Sounding like a native speaker is quite a challenge. Magari (maybe) is a word that can help your spoken Italian become more natural—almost like magic!
Think of all the ways you say “maybe” in English:
may or might (potrei, potresti, potrebbe, which is the present conditional of the verb potere [to be able to])
could be (può darsi, possibilmente)
possibly (forse, può darsi)
Magari can work for all these meanings. As an adverb, magari basically means “maybe,” as in this telephone exchange between Lara, Lara’s aunt, and Commissioner Manara. He is calling to see how Lara is, and mentions he might (magari) stop in later. Lara’s aunt is thrilled—but Lara, not so much. She grabs the phone and tells him so. Ho detto magari (I said maybe), he protests:
No, volevo solamente sapere come sta. Magari passo a farle visita più tardi.
No, I was just wondering how she is. Maybe I'll drop by to visit her later.
Captions 35-36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardivaPlay Caption
Eh sì, certo... -No, no, dammi il telefono! Non ci pensare neanche. -Ho detto magari.
Oh yes, sure... -No, no, give me the phone! Don't even think of it. -I said maybe.
Captions 39-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardivaPlay Caption
But in the following example, the waiter at the lakeside restaurant has suggested to a woman that, given the very hot sun, she might like to jump in the water. Her reply, Magari! in a phrase all by itself, said with a certain emphasis, expresses a wish that something were true. She’d love to dive in, but doesn’t know how to swim. (“I’d love to, but...” or, on a more colloquial level, “Yeah, right! I don’t even know how to swim!” or ”If only [I knew how to swim]!”)
Un tuffo? Magari! Peccato che non so nuotare.
A dive? I wish! Too bad I don't know how to swim.
Captions 12-13, Una gita - al lago - Part 3Play Caption
Magari is a word that can temper something you say and you can add it just about anywhere in a sentence. In Amiche: Anna e Marika raccontano..., we are at the close of a conversation between Marika and Anna, talking about their lives. Instead of just saying, ora facciamo i saluti (now let’s say goodbye), or allora ciao (well, goodbye), Marika softens it with magari, turning it into a suggestion rather than a statement or an order.
Bene. -Ora facciamo i saluti magari. -Mmh.
Good. -Now maybe we should say goodbye. -Mm.
Captions 41-42, Amiche - Anna e Marika raccontano...Play Caption
Magari is a word that slips off the tongue with ease, and Italians use it often in conversation. As you try talking to yourself in Italian (a great exercise!), experiment with using it when in English you would say, “Maybe I’ll...” “I just might...” “Yeah, right!” “Yeah, if only it were true,” or “I think I will...”
It also works in the negative: magari, no (better not, maybe not, I wouldn’t).
Sometimes magari just adds a little something to the phrase; other times it is essential. To see more examples of how it is used in conversation, you can do a search of the Yabla videos: Click here and you'll see all instances magari highlighted. You can then go and watch the videos to get a more complete picture.