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Italian expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it in response to things I suggest.

I’d never seen it in an Italian textbook, and at first I wasn’t too sure what they were saying. One thing was obvious from the context: it meant “perhaps” or “possibly”.

– Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico

– Può darsi

– Maybe they’re late because of the traffic

– Possibly

Literally translated, the phrase doesn’t make much sense to English speakers. It’s a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It would literally mean something like “it can be given”.

And it’s not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is when può darsi is used alone as a response. It can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

That is the easiest usage, though. It can also be used in sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari (which is altogether more complicated).

With può darsi you’ll need to pay more attention to the grammar. But it’s worth mastering, as the phrase is very commonly used in spoken Italian.

So here’s a closer look at how to get it right:

Unlike forse and magari, sentences using può darsi need to be constructed in a particular way.

The formula is può darsi + che (that) + a verb in its subjunctive form.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

– Può darsi che Gianni sia in ritardo.

– Maybe/it’s possible that Gianni is late

Compare that to the simpler structure of:

– Forse Gianni è in ritardo.

– Maybe Gianni is late

Both sentences mean the same thing. In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive. 

Language learners often want to run for the hills when they start hearing about the subjunctive mood (congiuntivo). But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it’s used when you’re not stating a fact. It expresses doubt, possibility, or uncertainty. It may also be used to talk about emotions, or when making suggestions – so for most normal everyday conversations, then. While this is often taught as a more ‘advanced’ bit of grammar, it’s good to get on friendly terms with it ASAP. Read more about it here.

However, you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form here if you’re speaking in the future or conditional tense.

For example, you could also say:

Può darsi che Gianni sarà in ritardo

– Maybe Gianni will be late/Gianni may be late

Here, the verb refers to the future, so we used sarà – the future simple form of essere (to be).

And once you’ve got the hang of that, you can take things a step further by inserting the word anche (also) in between può and darsi to add emphasis.

Può anche darsi che sia un disastro totale.

– It may well be a total disaster

Just remember that this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re a bit more certain about something, it would be better to use probabilmente or è molto probabile (‘probably’ or ‘it’s very likely’).

Will your Italian friends be impressed if you master the use of può darsi?

Sì, è molto probabile!

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Member comments

  1. That is not the only mistake. The verb is in the third person (he, she, or it), not the first person (I, or io in Italian).

  2. It’s true that “può darsi” Is hardly mentioned in wordreference.com, but I found many examples in the Il Ragazzini app, the book Ecco! Italian in depth, and A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian.

    The main take away I got it looking through all these is that the English words related to ‘can’ mean quite a number of things, ranging from ‘to be able to’ to ‘It is possible that …’, which are quite different when you think about it

    può darsi is for meanings related to ‘it is possible that’

    Learning Italian has helped me understand how strange English is sometimes.

    Also, there’s a mistake where it says,

    “sarà – the first person future simple form of avere (to have)”

    It should be essere, not avere

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