Italian is driving me crazy #2

Hi guys,

This is a series of articles to answer your burning questions about the Italian language. You can find the first article here. Today’s questions are:

  1. What is the difference between “tu” and “Lei“?
  2. What is the difference between aspettare and aspettarsi?
  3. What is the difference between sapere and conoscere
  4. What is the difference between potere, riuscire and sapere?

1.What is the difference between tu and Lei?

nIn general tu is used to talk informally, therefore you’ll use tu with friends, family and people younger than you.

Reading Lei, first thing to notice is:
lei –> she
Lei –>formal pronoun both for men and women. To differentiate them, the formal pronoun is often capitalized.

Lei is used for people in position of power (police, politicians, postal workers, etc…), with strangers or people you have only met a few times and those older than you.

However, sometimes the line can get a little blurry.
Also because we tend to be not very formal so after a couple of sentences you may here “dammi del tu” meaning “give me the tu” as in “let’s not be so formal”.
You can respond to that saying “grazie” or “per favore, dammi anche a me del tu“.

In any case, keep in mind that it’s better to wee on the side of too polite than risk seeming impolite or rude.



  • always give people over 60 the “Lei” form (they probably will never tell to use the tu form because they really appreciate the Lei.)
  • always use Lei in certain positions of power (police, municipal workers, bankers, doctors, etc..)
  • always use the tu with children and teenagers.


2.What is the difference between aspettare and aspettarsi?

Aspettare qualcuno means to be waiting for someone

Ti sto aspettando – I’m waiting for you
Marco aspetta Lucia – Marco is waiting for Lucia

Aspettarsi means to expect something of someone.

Mi aspetto che lavi i piatti stasera. – I expect that you’ll wash the dishes tonight.
Mi aspetto buone notizie da Marco- I expect good news from Marco.

please notice that aspettarsi is a reflexive verb. While aspettare is not reflexive. If you are not sure about how to conjugate reflexive verbs, please check this article.


3.What is the difference between sapere and conoscere?


Use sapere:

to say that you know things in general such as facts, data, specific pieces of information, languages, names, phone numbers, addresses, etc…

Non so quando arriva l’autobus. – I don’t know when the bus arrives.
Non so come si chiama. – I don’t know his/her name.

When followed by an infinitive, it means “to know how to

Non so cucinare. – I don’t know how to cook.
Non so ballare il tango. – I don’t know how to dance tango.

Sapere in the past tenses:

ho saputo = acquire an information through someone else

ieri ho saputo che Carlo è andato a Roma. – Yesterday I found out that Carlo went to Rome.

sapevo = I knew a fact, I had knowledge of something

Sapevi che Lucia si è sposata? – Did you know that Lucia got married?
No, non lo sapevo. – No, I didn’t know that.

Use conoscere:

to indicate that you  know someone or to indicate that you are familiar with a place, situation, etc…

Non conosco l’insegnante di inglese. – I don’t know the English teacher.
Conosciamo un bel ristorante a Roma. – We know (=are familiar with) a good restaurant in Rome.

ho conosciuto = met someone for the first time

Ieri ho conosciuto un ragazzo molto simpatico. – I met a very nice guy.
Qui a Milano ho conosciuto molte persone. – Here in Milan I met many people.

conoscevo = I knew someone; I was familiar with  something (already)

Da giovane conoscevo Roma molto bene. – When I was young, I knew Rome very well.
Quando abitavo a Milano, conoscevo tutti i negozi del quartiere. – When I was living in Milan, I knew all the stores in my neighborhood.


4.What is the difference between potere, riuscire and sapere

Potere = we use this verb when the ability to do something depends on other people’s willing or depends on external circumstances.

non posso guidare la macchina (because I forgot the driving licence)

Sapere = we use this verb to express that we know how to do something.

non so guidare la macchina (because I didn’t learn it)

Riuscire (a) = this verb describe the mental or physical ability to do something.

non riesco a guidare la macchina (because I’m too tired)

More examples:

Qualcuno mi può aiutare a lavare i piatti? (depends on people’s willing)
Non posso uscire stasera perché devo prepararmi per l’esame. (external circumstances)
Non posso finire il lavoro perché mi mancano alcuni dati. (external circumstances)

Lucia, sai cucinare? (did you learn to cook or not?)
Il bambino sa già parlare. (he learned it)
Ha paura dell’acqua quindi non sa nuotare. (because he didn’t learn it)

Non riesco a capirlo, parla troppo velocemente. (physical ability)
Sto così male che non riesco ad alzarmi dal letto. (physical ability – physical weakness)
Nonostante la mia paura, sono riuscita a passare l’esame. (mental ability – to overcome the fear)

What is driving you crazy about Italian?
Write it in a comment so we can solve the mystery together! 🙂




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