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Getting What We Want from Volere

The Italian word for “to want” is volere. See Daniela’s lesson about volere and other modal verbs.


Ma insomma, adesso, tu che cosa vuoi veramente?

Well, all things considered, now, you, what do you really want?

Caption 27, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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But it’s not always as easy as just conjugating the verb, like in the above example. English speakers actively want things, or want to do things, but Italians, more often than not, use the noun form voglia (desire) with avere (to have) as the action. We often translate aver voglia as “to have the desire,” or “to feel like”.


Se non ho più voglia mi fermo.

If I don't feel like it anymore, I stop.

Caption 8, Gianni si racconta - L'olivo e i rovi

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When we want to be polite, we use the conditional of volere, just like the English “I would like” rather than “I want.”

Vorrei parlare con il commissario.
I’d like to speak with the commissioner.

But when we’re done with being polite, and want to be more insistent, we forget about the conditional and go with the indicative. Imagine someone raising their voice a bit.


Voglio parlare col commissario. -Il commissario è di servizio.

I want to talk to the Commissioner. -The Commissioner is busy.

-Voglio parlare con il commissario!

-I want to speak to the Commissioner!

Captions 43-44, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro 

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We can also use the conditional with the noun form voglia, but the conditional is applied to the active verb, in this case, avere (to have). This is not a polite form like in the example with vorrei above. It’s true conditional. In the following example, I know very well no one is going to let me sleep for twelve hours, but it sure would be nice! Translating it with “love” instead of “like” gets the idea across.

Avrei voglia di dormire dodici ore.
I’d love to sleep for twelve hours.

Another common way volere is used in Italian is as the equivalent of “to take” or “to need” in English. Note that in this case ci means “for it,” not “us,” as you might be led to believe!


Allora, per le bruschette ci vuole: il pane.

So, for the "bruschettas" we need: bread.

Caption 7, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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In a previous lesson we used metterci to talk about how long something takes. We can use volere in a similar way. While with metterci, we can be personal:

Io ci metto cinque minuti.
It takes me five minutes.

With volere, it’s impersonal and refers to anyone.

Ci vuole tanto tempo per attraversare Milano in macchina.
It takes a lot of time to get across Milan by car.

This kind of sentence also works in the conditional:

Ci vorrebbero tre ore per attraversare Milano in macchina!
It would take three hours to get across Milan by car!

Sometimes problems add up and finally you might say, “That’s all we need” or “that’s all we needed.” That’s when it’s time for non ci voleva (that's not what was needed).


Un tubo in bagno che perde,

A leaky pipe in the bathroom,

proprio non ci voleva.

that's really not what was needed [the last thing I needed].

Caption 31, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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And just for fun:

Il turno di notte ancora! Non ci voleva. I have to go to work, ma non ci ho voglia! Avrei voglia di andare in città a fare quello che voglio. Se vuoi, puoi venire con me. C’è un bel film che vorrei vedere, peccato che ci vuole troppo tempo per arrivarci  in tempo. Ci vorrebbe un ora buona!

The night shift again! That’s the last thing I needed. I have to go to work but I don’t feel like it. I’d love to go to the city and do what I want. If you want, you can come with me. There’s a great film that I would like to see; too bad it takes too long to get there in time. It would take a good hour!



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