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I found a useful chart in Kinder & Saviani's 'Using Italian' reference book. It outlined different uses of modal verbs (dovere, potere, and volere) in different tenses and their impact on meaning. However, I noticed that a few possible combinations are missing from their list. Are the ones missing below:

1) permissible in Italian, and if so, 2) what is the precise shade of meaning that these constructions convey?

deve dormire- she must/has to sleep
dovrà dormire- she will have to sleep
dovrebbe dormire- she should/ought to sleep; she should be asleep
doveva dormire- she had to sleep; she used to have to sleep; she should have slept (R1-2)

ha dovuto dormire- she had to sleep (= was obliged to sleep)
avrà dovuto dormire- ?
avrebbe dovuto dormire- she should have slept
aveva dovuto dormire- she had had to sleep; she had been obliged to sleep

deve aver dormito- she must have slept
dovrà aver dormito- ?
dovrebbe aver dormito- ?
doveva aver dormito- she had to have slept

può farlo- she can/may do it
potrà farlo- she will be able to do it
potrebbe farlo- she could/might be able to do it
poteva farlo- she could do it; she used to be able to do it; she could have done it (R1-R2)

ha potuto farlo- she managed to do it
avrà potuto farlo- ?
avrebbe potuto farlo- she could have done it/she would have been able to do it
aveva potuto farlo- she had been able to do it

può averlo fatto- she may have done it
potrà averlo fatto- ?
potrebbe averlo fatto- she could have done it (= it could be the case that she did it)
poteva averlo fatto- she could have done it (= it was possible that she did it)

vuole lavorare- she wants to work
vorrà lavorare- she will want to work
vorrebbe lavorare- she would like to work
voleva lavorare- she wanted to work; she used to want to work

ha voluto lavorare; non ha voluto lavorare- she insisted on working; she refused to work
avrà voluto lavorare- ?
avrebbe voluto lavorare- she would have liked to work
aveva voluto lavorare- ?

vuole aver lavorato- ?
vorrà aver lavorato- ?
vorrebbe aver lavorato- she would like to have worked; she wishes she had worked
voleva aver lavorato- ?

Here are my guesses as to the meaning of the missing combinations. Are these grammatical in Italian, and if so, do they reflect the differences in meaning that I've inferred?

avrà dovuto dormire ; she will have to have slept
avrà potuto farlo ; she will have been able to do it
avrà voluto lavorare ; she will have wanted to work
aveva voluto lavorare; she had wanted to work
dovrà aver dormito ; she will have to have slept
dovrebbe aver dormito; she should have slept
potrà averlo fatto ; she will be able to have done it
vuole aver lavorato ; she wants to have worked
vorrà aver lavorato ; she will want to have worked
voleva aver lavorato ; she wanted to have worked

Any help is much appreciated :)

  • 2
    In my opinion, it's difficult to give all possible translations without context. – Charo May 19 '16 at 16:13
  • Your constructions are correct, but I think it's difficult to answer to the question "what is the precise shade of meaning that these constructions convey?" for the reason explained in my previous comment. – Charo May 19 '16 at 16:40
  • I think aveva voluto lavorare is the most straightforward of the lot: “she had wanted to work”. You can try googling the phrases (use exact-phrase search) to find possible contexts in which they are used. – George Law May 20 '16 at 5:46
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    Charo - that's fine, perhaps not the 'precise shade of meaning', but at least to a reasonable degree of accuracy (like the already translated ones above are), to at least distinguish from the similar constructions above (or not, if they are interchangeable). I'm just trying to figure out the basic principles governing the choice of verbs and tense/mood/aspect - e.g. the difference between aveva voluto lavorare vs. voleva aver lavorato, etc – Scoiattolo May 20 '16 at 20:08
  • @Scoiattolo: Use @ followed by the user name (as I've done with your user name) so that user receive a notification of your message. Anyway, I think what you are asking is very complicated. – Charo May 21 '16 at 9:04
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The missing combination do not actually mean that they have no meaning or they are not admissible.

As regards admissibility, in Italian all tenses - and therefore both simple forms (main verb only) and composite forms (auxiliary + main verb) are allowed. The point is that some tenses only may appear in subordinate sentences, in order to fulfil the "consecutio temporum". That's why such forms were not explained: they are meaningless in a standalone primary sentence.

Returning to the particular meaning that some forms convey, I think that the most interesting are the following ones, because they go beyond the bare translation of the modal verb.

