Modal verbs: Volere, Potere, Dovere, Sapere

February 29, 2016

Unfortunately not all verbs in Italian are regular. Some have a different conjugation. This is true for the modal verbs ‘volere’, ‘potere’, ‘dovere’ and ‘sapere’.

These verbs are usually followed by another verb in the infinitive.

Volere – to want

io voglio
tu vuoi
lui/lei vuole
noi vogliamo
voi volete
loro vogliono

ex: Volete mangiare al ristorante con noi? (Do you want to eat at the restaurant with us?)

Potere – can / be allowed to

io posso
tu puoi
lui/lei può
noi possiamo
voi potete
loro possono

ex: Lucia può uscire con me domani (Lucia can/is allowed to go out with me tomorrow)

Dovere – must / have to

io devo
tu devi
lui/lei deve
noi dobbiamo
voi dovete
loro devono

ex: Gli studenti devono studiare molto a casa (Students must /have to study a lot at home)

Sapere – to know (to know how to do something)

io so
tu sai
lui/lei sa
noi sappiamo
voi sapete
loro sanno

ex: Io so nuotare, e tu? (I can/know how to swim, and you?)

Sometimes it's difficult to know when to use ‘potere’ or ‘sapere’. The distinction is based on physical ability, or on the distinction between permission and knowledge:

Puoi telefonare al ristorante per prenotare? (Can you call the restaurant to book?)
Puoi dormire da me domani? (Can you sleep over at my place tomorrow?)


Sai giocare a tennis? (Can you play tennis?)

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