If you ever travel to Italy, one key phrase you should make an effort to memorise is “Can you help me?” which translates as Mi può aiutare? in Italian.
Mi può aiutare?
Can you help me? (formal)
Mi is simply the equivalent of “me” in Italian. It is known as an unstressed direct object pronoun. These pronouns either appear before the verb(s) or attach themselves to the end of the infinitive verb. This means that you can formulate today’s phrase in two ways with no change in meaning:
- Mi può aiutare? > Mi comes at the beginning of the phrase before the two verbs.
- Può aiutarmi? > Mi is attached to the infinitive verb aiutare (to help).
Può is the second-person formal form of potere (to be able to / to can), and it is the best choice in this situation since, as a tourist, you probably won’t know the person whose help you are asking for.
Interestingly, it can also be the third-person singular, so if today’s phrase were a statement rather than a question, it could potentially be interpreted in two ways:
- (Lei) mi può aiutare. = You can help me. (formal)
- (Lui/Lei) mi può aiutare. = He / she can help me.
Knowing which is the correct interpretation all comes down to context.
As mentioned above, aiutare is an infinitive verb that means “to help”.
Mi può aiutare should be used in formal situations, but what if you happen to know the other person really well? In this case, it is best to replace può with puoi.
Mi puoi aiutare?
Can you help me? (informal)
If there is more than one person involved, then you need to use the plural form potete (“all of you can”) instead.
Mi potete aiutare?
Can you (all) help me?
Note: No matter who you are talking to, it’s always a good idea to throw in the word for “please” in Italian which is per favore.
If you are addressing an individual you know very well, you may alternatively wish to use the imperative form rather than a question. The informal imperative is Aiutami!
Aiuta is the second-person singular imperative of aiutare (to help). In other words, it is a command given to another person to tell them to do something or not to do something in an informal situation. The pronoun mi is attached to the end of informal imperatives as you can see below:
- Aiutami! = Help me!
- Aiutalo! = Help him!
- Aiutala! = Help her!
- Aiutaci! = Help us!
- Aiutali! = Help them! (group of men or mixed group)
- Aiutale! = Help them! (group of women)
If there is more than one person in the vicinity, you will want to use the second person plural aiutate (you all help) instead.
(lit. All of you, help me!)
- Aiutatemi! = Help me!
- Aiutatelo! = Help him!
- Aiutatela! = Help her!
- Aiutateci! = Help us!
- Aiutateli! = Help them! (group of men or mixed group)
- Aiutatele! = Help them! (group of women)
But what if you are addressing someone in a more formal situation? In this case, you’ll want to stick with the second person formal Mi aiuti! As you can see, the pronoun has moved in front of the verb and the imperative form has changed from aiuta to aiuti.
Mi aiuti, signore!
Help me, sir!
- Mi aiuti! = Help me!
- Lo aiuti! = Help him!
- La aiuti! = Help her!
- Ci aiuti! = Help us!
- Li aiuti! = Help them! (group of men or mixed group)
- Le aiuti! = Help them! (group of women)
Of course, in a real emergency, you will want to deliver your message as quickly as possible to those around you. This can be easily done with the simple stand-alone word aiuto. This isn’t an imperative form of aiutare but rather a noun that means help / aid.
Aiuto! Mi hanno rubato la borsa!
Help! They stole my bag!
Heather Broster is a graduate with honours in linguistics from the University of Western Ontario. She is an aspiring polyglot, proficient in English and Italian, as well as Japanese, Welsh, and French to varying degrees of fluency. Originally from Toronto, Heather has resided in various countries, notably Italy for a period of six years. Her primary focus lies in the fields of language acquisition, education, and bilingual instruction.