Italian Language/use of modal verbs


QUESTION: Dear Lauren,

Can you please explain why the preposition “di” is included in the following phrase:
“mi dispiace di non poter venire”

Does “di” mean “about” or “for” as in:  “I am sorry for not being able to come”  or "I am sorry about not being able to come"

Must "di" be included in this particular phrase or could I say “mi dispiace non poter venire”

Thank you.



ANSWER: Hi Rich,

Nice to hear from you again!

"Mi dispiace di" is a set phrase and thus, must always be used in this way. It would be incorrect not to put the preposition "di" in the sentence as it can be described as the 'glue' which binds the whole phrase together.

In this case, I would translate the 'di' as 'for' because it is offering a reason behind why you are not able to come. Although 'about' has the same sort of being, I would say that 'for' is a more grammatically accurate choice.

Therefore, the translation would be "I am sorry for not being able to come" and the Italian equivalent must always take the preposition "di"

Hope this helps,
Kind regards,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Lauren,

Thank you, again, for your help with this question.  

I hope that you will not mind another question about this same sentence.

Is “potere” being used as a modal verb to modify the infinitive “venire”?

I am asking because I am not sure if a modal verb such as “potere” can be used in the “infinitive” form to modify the infinitive form of another verb.  This is what appears to be happening in this sentence, but I am not confident enough to accept this without asking for your verification.  

Therefore, can you please tell me if a modal verb can be used in its infinitive form to modify the infinitive form of another verb?

For example - in the sentence:  Mi dispiace di non poter venire?
(I am sorry for not being able to come).   Is “poter” a modal verb in its infinitive form that is used to modify the infinitive “venire”?

If “yes”, would this apply to all Italian modal verbs?  (dovere, volere, etc)  Can I say:  È importante volere imparare.  (It is important to want to learn).

Thank you   



Hi Rich,

Yes, in this example, "potere" is being used as a modal verb, modifying the infinitive "venire." Despite being a modal verb, "potere" can actually still be used in its infinitive form to modify another infinitive verb - this is not a problem at all.

The rule that I have just mentioned can be implied to all Italian modal verbs. Therefore, your other example "È importante volere imparare" is also correct.

To give some other examples to ease your mind:
Che bello non dovere avere piu' paura! (how lovely not to have to be scared anymore)
Siete sicure di non volere mangiare qualcosa? (are you sure you don't want to eat anything?)

Hope this helps,
Kind regards,

Italian Language

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Lauren O' Hagan


Although not my mother tongue, I have spoken Italian fluently for more than 12 years so I am very confident to answer any questions about the Italian language. I am also competent in Roman Dialect if there are any questions relating to this.


MA Applied Linguistics First Class Honours in Modern Language Studies (Linguistics, Italian, Spanish) Received the top grade in the whole of UK for GCSE Italian, receiving a letter of congratulations from the Italian Consulate Completed my two-year A Level in 1 year with a grade A country. Carried out many translation jobs for a wide range of clients and topics including self-help, literature and exam papers. For personal reference, I have also translated Federico Moccia's Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo and 2 of Francesco Totti's book.

El Pensador, University of Bristol

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