According to this discussion the conjuction se can have a causal function (rather than introducing a conditional clause) meaning that the sentence

scusa se non ti piace il regalo

actually means “sorry that you don’t like the gift”, not “sorry if you don’t like the gift”. In other words, I know you don’t like the gift and I’m apologizing for it.

But suppose I want to say “sorry if you don’t like the gift” in Italian. In other words, I don’t know whether you’ll like the gift or not; if you don’t I apologize, if you do then all is well. Will the future tense work in this case? Or maybe the subjunctive?

scusa se non ti piacerà/piaccia il regalo (?)

Based on my Google searches I’m not confident that either of these is right. It sounds even worse in the past tense: if

scusa se non ti è piaciuto il regalo

means “sorry that you didn’t like the gift”, then how would I say “sorry if you didn’t like the gift”?

scusa se non ti sarebbe/avesse piaciuto il regalo (??)
  • 6
    I have no sources to support this, so I give it as a comment. Personally, I'd simply say: Se non ti è piaciuto/piace il regalo, scusa(mi). These are mostly the same words, but to my ear the different order conveys that it is actually an “if”, rather than a fact,
    – DaG
    Jun 6, 2016 at 7:46
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    I think it's difficult to find sources on this, but I agree with @DaG. Se non ti piace il regalo, scusami --> in this sentence, the conjunction "se" has a conditional function: you ask for excuses only in the case that the person you are talking to doesn't like the gift, but it could be that this person does like the gift. Scusami se non ti è piaciuto il regalo --> in this sentence, the conjunction "se" can have a causal function: "se" introduces the reason for asking for excuses, you are asking for excuses because you know that the person you are talking to doesn't like the gift.
    – Charo
    Jun 6, 2016 at 16:40
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    Anyway, I think context is important. In a sentence as "Scusami se ...", the conjunction "se" may have a conditional function depending on context. But if you express it in the way proposed by @DaG, that is, "Se ..., scusami", the conditional function of the conjunction "se" is more evident.
    – Charo
    Jun 6, 2016 at 21:23
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    In my opinion, the use of 'se' with 'scusa' is analogous to the use of 'se' with 'chiedere'. In such cases 'se' introduces an indirect question, so it's not causal nor conditional. For example, the sentence Marco è arrivato? is a direct question. I may ask it in a clausole like 'Ho chiesto se Marco è arrivato'. In the same way the meaning would be Non ti è piaciuto il regalo? Or, scusa (maybe) se non ti è piaciuto il regalo (didn't you like the present?).
    – user56153
    Jun 7, 2016 at 9:41
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    @user56153: What you've mentioned, it's what is called by Treccani the "dubitativa" (doubting) function of conjunction "se" (see acceptation number 2). But I don't think it applies to the sentences in the question.
    – Charo
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:37

2 Answers 2


In your example you are really just saying that if she didn't fancy the ice cream you are sorry about it. It's not clear whether you are implying that you know she didn't or you just have no idea. This depends on the context and I wouldn't regard it as grammar.

The other case you mentioned was different:

Scusa se non mi sono fatta più sentire.

The reason why in this case the woman who says this sentence knows what happened is because she did it. It's not a general meaning of se, it's just an extension of sentences like these:

Scusa se...

Mi dispiace se...

They are used this way so often that the original meaning of se got lost in the formulaic expression, and they are commonly used as if they were the same as

Scusa che...

Mi dispiace che...

You don't use se that way in many sentences that do not mean apologising.

You might use it in sentences that mean not apologising, like

Non mi dispiace se non mi sono fatta più sentire.

Me ne frego se non mi sono fatta più sentire.

but this is again the effect of the formulaic expressions about apologising, because you would not say

Sono orgogliosa se non mi sono fatta più sentire.

You would say

Sono orgogliosa che non mi sono fatta più sentire.

if you are a woman who's proud of resisting the urge of calling her ex, for example.

It's not about se, it's about scusa and its siblings.

The future sentence should be

Scusa se non ti piacerà il regalo.

and it sounds OK. It is ambiguous whether who says that already knows that the gift is not going to be liked or he genuinely doubt it or even he is just behaving modestly. Context can tell.

Scusa se non ti è piaciuto il regalo.

doesn't sound bad at all. It's absolutely fine and it could imply anything about the giver's expectations.

The last sentence should be

Scusa se non ti fosse piaciuto il regalo.

In this case it definitely means that the giver has no idea whether the receiver liked the gift or not. The subjunctive mood is used here to convey a sense of hypothesis in a stronger way. This form is used for impossible, unlikely or unknown conditions. It sounds a bit weird because tenses and moods are mixed up in an unusual fashion, but it's not wrong. I'd rather reshuffle it like this:

Se non ti fosse piaciuto il regalo, scusa.

In general, as @DaG noticed above, if you change the order by separating scusa from se, the ambiguity disappears and it becomes a proper causal if. This reinforces my conviction that scusa se is just a formulaic expression.

  • Scusa se non ti fosse piaciuto il regalo sounds wrong to me, i would say scusami se non ti piacerà il regalo. I would use fosse piaciuto in a statement like se non ti fosse piaciuto mi sarei scusato; similar se non ti piacesse mi scuserei.
    – mario
    Sep 9, 2016 at 14:19
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    I said that it sounds "a bit weird" but it's not wrong. If you send a gift to someone, a few days later you could text them saying Se non ti fosse piaciuto il regalo, scusa or Scusa se non ti fosse piaciuto il regalo. It's not about tomorrow or today, it's about an unknown past. Sep 9, 2016 at 15:01
  • "unknown past"? maybe you have a point. I stay corrected thanks.
    – mario
    Sep 9, 2016 at 15:10
  • Sorry, I wasn't very clear: I meant that it is about something happened in the past but whose outcome you're not sure about. Sep 9, 2016 at 19:11
  • Si avevo capito, e penso tu abbia ragione, mi era sfuggito il gioco tra ordine temporale e situazione cognitiva del parlante (si dice così?)
    – mario
    Sep 9, 2016 at 22:19

In some cases you could just say scusa se non ti piace il regalo; it can have both meanings, depending on context.

If you want to be more formal, you should use scusa se non dovesse piacerti il regalo.

  • 1
    Actually, the congiuntivo trapassato of “piacere” is “fossi piaciuto” etc.
    – DaG
    Jun 8, 2016 at 13:05
  • Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Charo
    Jun 8, 2016 at 13:15
  • lol, I guess I have to study again too :)
    – Wumpus
    Jun 8, 2016 at 13:41
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    @GeorgeLaw If you want to use the lei form you need to conjugate the verb accordingly: mi scusi se non le fosse piaciuto il regalo (also, non not no)
    – Denis Nardin
    Jun 9, 2016 at 0:48
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    @GeorgeLaw You don't need the capital L, at least outside of extremely formal writing. Using it sounds like you were greeting someone by doing curtsies.
    – Denis Nardin
    Jun 9, 2016 at 2:26

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