As far as I know

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As we’ve seen in a previous blog about the verb sapere,it is important to understand how to conjugate sapere in the present tense if one wants to describe what he or she knows. Sapere in the present tense is a verb of certainty; when one uses the Italian verb sapere, they do so to describe a fact or something they believe to be true.

But there are times when you may not be certain if what you’re talking about is factual. To express doubt, possibility, uncertainty, personal feelings, desire or suggestions, Italian uses the subjunctive mood. And to convey uncertainty about what you knows in the present, it is necessary to use the present subjunctive (presente congiuntivo) of sapere.

Sapere is an irregular verb. However, the presente congiuntivo is easier to conjugate than the present tense, as the first three persons of the presente congiuntivo are identical — all three are the commonly used form sappia.”

Also, to make remembering the presente congiuntivo easy, note that the noi form is “sappiamo,” which is the same as the present tense!

In English, the translation for the presente congiuntivo of sapere is the same as the simple present tense. Today’s spoken and written English uses the subjunctive mood sparingly, most often for hypothetical phrases — statements we make when we wish for something that we know cannot be. Therefore, when Italian requires the presente congiuntivo, English defaults to the simple present tense. See the table below for the full conjugation of sapere. 

 

SaperePresente Congiuntivo

io sappia I know
tu sappia you (familiar) know
Lei 

 

lei/lui

sappia you (polite) know

 

she/he knows

     
noi sappiamo we know
voi sappiate you all know
loro sappiano they know

 

 

 

Let’s start our discussion of how to use the verb sapere with some common conversational phrases in the present and past tenses. Then we can go on to describe some situations in which it is necessary to use the sapere in the Italian subjunctive mood.

Some common phrases that use sapere in the present and past tenses:

So…/Sai… I know…/You know…
Come sai…/Come sa… As you know… (familiar/polite)
Come sapete… As you all know…
Non si sa mai! One never knows!
Non lo so. I don’t know.
Non lo sapevo. I didn’t know.

 

It is clear from the above phrases that a fact is being relayed; one either knows or does not know something. With the  phrases that need to be completed, like, “So…,” “Sai…,” “Come sai..,”  or “Come sa..,” since there is no uncertainty involved, a verb in the simple present or past tense can be used to finish the sentence.

An example of one friend talking to another is given below, with an introductory phrase that uses sapere in the present tense, and a fact relayed in the following phrase:

  • Come sai, Francesca è partita per Roma ieri.
    As you know, Frances left for Rome yesterday.

 

Now, let’s imagine that someone has asked our speaker if they know whether Frances has departed for Rome. And in this case, the speaker does not know if Frances has left prior to their conversation. An Italian in this situation could answer, “Non lo so,” for a simple, “I don’t know.”  But to be a bit more dramatic, there is also the option of answering this question with an exclamation, “Chi lo sa!which means, “Who knows?” 

To really sound Italian, one can say, “Chissà!” which is a commonly used Italian exclamation that also means, “Who knows?” and  likely evolved from the simple sentence above using sapere.

Here is our first example again, except this time let’s answer our question about Francesca with our exclamations that use sapere in the present tense.

  • Francesca è partita per Roma ieri?   Chi lo sa!
    Frances left for Rome yesterday?   Who knows?
  • Francesca è partita per Roma ieri?   Chissà!
    Frances left for Rome yesterday?   Who knows?

 

 

So, when does the subjunctive mood come into play? Going back to our original question about whether Frances has left for Rome: in some cases, this question might not have a simple “yes or no” answer. And this is when it is necessary to use the subjunctive mood!

For instance, when answering the question, “Has Frances left for Rome?” the speaker may be fairly certain that Frances has left already. But maybe some detail is bothering him or her. Perhaps the speaker hasn’t seen Frances leave, but knows that Frances always keeps her appointments. The phrases “per quanto ne so” and “per quanto ne sappia,” both mean “as far as I know,” or “to my knowledge,” and are useful if one is feeling a bit unsure of themselves or the situation under discussion.

When to use each phrase?  In many English translations, “per quanto ne so” and “per quanto ne sappia,” are interchangeable; but in Italian, these two phrases do have different shades of meaning.

“Per quanto ne so” implies some certainty in one’s knowledge, similar to the  English phrase, “I’m pretty sure.” 

“Per quanto ne sappia,” leans more toward uncertainty, such as, “I’m not really sure, but I think so.”

 

Below is our example again, with the subjunctive verb sappia used in the response to the original question asking whether Frances has left for Rome.

  • Francesca è partita per Roma?   
    Has Frances left for Rome?   
  • Per quanto ne sappia, Francesca è gia partita per Roma.
    As far as I know — I’m not really sure, but I think so — Frances has already left for Rome.

 

The phrase “per quanto ne sappia” can be shortened to: “che io sappia,” which also means, “as far as I know.” In fact, this shortened phrase is the most common form used in conversation.

  • Che io sappia, Francesca è gia partita per Roma.
    As far as I know, Frances has already left for Rome.

 

Other phrases along with  “per quanto ne sappia” that mean “as far as” or “for what” or “to what” are: a quanto, per quel che, and a quel che. These introductory phrases are used in the same manner as per quanto, although per quanto is the most common phrase of this group used in conversational Italian.

But… be careful! “A quanto pare” means “apparently” and does not use the subjunctive mood! Because, in this case, the introductory phrase implies certainty, it should be followed with a verb in the simple present or past tense.

  • Francesca è partita per Roma?
    Has Frances left for Rome? 
  • Le sue valigie non sono più qui. A quanto pare, Francesca è gia partita per Roma stamattina.
    Her suitcases are no longer here. Apparently, Frances has already left for Rome this morning.

 

 

Another useful phrase for when one is feeling uncertain about something is “non che io sappia,” which means “not that I know” or “not that I am aware of,” and is usually followed by the conjunctions “ma” or “pero,” which both mean “but.” So, in effect, this introductory phrase when connected by “but” is a bit of a contradiction; it is a signal that one probably does know something about the situation after all!

  • Francesca è partita per Roma?
    Has Frances left for Rome? 
  • Non che io sappia con certezza, ma le sue valigie non sono più qui.
    Not that I know for certain, but her suitcases are no longer here.

 

Remember how to use sappia, the Italian subjunctive mood of sapere in conversation
and I guarantee you will use this verb every day!

 

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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