May, might, can, could

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Taniaa

Senior Member
Italia, Italiano
Ciao, faccio un po di confusione nel capire quando usare may, might o can, could. Esiste una regola molto chiara per sapere quando usarli? (ad es. can or may?)

grazie mille
Tany :D
 
  • In the case of doubt ("I may/might go to Italy this summer"), "might" expresses less likelihood than "may."

    To make it even more confusing, you can use "could" for a case of doubt ("I could go to Italy this summer"). That is technically incorrect, in that it expresses ability instead of condition, but people use it that way in AE all the time.

    In the case of permission ("Under the law, you may enter Italy from the U.S. without a visa") "may" is the only correct word. To go into past tense you'd switch to "could" ("In the '90s you could enter Italy without a visa, but now you need one").

    In other words, good luck trying to understand all this stuff.
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    Taniaa said:
    grazie a tutti... ma continuo ad essere confusa... spero questo non vi faccia arrabbiare. ho capito la sottile distinzione fra can/may. Ma nel caso della forma might/could vale la stessa 'regola'?
    Per semplificare:

    Quando "could" vuol dire "ero in grado di" non può essere sostituito da "might":

    When I was young I could play football like a pro

    Lo stesso vale quando vuol dire "mi era permesso":

    My parents were not very strict. When I was a teenager I could(was allowed to) stay out very late

    E nelle richieste:

    Could you help me please?


    "Might" indica solo "possibilità" ma in questo caso spesso va bene anche "could":

    We might(could) win the cup

    You might(could) have told me!

    Carlo
     
    moodywop said:
    Per semplificare:

    Quando "could" vuol dire "ero in grado di" non può essere sostituito da "might":

    When I was young I could play football like a pro

    Lo stesso vale quando vuol dire "mi era permesso":

    My parents were not very strict. When I was a teenager I could(was allowed to) stay out very late

    E nelle richieste:

    Could you help me please?


    "Might" indica solo "possibilità" ma in questo caso spesso va bene anche "could":

    We might(could) win the cup

    You might(could) have told me!

    Carlo
    Sorry, Carlo, we crossed in the mail. I spend so much time trying to figure out this stuff that by the time I have posted my answer several brighter folks already have responded.
     

    Panpan

    Senior Member
    England, English
    For 'Could', you can instead use either

    'Would be able to' (in the future), or
    'was able to' (to express the past).

    Sorry, but 'could' has both meanings.

    For 'Might' you can instead use 'may be able to'.

    Hope that helps you get the meanings

    Panpan
     

    Taniaa

    Senior Member
    Italia, Italiano
    grazie a tutti, davvero.

    con MIGHT, indico quindi la POSSIBILITA', mentre con COULD indico anche l'abilità, il poter fare... is that right?!
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    carrickp said:
    Sorry, Carlo, we crossed in the mail. I spend so much time trying to figure out this stuff that by the time I have posted my answer several brighter folks already have responded.
    Carrick

    The more responses the better! For instance, Panpan's mention of "would be able to" made me realize that I left out "might" vs "could" in reported speech, which can be quite tricky for us Italians. Can you tell me if the following examples make sense?

    He said he couldn't come to the party (ha detto che non sarebbe potuto venire)

    Can this refer both to a party that's already taken place and to a future party?

    He said he might not come to the party.

    I guess this can only mean Ha detto che forse non sarebbe venuto alla festa
     
    I answered your comments in red below.
    moodywop said:
    Carrick

    The more responses the better! For instance, Panpan's mention of "would be able to" made me realize that I left out "might" vs "could" in reported speech, which can be quite tricky for us Italians. Can you tell me if the following examples make sense?

    He said he couldn't come to the party (ha detto che non sarebbe potuto venire)

    Can this refer both to a party that's already taken place and to a future party? That is correct. For the past, though, we'd perhaps be slightly more apt to say, "He said he didn't come to the party because . . ." But both are correct grammatically and in terms of usage.

    He said he might not come to the party.

    I guess this can only mean Ha detto che forse non sarebbe venuto alla festa I agree with you on this as well. You continue to speak better English than we Americans.
     

    Parergon

    Senior Member
    Italiano, Italia
    Solitamente si associa:

    May = Permission
    Could = Possibility
    Can = Ability

    ...

    Might = ?

    Cosa assocereste a Might? Forse un diverso grado di possibilità?
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    May is not only for permission, but is also used for future possibility:
    It may rain tomorrow.
    Also It might rain tomorrow, expressing a little less certainty.

    He's so rich that he could buy a Ferrari. In fact he might buy one next week.

    It's better to phone first, because they may/might be out.
     

    Parergon

    Senior Member
    Italiano, Italia
    Ok.