  1. Ha / aveva dovuto dormire
    This one, as you pointed out, denotes a forced action, in the present or in the past.

  2. Deve / doveva aver dormito
    Indicates a guess or an impression from the speaker: "Maybe she has / had slept" or "It seems that she has slept".

  3. Dovrebbe aver dormito
    Very similar to the previous one, but with some kind of comparison to an expectation: "I suppose she has slept" or "I'd expect her to have slept".

As a side note, the present version of 2. and 3. can be rendered using dovere + stare + gerundio (e.g. deve star dormendo = "maybe she is sleeping").

  1. Avrà dovuto dormire
    This form conveys an obligation in the past: "Maybe she had to sleep" or even "Maybe she couldn't help sleeping".

Please notice that almost all these cases imply uncertainty, personal opinion and appearance.

Some of these forms may appear convoluted and somehow pointless, but indeed they are used. IMHO, as a native Italian speaker, their "secret" lies in the meaning that the various tenses of the conjugation convey, so, once you get them completely, combinations of modal verbs become quite straight and clear.

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  • Benvenuto su Italian.SE! – Charo May 21 '16 at 13:38
  • @Charo Grazie :) – FstTesla May 21 '16 at 13:50
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avrà dovuto dormire- He/she will have had to sleep

dovrà aver dormito- He/she will need to have slept

dovrebbe aver dormito- He/she should have slept (=I think he/she slept)

avrà potuto farlo- basically the same as "potrà averlo fatto"

potrà averlo fatto- He/she will have had the possibility to do it (?)

avrà voluto lavorare- He/she will wish to have worked (before)

aveva voluto lavorare- He/she wanted to work

vuole aver lavorato- He/she wishes to have worked (before)

vorrà aver lavorato- He/she will wish to have worked (before)

voleva aver lavorato- He/she wished to have worked

Technically they're all correct in terms of grammar, but you're probably not going to use them that much.

As a side note: "ha dovuto dormire" can mead "he/she had to sleep (= was obliged to sleep)", like you said, but it can also mean that he/she had to sleep because he/she was tired.

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Some possible translations (but there could be others depending on context) are:

  • avrà dovuto dormire - he/she/you would have to sleep; he/she/you will have had to sleep

  • dovrà aver dormito - he/she/you must have slept

  • dovrebbe aver dormito - he/she/you should have slept

  • avrà potuto farlo - he/she/you (probably) could have done it/done so/done this/ done that

  • potrà averlo fatto - he/she/you may have done it/done so/done this/ done that

  • avrà voluto lavorare - he/she/you would/will have wanted to work

  • aveva voluto lavorare - he/she/you had wanted to work

  • vuole aver lavorato - he/she wants to have worked; you want to have worked

  • vorrà aver lavorato - he/she/you will want to have worked

  • voleva aver lavorato - he/she/you wanted to have worked

Notice that I have included the "you" form as a possible translation because, if you are addressing someone in Italian using the courtesy form "lei", that would be translated as "you" in English, not as "he" or "she". In Italian, for instance, if you are saying to someone "you had wanted to work" in a respectful way (e.g., to someone you don't know), you could say "(lei) aveva voluto lavorare".

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  • Disagree with the "you" form. Those mentioned are always in the 3rd singular, never the second. For example, "you had wanted to work" is "avevi voluto lavorare", not "aveva voluto lavorare". – Diego Martinoia Nov 23 '16 at 11:23
  • @DiegoMartinoia: If you are addressing someone using the courtesy form "lei", that would be translated as "you" in English, not as "he" or "she". In Italian, if you are saying to someone "you had wanted to work" in a respectful way (for instance, to someone you don't know), you could say "(lei) aveva voluto lavorare". – Charo Nov 23 '16 at 13:34
  • Fair enough, but you should probably specify that, lest someone thinks you are referring to the 2nd singular – Diego Martinoia Nov 23 '16 at 17:22
  • @DiegoMartinoia: I don't understand the problem. The question is about possible translations of these expressions and the "you" form it's a possible translation, probably known to someone which is studying Italian. It's 3rd singular in Italian and 2nd singular in English: I don't think this can be a problem to the OP, someone who knows Italian and English verbs conjugations. – Charo Nov 23 '16 at 17:31
  • Answer's aren't just for OP. Tomorrow some other person with the same doubt may come along, but he may not know this subtelty, and while it's documented in these comments they may not be noticed. It's no big deal, it's just a recommendation for more clarity. – Diego Martinoia Nov 24 '16 at 16:52

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