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Which of these is correct? When do you use them?

Thanks!

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Sep 21 at 20:51
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    Notice that in both these different constructions you can also put the object pronoun lo before the verb: l'avrei voluto fare and lo vorrei aver fatto. – DaG Sep 22 at 8:40
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They are both correct, but they mean different things. They are very much not interchangeable.

In "Avrei voluto farlo" the verb volere is itself at the past conditional. Hence it means that the act of wanting is done in the past: it means "I would have wanted to do that" or "I wished to do that", that is at some point in the past I wished to do a certain thing (but I didn't). For example

L'anno scorso avrei voluto farlo, ma non sono riuscito a organizzarlo (Last year I wished to do that, but I couldn't organize it)

Conversely, in "Vorrei averlo fatto", the verb volere is at the present, and it is fare that is in the past tense. Its meaning is "I would want to have done that" or "I wish to have done that". That is I, now, wish I had done it in the past.

Vorrei averlo fatto due settimane fa, ma non si può cambiare il passato (I wish I had done it two weeks ago, but we cannot change the past)

This kind of construction can be done with pretty much every modal verb in Italian. Here is an example with the verb potere, similar examples could be done with any other modal verb (dovere, sapere, etc.):

Potrei averlo già fatto, ma volevo lasciarti riposare (I could have done it already, but I wanted to let you rest)

Avrei potuto farlo, ma decisi di lasciar perdere (I would have been able to do it, but I decided to let it go)

Note that since modal verbs in English lack most tenses, I am forced to use a periphrasis ("to be able to") to translate the second sentence.


Lest you see it as a dichotomy, let me point out that you can combine the two constructions: you can say "Avrei voluto averlo fatto" to indicate that at some point in the past, the subject wished to have done something earlier. For example

Ieri sera ero depresso: avrei voluto aver abbandonato questa città da anni. (Yesterday evening I was depressed: I wished to have left this city years earlier)

  • I believe the second expression would transmit regret of not having done something in the past. However, I don't know in what context/situations the first is used. Are they interchangeable? – Anatol Sep 21 at 21:56
  • I also think it depends on the modal verb used. "Avrei potuto farlo" works, while "Potrei averlo fatto" doesn't (I suppose), but correct me if I'm wrong. – Anatol Sep 21 at 22:03
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    @Anatol You can do it with every modal verb in Italian, and they still mean completely different things. Let me try to expand the answer to make the point clearer. – Denis Nardin Sep 22 at 5:34
  • Thanks for making it clearer! – Anatol Sep 22 at 20:06

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