Italian Lessons


If at First You Don't Succeed: riuscire

Daniela has taken us through different kinds of verbs and how they interact with verbs in the infinitive.


Here’s a quick overview so you can get up to speed.


She started out by explaining modal verbs and other verbs that work like modal verbs. These verbs don’t need any preposition between the conjugated (modal) verb and the verb in the infinitive. See: Corso di italiano con Daniela: Verbo + Verbo all'infinito and following. Here’s an example.

Non posso andare al cinema stasera. Devo studiare.
I can’t go to the movies tonight. I have to study.

She then gave us some examples of verbs that take the preposition di (of) between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive. See Corso di italiano con Daniela: Verbo + Verbo all'infinito +preposizione “di”

Ho deciso di andare al cinema da sola. Ho dimenticato di ritirare dei soldi al bancomat.
I decided to go to the movies alone. I forgot to get some money at the ATM machine.


In her most recent lessons, she has talked about verbs that take the preposition (to) between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive. See Corso di italiano con Daniela: Verbo + verbo all'infinito + preposizione “a”

Se non ho gli occhiali, non riesco a leggere.

If I don't have glasses I can't manage to read.

Caption 19, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Verbo + verbo all'infinito + preposizione A

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Daniela talks about several verbs in this context but let’s take a closer look at the verb riuscire because, although commonly used in Italian, it can be tricky to translate and has some important nuances.


Riuscire means “to succeed.” In the following example, it makes sense to us.

Sono riuscito a convincerlo della mia innocenza.
I succeeded in convincing him of my innocence.

But Daniela’s example above would sound a bit stilted with the verb “to succeed”:

If I don't have my glasses on, I don't succeed in reading.

In English, we would likely use the modal verb “to be able” or “to manage.”

I can’t read without my glasses.
I’m unable to read without my glasses.
I can’t manage to read without my glasses.

Remember this saying when thinking about the verb riuscire: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”


Non riesco (I can’t) implies that I am trying, but I’m not succeeding. Non posso (I can’t) on the other hand, could mean any number of things having to do with permission, ability, money, etc. So riuscire (to succeed) is a bit more specific than potere (to be able to).

Riesci a inquadrarla? -Sì.

Are you able to get a shot of it? -Yes.

Caption 22, Anna e Marika - Hostaria Antica Roma - Part 4

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You could use the verb “to succeed” here, but it would sound a bit odd in conversation.

Are you succeeding in getting a shot of it?
Will you succeed in getting a shot of it?

Here’s another example:

...e poi, quando riuscivamo [ad] avere due lire,

...and then, when we succeeded in having two liras [a couple of dollars],

Caption 13, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 15

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We could also say, “when we were able to get a hold of two liras...” or “when we managed to get a hold of two liras...”


In the negative, riuscire can be used for saying “I give up.”

Non ci riesco (I am not succeeding in it/I can’t manage it).

The ci here refers to “in it,” or “at it.”


But using riuscire in the negative implies that you gave something a try. If you say non posso, we don't know anything about why you can't. Your mother won’t let you? You don’t know how? It’s against your religion? Riuscire, on the other hand, implies you are willing, but unable.


Riuscire is one of those verbs you might not use immediately while learning Italian because it’s easier to use potere (to be able to). Understanding how Italians use riuscire is handy, however, and once you are accustomed to hearing and reading it, you will probably start using it, too!


Marika uses riuscire in her presentation of Yabla. Her advice is sound!

Se invece non ci riesci, non ti preoccupare, ti devi solo allenare.

If you don't succeed, don't worry, you just need to practice.

Caption 36, Yabla-Intro - Marika

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Close Encounters with Incontro

Incontro is a noun that means, not surprisingly, “encounter,” “meeting,” "get-together," or “rendezvous.” In English, we tend to save the noun "encounter" for special or particular meetings. In Italian, it gets used more often.

Conoscendolo, penso che sia più probabile che si sia fermato qui per un incontro amoroso.

Knowing him, I think it's more likely that he stayed here for a hot date.

Captions 46-47, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 2

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The verb form incontrare means "to meet," "to encounter." It often means to bump into someone by chance.

Anna! Ti, ti ricordi quei due signori che abbiamo incontrato prima?

Anna! Do you remember those two gentlemen we met earlier?

Captions 1-2, Anna e Marika - Hostaria Antica Roma - Part 4

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Keep in mind that the first person singular of the verb incontrare is the same as the noun form, incontro.

Quando vado al mare, incontro tanti stranieri.
When I go to the beach,  I meet up with lots of foreigners.


There is a third form which looks exactly like the noun incontro, but is a preposition, and is used together with a second preposition, a (to, at): incontro a (towards).

It’s used in the very common phrase:

Ti vengo incontro.
I’ll come towards you.
I’ll meet you halfway.


This expression also is used when negotiating:

Mi è venuto incontro sul prezzo
He met me halfway on the price.


We say “halfway” but it may be more or less than half, so we could also say “part way.” It can mean making a concession, giving a discount, or lowering a price.


Remembering that contro means “against” will help you understand the following example. It’s another figurative use of incontro, and the verb andare (to go) is used: andare incontro (to face, to encounter, to be up against).

Era medico anche lui. Si figuri se non sapeva a che cosa sarebbe andato incontro.

He was a doctor, too. Can't imagine he didn't know what he was up against.

Captions 55-56, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 2

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Grammatically speaking:
To use incontro a  as a preposition, we need a subject, a verb—usually venire (to come) or andare (to go), and an indirect object. If the object is a person or a noun, we useincontro a:

Vado incontro a Maria.
I’m going to walk towards Maria./I’ll meet up with Maria halfway.

Va incontro alla morte.
He’ll be facing death./He’s going towards his death.


If we use incontro a with an indirect object pronoun, the preposition a is already included in the object pronoun if the the pronoun is at the beginning of the phrase. If it’s at the end, it needs a preposition:

Ti vengo incontro.
Vengo incontro a te.
I’ll meet you halfway.

Ci vengono incontro.
Vengono incontro a noi.
They’ll meet us halfway.

Le vado incontro.
Vado incontro a lei.
I’ll meet her halfway.



Just for fun:

Ogni giorno vado incontro a delle situazioni diverse. Ieri ho incontrato un vecchio amico, e volevamo programmare un altro incontro. Non potevo immaginare a che cosa si andava incontro, perché per trovare una data, abbiamo incontrato degli ostacoli non indifferenti. In realtà nessuno dei due aveva tempo per andare a casa dell’altro. Infine, ci siamo venuti incontro. Ci vedremo in città, vicino a dove lavora lui, e mi verrà incontro a piedi per farmi strada.

Every day I’m up against different situations. Yesterday I ran into an old friend, and we wanted to schedule another get-together. I couldn’t have imagined what we were up against, because in trying to find a date for it, we ran into significant stumbling blocks. The fact of the matter is that neither of us had time to go to the other’s house, so we met each other halfway on it. We’ll meet in the city, near his office, and he’ll come and meet me part way on foot to show me the way.


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