Italian Language Blog

Should, Could, Would ? Posted by on Aug 18, 2010 in Grammar

I recently received the following comment/question from one of my regular readers:

Salve Serena,

Profoundly busy with grammar italiano I need some help in order to prevent myself keeping in mind the wrong statements(being Dutch)-I want to be sure about.

In the ‘condizionale’ how to translate in italiano:

..I should be…
..I should have been…
..I should have had…
..I could have to…
..I could have had…
..I could be able to…
..I would like..
..I would have wanted..
..I would have to…
..I would have had…
..I would have been…

Mi scusi if I asked too much.
Many thanks,


Hmm… bella domanda! (good question!) I think the answers are worth sharing with everyone because this is an especially tricky subject that sooner or later tends to ‘unhinge’ most students of Italian.

So without going into too much detail, believe me you don’t want to go there, here is a simplified summary:

..I should be… (io) dovrei essere, e.g. dovrei essere alla stazione per le dieci (I should be at the station by 10 o’ clock)
..I should have been… (io) sarei dovuto essere, this is the most grammatically correct form, however, nowadays it is more common to use (io) avrei dovuto essere,  e.g. avrei dovuto essere alla stazione per le dieci (I should have been at the station by 10 o’ clock).
..I should have had… (io) avrei dovuto avere,  e.g. avrei dovuto avere l’appuntamento stamattina (I should have had the appointment this morning).
..I could have to… The correct translation would be potrei dover …, but we use other expressions instead, such as: può darsi che (io) debba, or è probabile che (io) debba, e.g. è probabile che io debba partire domani (I could have to leave tomorrow)
..I could have had… (io) avrei potuto avere, e.g. avrei potuto avere un altro lavoro (I could have had another job)
..I could be able to… (io) potrei farcela, e.g. potrei farcela a passare da te domani sera (I could be able to pop round to your place tomorrow evening). Another possibility would be to say se ce la faccio, passo da te domani sera (If I can manage it, I’ll pop round tomorrow evening)
..I would like.. mi piacerebbe, e.g. mi piacerebbe andare al mare (I would like to go to the sea)
..I would have wanted.. (io) avrei voluto, e.g. avrei voluto andare al mare (I would have wanted to go to the sea – this can also be translated as ‘I would have liked to go to the sea’)
..I would have to… (io) dovrei, e.g. dovrei partire per le otto (I would have to leave by eight o’clock), N.B.. dovrei also means ‘I should’
..I would have had… (io) avrei avuto, e.g. avrei avuto più tempo… (I would have had more time…)
..I would have been… (io) sarei stato, e.g. sarei stata più contenta… (I would have been happier…)
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  1. Jeannet:

    Dear Serena,

    I am awful thankful to you for your answer in this blog I will keep it at hand!

    Grazie mille, mille.

    Loving regards,

  2. Nikki:

    Thank you so much for this post. But I have a question: what about the use of “vorrei” for I would like?

    • serena:

      @Nikki Salve Nikki, vorrei means literally ‘I would want’ and is the polite way of asking for something. Students of Italian usually come across vorrei quite early on when they learn how to order something such as ‘un caffè’ for example, i.e. ‘vorrei un caffè per favore’. Obviously you wouldn’t go into a bar and say to the barista ‘mi piacerebbe un caffè’ even though this is a literal translation from English. On the other hand, you can say either ‘oggi vorrei andare al mare’ or ‘oggi mi piacerebbe andare al mare’, and in this case they both have nearly the same meaning. Let’s say that vorrei is stronger, almost like a polite demand, whilst piacerebbe simply suggests that ‘it would please you’.

      I hope this is clear.

