How to use the auxiliary with the verb Potere in Italian

Usually, the passato prossimo uses the auxiliary verbs essere = to be and avere = to have to express a past event. However, three verbs in the passato prossimo require a special construction: volere, dovere, and potere. These are known as Verbi Modali modal verbs, and the choice of essere or avere depends on the verb that follows. Let’s take a look at how this works learning more about How to use the auxiliary with the verb Potere in Italian.

What do you say?

Ieri non sono potuto andare al lavoro

Ieri non ho potuto andare al lavoro

It is possible to use both phrases.

Indeed, the verbs potere/dovere/volere can be used in two ways:

 Modal verbs used by themselves


Mi dovresti una spiegazione (You owe me an explanation)

Ti voglio bene (I love you)

👉 In this case, the verb avere is used to help with the compound verbs.


Mi avresti dovuto una spiegazione (You should have owed me an explanation)

Ti ho voluto bene (I loved you)

Modal verbs used followed by an infinitive verb

and in this case, they are called Modali or Servili because they accompany (serve) another verb.

modal verbs How to use the auxiliary with the verb Potere in Italian


Devo partire per Milano (I have to leave for Milan)

Voglio andare a casa presto (I want to go home early)

Marco non può spendere molti soldi per le vacanze (Marco can’t spend a lot of money on holidays)

Non posso mangiare tutta la pizza! (I can’t eat all the pizza!)

Devo finire questo lavoro (I have to finish this job)

Which auxiliary verb to use? Essere or avere?

With compound verbs, it is possible to use both auxiliaries:


Siamo potuti/potute restare fino a tardi (We could stay late)

E’ dovuto/dovuta partire (He had to leave)

Ho dovuto studiare tutto il giorno (I had to study all day)

In these examples, we use the auxiliary verb in the infinitive following the modal verb – to stay and to leave.

verbo RESTARE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ ESSERE siamo restati fino a tardi ⇒ siamo potuti restare fino a tardi.

verb PARTIRE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ ESSEREsono partito -> sono dovuto partire

verb STUDIARE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ AVEREho studiato tutto il giorno ⇒ ho dovuto studiare tutto il giorno.

In today’s Italian, it is also common to use the auxiliary to have (even if the following infinitive verb requires the auxiliary to be).


Abbiamo potuto restare fino a tardi (We could have stayed up late)

Ho dovuto partire (I had to leave)

Ho voluto andare (I wanted to go)

In these examples, the auxiliary avere is used:

verb RESTARE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ ESSERE ⇒ siamo rimasti tutto il giorno -> ho potuto restare tutto il giorno.

verb PARTIRE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ ESSEREsono partito -> ho dovuto partire

verb ANDARE ⇒ auxiliary verb ⇒ ESSERE siamo andati -> ho voluto andare

When there is the verb ESSERE in the sentence in the infinitive, we use the auxiliary AVERE.

Avresti potuto essere un po’ più gentile (You could have been a little nicer)

In this example, with the verb ESSERE the auxiliary is always AVERE.

What’s next?

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free resources:

🔗 Common Verbs taking auxiliary AVERE and ESSERE

How to use the auxiliary with the verb Potere in Italian



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