Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day – “As Far as I know” with Sapere in the Subjunctive Mood

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Buon giorno a tutti! Today we will discuss how to use sapere in the common subjunctive mood form “sappia” for those uncertain times in our lives. 

As I’ve said before in this blog series, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we talk about what we may know in Italian with the verb  sappia, the singular subjunctive mood of  sapere, we will be able to communicate with the same complexity as we do in our native language!

This post is the 44th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE.

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “As far as I know…” 

and use the subjunctive form of the verb sapere,
which is s
appia  

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with this verb?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar.   

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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Sappia — Subjunctive Mood of Sapere 

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 one may not be certain he or she is talking about a fact. In order to convey different shades of meaning, Italian uses the subjunctive mood. And to convey uncertainty about what one 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

 

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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 complete 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?

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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 already left. 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.

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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!

 

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