One of the main definitions of the common Italian verb provare is ‘to try’, and if you’ve been in Italy for any length of time, you’ve probably heard it used in this sense on multiple occasions.
It can mean anything from ‘trying’ a food or drink (assaggiare, ‘to taste’, also works here):
Vuoi provare questo gelato? È buonissimo.
Do you want to try this ice cream? It’s very good.
to ‘trying on’ clothing (note that you’ll often see the reflexive form of the verb, provarsi, used in this context, but it’s not necessarily required):
Ti sei provata tutti i vestiti nel negozio.
You’ve tried on all the clothes in the shop.
Ho provato il vestito in vetrina ma era troppo grande.
I tried on the dress in the display window but it was too big.
to simply attempting any activity:
Ieri ho provato a sciare per la prima volta.
I tried skiing for the first time yesterday.
Perché non provi a parlarle?
Why don’t you try talking to her?
The Italian word for a test or quiz is una prova – literally, ‘a try’.
Penso che abbiamo tutti fallito la prova di matematica.
I think we all failed the maths test.
And testing a mic? You guessed it:
Ho dovuto accompagnare mio figlio alla prova per la recita scolastica.
I had to drop my son off at the rehearsal for the school play.
Lo avrà provato un centinaio di volte.
He must have rehearsed it a hundred times.
while a provino – something along the lines of ‘little try’ – is an audition.
Provarci, with the pronoun ci added on the end, means to ‘try it’ (either to literally attempt something or push boundaries) or to ‘try it on’ with someone (to flirt with them and see if you get anywhere).
Non lo saprai mai se non ci provi.
You’ll never know if you don’t try (it).
Non ci provare Francesco, la mamma è stanchissima oggi.
Don’t try it Francesco, mum’s extremely tired today.
Ci ha provato con tutte le ragazze nel quartiere.
He’s tried it on with all the girls in the neighbourhood.
Got all that?
Take a deep breath, because while that concludes the list of main uses of provare for anything related to ‘try’, its multifarious definitions don’t end there.
Provare can also mean to prove, verify, or demonstrate something, particularly in a legal context:
Te lo proverò, lo giuro.
I’ll prove it to you, I swear.
Posso provare la mia innocenza.
I can prove my innocence.
In this situation, prova becomes proof:
Non hanno mai trovato alcuna prova del suo coinvolgimento nel caso.
They never found any proof of his involvement in the case.
Finally, to provare qualcosa is to feel some kind of emotion.
Note that provare should be used differently to sentire, which also means ‘feel’. While sentire can be followed by an adjective – you would sentire triste (‘feel sad’) or sentire felice (‘feel happy’) – provare needs to be followed by a noun or noun phrase:
Ho provato un senso di sollievo.
I felt a sense of relief.
Non avrei mai pensato di poter provare una cosa simile.
I never thought I’d feel that way.
Have a go at using provare in conversation this week, and see if you can prove yourself.
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