You don’t have to cook; I can do it.”
Potere is an irregular verb, but more importantly, it’s a modal verb.
Modal verbs are used to give additional information about the main verb.
As with other modal verbs, potere is almost always followed by an infinitive verb without a linking preposition. For example:
Posso andare alla festa?
“Can I go to the party?”
Sometimes we can use another verb, riuscire. In English, this can be translated in the same way as potere. However, riuscire has a slightly different meaning. Its meaning is somewhere between the English verbs "to be able to" and "to succeed." Let’s see some examples:
Non riesco a dormire, c’è troppo rumore.
“I can’t sleep; there’s too much noise.”
Sono riuscito ad arrivare in tempo.
“I managed to arrive on time.”
Please also note that riuscire needs the preposition a in front of the infinitive.
It’s not always easy to grasp the difference between these two verbs. Look at these sentences.
Ho 15 anni, non posso guidare.
“I’m 15; I can’t drive.” It’s the same as saying, “I’m not allowed to drive.”
Sono troppo stanca, non riesco a guidare.
“I’m too tired; I can’t drive.” It’s the same as saying, “Even if I tried, I couldn’t.”
Here’s another example that may help. We can translate “I can’t sleep at the office” in two different ways in Italian:
One is Non posso dormire in ufficio.
The other one Non riesco a dormire in ufficio.
The first one is the most likely, as it means that I can’t sleep because of the office rules. The second one, instead, means something like “I can’t manage sleeping at the office.” The speaker can’t sleep, not because of the rules, but because of the noise or another secondary reason.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter which verb you choose.
For example, you could say Non posso venire alla festa, or Non riesco a venire alla festa.
Though their nuance is different, the meaning is the same: “I can’t go to the party.”
To recap, keep in mind that there are some situations where you can’t use riuscire to express the same meaning. Situations like...
-When you ask for permission: Posso uscire? (“Can I go out?”)
-When you ask for someone’s help: Qualcuno può aiutarmi? (“Can anyone help me?”)
-When you make a suggestion: Potresti provare (“you could try...”).


Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”