    Pertanto creando una scala di "degree of possibility (if not probability)" dove 1 rappresenta il degree maggiore e 3 il minore potremmo dire:

    1. May
    2. Might
    3. Could


    Erro?
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Could is often interchangeable with might, but strictly it has the meaning in the example of the Ferrari, about a general, potential possibility, more than a prediction.
     

    jessica2690

    Member
    England, English
    Solitamente si associa:

    May = Permission
    Could = Possibility
    Can = Ability

    ...

    Might = ?

    Cosa assocereste a Might? Forse un diverso grado di possibilità?
    I am not completely sure but I think 'might' can be used in many more situations than the others. It is both possibility and permission. Maybe these examples will help."I might go to the park" = maybe I will go to the park"I may go to the park" = maybe I will go to the park"I could go the park" = if i want, it is possible to go to the park"I can go the park" = it is possible for me to go to the park
     

    Parergon

    Senior Member
    Italiano, Italia
    Pertanto anche: It's better to phone first, because they could be out è altrettanto corretta. Seppura esprima un diverso grado probabilità.
     

    Parergon

    Senior Member
    Italiano, Italia
    I am not completely sure but I think 'might' can be used in many more situations than the others. It is both possibility and permission. Maybe these examples will help."I might go to the park" = maybe I will go to the park"I may go to the park" = maybe I will go to the park"I could go the park" = if i want, it is possible to go to the park"I can go the park" = it is possible for me to go to the park
    Gli esempi sono molto buoni! Grazie ;)

    Nel caso (1) might e (2) may... da cosa dipende l' andare al parco? Quale è più probabile? Io suppongo "may", erro?
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Though they are often used interchangeably, as has been said, could is conditional (aptly named ;)). So there is often an "if" condition associated with the possibility expressed.

    Einstein's example (He's so rich that he could buy a Ferrari. In fact he might buy one next week) is excellent, so I'll work with it to emphasize even more what I mean.

    I could buy one if I were rich. He's so rich he might buy one next week.
     

    Parergon

    Senior Member
    Italiano, Italia
    Eccellente contributo lsp! Grazie.

    Riguardo alle frasi con IF, might è solitamente associato ad un simple present, erro?

    If you do X, you might do Y.
    If you do X, you will do Y.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Eccellente contributo lsp! Grazie.

    Riguardo alle frasi con IF, might è solitamente associato ad un simple present, erro?

    If you do X, you might do Y.
    If you do X, you will do Y.
    No, I can imagine past tense examples:
    A: Why didn't you ask for her phone number?
    B: I might have, if you hadn't been there!

    How does that "might have" translate into Italian?
     

    niklavjus

    Senior Member
    Italiano (Italia)
    Visto che siete in sospeso ci provo, ma tiro a indovinare.

    A: Perché non le hai chiesto il numero di telefono?
    B: Avrei Potuto, se non ci fossi stato tu!
     

    jessica2690

    Member
    England, English
    Gli esempi sono molto buoni! Grazie ;)

    Nel caso (1) might e (2) may... da cosa dipende l' andare al parco? Quale è più probabile? Io suppongo "may", erro?
    Secondo me, 'I might go to the park' e 'I may go to the park' hanno lo stesso dimensione di probabilita. Pero, 'may' e piu formale.
     

    Panpan

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Just a word of caution with 'could'. It means two different things in English.

    If the sentance is past tense, it means the imperfect of potere, i.e. potevo/ poteva/ potevi etc. If it is not past tense, it means the conditional of potere, e.g. potrei, potrebbe, potresti etc.

    With may/ might, I always thought that 'might' was the conditional of 'may', but on reading the above I am no longer sure. Thinking about it, 'might' is sometimes used as the subjunctive of 'may';

    May have permission to speak? (Use of 'may' for requesting permission)
    I wonder if I might be permitted to speak? (Speculating about the possibility of permission)

    Hope it helps

    Panpan
     

    virgilio

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Panpan,
    "might" is actually the "past tense of "may" and both are used (with a following 'naked' infinitive) to express (or, when interrogative, to seek) permission, although nowadays both sound a little old fashioned and courteous in modern democratic Britain with this meaning.
    Both are used colloquially in the second meaning as equivalents of "può darsi (che)":
    e.g.
    Può darsi che facciamo questo pomeriggio una passeggiata ma può darsi anche che non lo facciamo.

    We may go for a walk this afternoon but then again we may not.
    (or equally)
    We might go for a walk this afternoon but then again we might not.
    As for 'sfumature' between the two I agree with Jessica 2690.
    Virgilio
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Scusatemi se torno indietro un pochettino, sono stato fuori casa. Vorrei rispondere a Parergon:
    Pertanto anche: It's better to phone first, because they could be out è altrettanto corretta. Seppure esprima un diverso grado probabilità.
    Per me il grado di probabilità è uguale. Come avevo detto prima, could e might hanno spesso in pratica lo stesso significato, ma might è usato più per una previsione, mentre could esprime una possibilità generale. Evidentemente in questo esempio si può intendere in entrambi i modi, per cui could e might sono tutti e due corretti. Per distinguere: They could be out = sono capaci di essere fuori; they might be out = può darsi che siano fuori.
     

