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Italian word of the day: 'Magari'

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Italian word of the day: 'Magari'
Photo: DepositPhotos
17:48 CEST+02:00
Hopefully you'll find yourself using this word as frequently as Italians do.

Today's word is one that several readers have asked us to feature, probably because they've heard it so often: magari.

This common expression derives from a Greek word meaning blessed or happy, which is a clue to its first meaning: 'I hope so!' You can use magari to talk about things that are desired, wished or hoped for.

Magari andrà tutto bene.
Hopefully everything will be fine.

You even can use it to stress just how much you want something, usually if someone's offering it to you: it's like answering their question with 'you bet!' (NB: in our experience, you won't hear this use that often.)

– Ti piacerebbe andare in Italia?
– Magari! 

– Would you like to go to Italy?
– I certainly would!

– Prendo un bicchiere di vino, ne vuoi uno?
– Magari! Grazie! 

– I'm having a glass of wine, do you want one?
– I’d love one, thanks!

Of course, some wishes are less likely to come true than others. When you're talking about something you want but that isn't really attainable, magari takes on the tone of 'if only!'

– Sei miliardario?
– Eh, magari!

– Are you a billionaire?
– Huh, if only!

– Hai vissuto sei mesi a Firenze, parli bene l'italiano?
– Magari!

– You spent six months in Florence, do you speak Italian well?
– I wish! 

Be warned: when it's used in this sense, because you're describing something hypothetical any verb that follows should really be in the imperfect subjunctive – though we guarantee you'll hear plenty of Italians who don't bother.

Magari fosse vero!
If only it were true!

Magari potessi andare anch'io.
If only I could go too.

Where it gets confusing is the fact that magari can also mean plain old 'maybe', without a particular preference either way.

Magari arriva più tardi.
Maybe he'll come later.

Saremo in tre, magari in quattro.
There'll be three of us, maybe four.

Often there's no way to tell from the sentence structure which magari you're dealing with – you just have to go by context and tone.

The dictionary lists one more possible sense to magari, though this one's less often used: it can also mean 'even if'. There are two giveaways when it's used this way: one, it will be in the middle of a sentence, joining a second idea to a first; and two, it will be followed by the imperfect subjective.

La aspetterò, magari dovessi restare qui tutta la notte.
I'll wait for her, even if I have to stay here all night.

Passerò quell'esame, magari dovessi impiegarci un anno.
I'll pass that exam, even if it takes me a year.

If that seems like a lot of meanings for one little word, well, it is. Perhaps (magari?) it's because it's so versatile that Italians use it so often: count along with this video to see just how many times footballer Luca Toni says it in one post-match interview.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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