We use modal verbs to show if we believe something is a necessity, a possibility or volition (if you must to do something, if we can do something or if we want to do something.
We also use modal verbs to do things like asking permission, making requests and offers and so forth.
The Italian modal verbs precede the infinitive of another verb and indicate a mode
- voglio andare al supermercato (modal verb + infinitve + object)
- devo comprare la cioccolata (modal verb + infinitve + object)
- non posso aspettare (modal verb + infinitve )
Dovere + infinitive: to must, to have to, I need to
- Devo andare in palestra – I must (need, have to) go to the gym
Dovere + object: to owe
- Ti devo 5 euro per la piazza – I own you 5 euros for the pizza
Potere: to ask for permission or being allowed or not to do something
- Posso uscire un momento? – Can I leave for a second?
- I bambini non posso guardare la tv di sera tardi – Children are not allowed to watch TV late
Potere does not express the ability of doing something, like English. In Italian, is the verb SAPERE that does it:
- so cantare – I can sing
- sai cucinare? – Can you cook?
- sapete parlare russo? – Can you guys speak Russian?
- Voglio mangiare giapponese – I want to eat japanese
- Voglio il shushi e la tempura – I want sushi and tempura
Modal verb and compound tenses
Conjugating modal verbs in the passato prossimo (and other compound tenses) needs a special construction.
Since each modal verbs is followed my an infinitive verb (Posso entrare? Voglio mangiare!), you need to chooe the correct auxiliary between essere and avere depending on the infinitve verb that is followind the modal verbs:
- Sono dovuta uscire – I had to go out
Uscire is a verb of motion that in compound tenses take ESSERE as an helping verb (or auxiliary)
- Ho dovuto preparare la cena – I had to prepare the dinner
Preparare is transive verb taking AVERE as helping verb,
- non ho potuto preparare la cena – I could not prepare the dinner
- non sono potuta andare a pranzo – I could not go to the lunch
Note that if the auxiliary preceeding the modal verb is ESSERE the modal verbs dovere, potere and volere agrees with the gender and number of the subject.
- sono dovuta andare via
- ci siamo alzati tardi
- non siamo potuti venire