      A presto, Serena

  3. William Auge:

    Salve Serena,
    Questo e’ un soggetto diverso:

    Un pochi mesi fa ho sentito una parola slang per un poliziotto mentre sto guardando lo spettacolo “Ispetore Coliandro”. Ti ho domandato quale parola che potrebbe essere. Tu non eri sicura. Allora, dopo sto ascoltando la parola un paio di altre volte Io so che parola e’. Sbirro!

    a presto, William

  4. Ted Taormina:

    Salve Serena, Would you please explain the difference (if any) between “Qui” and “Qua” ? My relatives in Sicily use “qua” exclusively but it seems most everywhere else I hear “qui”. Is there a time when it is appropriate to use one or the other or is it a regional preference? This has had me puzzled for a time now. As always I appreciate and enjoy your blogs very much. Sincerely, Ted

    • serena:

      @Ted Taormina Salve Ted, scusa per il ritardo, ma siamo stati molto occupati durante il periodo di Medievalis.
      Allora, the difference between ‘qui’ and ‘qua’ can be just a regional preference. However, according to my ‘Dizionario della Lingua Italiana Treccani’, ‘qui’ is more precise than ‘qua’, that is, “qui” means “here” while “qua” means “near here”.

      Saluti da Serena

  5. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Wonderful post!

    This information is a great help in trying to read Italian. (Which is what I mostly do.) While, it is very difficult to learn this material well enough to use it in speech, I can use it immediately and profitably in my reading. Thanks.


  6. Jeannet:

    Salve Serena,

    I got some ‘ground under my feet’ -so to speak, by the helpfull blog should-would-could. As an
    completely ‘analfabeta italiano’ I started one day searching for the verbs mostly used in various text written in italiano which -of course- I couldn’t understand at all, but meanwhile … I have made progress!~~~~

  7. Nikki:


    Thanks so much for your explination! That helps a lot.

  8. Ureder:

    Hi Serena,

    My name is Ureder and I’m a Spanish teacher who is learning Italian. I follow your blog quite regularly and it has helped me to understand the Italian grammar better.

    I would appretiate if you could translate the following sentences into Italian. I think in some of these examples the Spanish translation is more similar to the English sentence than the Italian translation. That’s why I sometimes get confused with ‘il condizionale’.

    1. a) […], I would have more money.
    1. b) […], I would have had more money.
    1. c) […], I would be richer.
    1. d) […], I would have been richer.

    2. a) […], I could have more money.
    2. b) […], I could have had more money.
    2. c) […], I could be richer.
    2. d) […], I could have been richer.

    3. a) […], I should (or I would have to) have more money.
    3. b) […], I should (or I would have to) have had more money.
    3. c) […], I should (or I would have to) be richer.
    3. d) […], I should (or I would have to) have been richer.

    4. a) […], I would like to have more money.
    4. b) […], I would have liked to have (or to have had) more money.
    4. c) […], I would like to be richer.
    4. d) […], I would have liked to be (or to have been) richer.

    Grazie mille!

    • serena:

      @Ureder Salve Ureder, in a few days I’ll turn your question into a blog. These points of grammar are always useful for other students of Italian.

      A presto, Serena

  9. Karen:

    Can you say volevo for avrei voluto, as in:

    Volevo andare al mare?

  10. Mikaela:

    Hi. I’m a Filipino student. I’ve been living here in Italy for about 3 years but still I can’t speak Italian fluently. Can you give me an advice? I’d really love to learn Italian grammar.

    • Geoff:

      @Mikaela Ciao, Mikaela, ci vogliono ben più di tre anni per parlare correntemente! Comunque, devi sfruttare ogni opportunità per parlare, ascoltare e scrivere l’italiano. Ad esempio avresti potuto scrivere il tuo commento in italiano, no?

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  11. Eleo Carson:

    Can you advise. On a grammar site I was asked to translate ‘I would have liked to go to the cinema’ and I put ‘avrei voluto andare al cinema’. It was marked wrong and they said it should have been ‘sarei voluto andare al cinema’. this was followed by ‘I would have liked to become a great musician’ and I put ‘avrei voluto diventare un grande musicista’. Wrong they said ‘Sarei voluto diventare..’. Can you advise? Many thanks, Eleo

    • Bridgette:

      @Eleo Carson Eleo,

      Volere is a modal verb and is used often with an infinite after it that it modifies. When used in the past tense this way, you will have essere/avere as the helping verb, the modal verb, and then the infinitive it modifies. In this case, the helping verb is chosen based upon the infinitive the modal verb is modifying. We see in your examples that that verb is andare and diventare, both of which take essere in the past as the helping verb.

      Hope this helps – Bridgette

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