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Italian Language/modality (modal phrases)


Dear Maria,

Thank you very much for your help with this question.

I have been trying very hard to understand “modality" (modal phrases) in both Italian and in English. It is my understanding that, in English, “modality” is expressed by either the use of a modal verb or by the use of the subjunctive verb mood.

I am thinking that “modality” is also expressed in Italian by use of a modal verb or by use of the subjunctive verb mood, but can also be expressed by the use of other verbs.  Can you please tell me if this is true or not.

If this third category of expressing modality does exist in Italian grammar - can you also tell me if this third category of modal phrases must follow a modal conjunction or time conjunction.  Is it the use of this conjunction that makes the phrase “modal”, or is there something in the phrase that requires a modal or time conjunction?  

Thank you so much for your help.

Very Sincerely,


Dear Rich,

first of all I have to point out that in Italian syntax the “proposizioni modali” are introduced by the conjunction “come” + the indicative mood, as in  e.g. “Lei ha fatto come tu hai voluto” (She did as you wanted) or  “Come tutti sanno, tu sei un mio amico” (As everyone knows, you are a friend of mine), and are called “modali” because they stand in appositional relation to the contents of the main clause and indicate the manner in which the action  happens and is connected to  the governing clause.

Please note that the adjective “modale” and then its plural in “proposizioni modali” derives in fact from the noun “modo” (manner) and then has nothing to do with “modal phrases” in English, where “modal” indicates a  verb characteristically used with other verbs to express mood or tense such as "can, may, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would" that in Italian are called “verbi ausiliari”, not ”verbi modali”.

In short, the English “modality” expressed by either the use of a modal verb or by the use of the subjunctive verb mood has nothing to do with the “proposizioni modali” in Italian where the mood is always the indicative, since the conjunction “come” (“congiunzione modale”) requires the subjunctive only in the cases I’ve listed in my previous answer.

To conclude, I think that you will avoid any misunderstanding, if you realize that the English adjective “modal” does not correspond to the Italian “modale” as in “proposizioni modali” or in “congiunzione modale”, where “modale” refers to the “modo” (manner) in which the action  of the “proposizione modale” happens and is connected to  the governing clause.

Hope I made myself understood.
Best regards,

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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


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I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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