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Italian expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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, and 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 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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

Understandably, 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 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, you may want to get on friendly terms with it ASAP in order to partake in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of it 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

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 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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Italian word of the day: ‘Incendio’

Do you have a burning need to know how to use this word correctly?

Italian word of the day: 'Incendio'

One word you likely learned early on in your Italian language journey is fuoco – fire. It’s easy to remember, and used in many of the same contexts as the English equivalent.

But you may have noticed another word, particularly when reading about the wildfires wreaking havoc across Italy at the moment: incendio.

You can likely work out the meaning of this word. After all, it reminds us of the English word incendiary, which has the same Latin root.

Both words effectively mean the same thing: ‘fire’. But confusion arises from the fact that they can’t always be used interchangeably.

So what exactly is the difference between fuoco and incendio?

Simply put, fuoco tends to be used to refer to the element; while incendio is used when something is on fire.

Le eruzioni vulcaniche e gli incendi continueranno

The volcanic eruptions and fires continue

A wildfire or forest fire is called an incendio forestale or incendio nel bosco. 

L’incendio forestale continua ad imperversare.

The forest fire continues to rage on.

Fuoco is used more widely to talk about fire in general. For example, fireworks are fuochi d’artificio (literally: ‘artificial fires’) and firefighters are vigili del fuoco (literally: ‘fire guards’) – a Roman-era term reintroduced under Mussolini’s rule, as the dictator is said to have preferred it to pompieri, as they were previously called (and still are in some parts of the country).

One common usage is when talking about the heat used while cooking: fuoco basso/alto (low/high heat).

Bisogna friggere le cipolle a fuoco basso 

You need to fry the onions on a low heat

And Italian has plenty of fire-related idioms, which you may or may not be able to guess the meanings of.

For example: fare fuoco e fiamme literally means ‘to make fire and flames’: it’s used to talk about someone really losing their temper, where in English we might ‘go ballistic’ or ‘raise hell’.

Slightly less dramatically, a hectic day might also be described as una giornata di fuoco, or ‘a day of fire’.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.