Difference between POTERE and RIUSCIRE

What is the difference between potere and riuscire in Italian? English speakers often confuse the two. Are there any situations where you have to use one or the other? Are these verbs even interchangeable?

In this lesson, we will look at how to use these verbs with the help of many audio recordings and example sentences. Read on to learn all you need to know about the difference between potere and riuscire!

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Potere and riuscire in Italian

Many students confuse potere with riuscire and vice versa. At first glance, these verbs are synonyms for “can”. In reality, however, the difference between potere and riuscire in Italian is very clear.

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.

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.

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

Still confused about the difference between potere and riuscire in Italian? Let’s take a closer look at each verb.

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

Learn to speak Italian like a native? Easy.
Italian All-in-One For Dummies appeals to those readers looking for a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide to mastering the Italian language. It contains content from all For Dummies Italian language instruction titles, including Italian For Dummies, Intermediate Italian For Dummies, Italian Verbs For Dummies, Italian Phrases For Dummies, Italian Grammar For Dummies, and Italian For Dummies Audio Set.

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 could 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 could 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)!

And that’s the end of our lesson on the difference between potere and riuscire in Italian!

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