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Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

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Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it as a non-committal response to my suggestions.

This isn't a phrase that ever came up in Italian class. At first I wasn't sure what they were saying, but from the context it was obvious that it meant something like “perhaps” or “possibly”.

- Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico
- Può darsi

- Maybe they’re late because of the traffic
- Possibly

When può darsi (hear the pronunciation here) is used alone as a response, it's not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is.

In fact, it can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

Literally translated, the meaning of this phrase is far from clear. It's a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able to‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It could be translated literally as “it can be given”.

As well as being used alone, this phrase can be used within sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari, which is altogether more complicated and requires a separate explanation.

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.

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

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The formula you'll need is può darsi + che + 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 effectively mean the same thing.

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In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive mood.

Understandably, language students usually want to run for the hills at the mere mention of the Italian subjunctive (congiuntivo). But stay with me - it doesn't have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it's used whenever 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.

So, while this is often taught as a more 'advanced' bit of grammar, it helps to get on friendly terms with it as soon as you can in order to partake more confidently in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of how it works here.

It pays to remember that with può darsi you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form 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

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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

As mentioned earlier, this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re 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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