Difference between POTERE and RIUSCIRE

Potere and riuscire in Italian

Potere means “to be able to”. It describes an ability you have or don’t have, something you choose to do or not to do, or something that you are not allowed to do.

Potere
To be able to, can

Puoi chiudere la finestra?
Can you close the window?

Riuscire, on the other hand, is used to describe something you can or can’t do because of a personal limit, not because of your will.

Riuscire
To be able to, can

Non riesco ad aprire questa bottiglia. Puoi aiutarmi?
I can’t open this bottle. Can you help me?

a helicopter and two rescuers

How do you use potere in Italian?

As we said, potere translates as to be able to, can. Unlike riuscire, potere is also a modal verb. This means that it can be followed by an infinitive verb.

It is used to describe:

  • an ability (the power to do something)
  • a choice to do something
  • the permission to do something

For example, you can say…

Posso aiutarti a finire i compiti, se vuoi.
I can help you finish your homework if you want.

Puoi prendere il pacco sulla sedia?
Can you get the package on the chair?

Non ho ancora 18 anni, quindi non posso guidare.
I am not yet 18, so I cannot drive.

worried man driving a car

Some very common expressions with potere in Italian are…

  • volere è potere, where there’s a will there’s a way
  • poter fare a meno di, can do without sth
  • non poter soffrire, to be unable to stand sth/sb
  • non poterci credere, to not be able to believe sth

How do you use riuscire in Italian?

Riuscire, unlike potere, cannot be used directly with an infinitive verb. It must be followed first by the preposition “a”, then by an infinitive verb. It translates “to be able to, to manage, can” and describes something you are able or unable to do, no matter how hard you try.

For example, you can say…

Non riesco a correre veloce come te.
I can’t run as fast as you.

Sono riuscito a prendere l’autobus in tempo.
I managed to catch the bus in time.

Non riesco a capire. Puoi ripetere?
I can’t understand. Can you repeat?

Non riesco a sollevare lo zaino!
I can’t lift my schoolbag!

girl trying to lift her schoolbag

Another difference between potere and riuscire in Italian is that riuscire is also used to translate “to succeed” with the expression riuscirci, literally “to succeed at there”.

Ci sono riuscito!
I did it!

Sei riuscito a scavalcare il muro? – Sì, ci sono riuscito!
Were you able to climb over the wall? – Yes, I did (it)!


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