    Panpan

    Senior Member
    England, English
    In the same way that 'could' means two different things in English, imperfect past tense or conditional, so does 'might'.

    'You may take it' - present tense (puoi prenderlo)
    'I told him that he might take it' - I'm not sure if this is past imperfect tense (Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo), or past subjunctive tense (gli ho detto che potesse prenderlo)
    'Do you think we can go there tomorow? - We might be able to go there' - conditional (potremmo andarci)
    And also (I think) 'If I might be able to see it' - present subjunctive (Se io possa vederlo)
     

    virgilio

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Panpan,
    Re:" If I might be able to see it' - present subjunctive (Se io possa vederlo)
    There's no reason for a present subjunctive in this sentence, possibly an imperfect subjunctive (as the protasis of a hypothetical conditional sentence, possibly with its apodosis suppressed)
    Re:" 'I told him that he might take it' - I'm not sure if this is past imperfect tense (Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo), or past subjunctive tense (gli ho detto che potesse prenderlo)"
    No reason here for any subjunctive that I can see.
    Reasons for Italian subjunctives are very specific.

    Virgilio
     

    Panpan

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Panpan,
    Re:" If I might be able to see it' - present subjunctive (Se io possa vederlo)
    There's no reason for a present subjunctive in this sentence, possibly an imperfect subjunctive (as the protasis of a hypothetical conditional sentence, possibly with its apodosis suppressed)
    Virgilio
    'May I see it?' is present tense surely? So the present subjunctive, which, at least so far as I have been taught is required (given that it will not always be used in the spoken language) following 'if', should use 'might', e.g. 'if I might see it'.

    Re:" 'I told him that he might take it' - I'm not sure if this is past imperfect tense (Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo), or past subjunctive tense (gli ho detto che potesse prenderlo)"
    No reason here for any subjunctive that I can see.
    Reasons for Italian subjunctives are very specific.
    Virgilio
    Yes they are, and they include statements of uncertainty. You don't know whether he will take it or not. To put it the other way round, how else would you translate 'gli ho detto che potesse prenderlo' into English? (You are talking about permission, not ability).
     

    virgilio

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Panpan,
    Re:"Se io possa vederlo".
    I'm open to correction, of course, but I know of no possibility for a present subjunctive in a "se" clause
    Re:"I told him that he might take it" (=he was permitted to take it)
    Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo

    What I told him was, I suggest, in no way less than 100% definite, clear and factual: "You may (i.e. are permitted to) take it.
    No reason for a subjunctive in this meaning.
    Best wishes
    Virgilio
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    'I told him that he might take it' - I'm not sure if this is past imperfect tense (Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo):tick:, or past subjunctive tense (gli ho detto che potesse prenderlo):cross:

    Panpan,
    Re:"Se io possa vederlo".
    I'm open to correction, of course, but I know of no possibility for a present subjunctive in a "se" clause
    Re:"I told him that he might take it" (=he was permitted to take it)
    Gli ho detto che poteva prenderlo:tick:

    What I told him was, I suggest, in no way less than 100% definite, clear and factual: "You may (i.e. are permitted to) take it.
    No reason for a subjunctive in this meaning.
    Best wishes
    Virgilio
     

    lilant

    Member
    ITALIAN
    Just a word of caution with 'could'. It means two different things in English.

    If the sentance is simple past, it means the imperfect of potere, i.e. potevo/ poteva/ potevi etc. If it is not past tense, it means the conditional of potere, e.g. potrei, potrebbe, potresti etc.

    With may/ might, I always thought that 'might' was the conditional of 'may', but on reading the above I am no longer sure. Thinking about it, 'might' is sometimes used as the subjunctive of 'may';

    May have permission to speak? (Use of 'may' for requesting permission)
    I wonder if I might be permitted to speak? (Speculating about the possibility of permission)

    Hope it helps

    Panpan
    I bring back to life an old thread but I would like to know if it's correct to use COULD in past tense to affirm something, not meaning to use a conditional form.
    I write an example of what I mean:

    A: I'm going to buy some pizza
    B: Can you take a piece of pizza for me, please? I'd like Pizza with cheese and salami if you would find some

    A: I'm back!
    B: COULD you find the kind of pizza I would like?
    A: Yes I COULD

    This is what I need to translate from italian:
    A: sei riuscito a trovare il tipo di pizza che volevo?
    B: si l'ho trovato

    I'm not sure about the last 2 lines because it sounds like they use the conditional form of the verb. Now in order to say something affirmatively and not hipotetical, I'd like to know if it's better/more common to say what follows

    B: DID you find the kind of pizza I would like?
    A: Yes I DID

    I hope the matter is clear, waiting for your kind help everyone! Thank you! :)
     
    Last edited:

    rrose17

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    Unless you want this to go to the English only forum you have to give us an Italian phrase that you want help translating. :)
     
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