Posted by: janecronin | September 17, 2017


There are two verbs in Spanish which we translate as “to know” in English.  One is “conocer” which is “to know” in the sense of “to be familiar with” and the other is “saber” which means “to know” in the sense of having facts or information.   For purely practical reasons our first exposure to the verb “saber” tends to be in the negative, with “no sé” (I don´t know).  This is one of those catch-all, “don´t ask me I’m an ignorant foreigner” sort of phrases which is highly useful in many and varied situations.  It also exposes us to one of the anomalies of the verb “saber”, which is that it has this unusual first person singular present tense form, “sé” (I know), which we might otherwise be forgiven for expecting to be “sabo”.  “Sabo” incidentally is what one hears from small Spanish children who are learning to speak, rather like “I seed” instead of “I saw” in English.  It’s always good to know that one’s efforts potentially make us sound like a three-year-old!

The rest of the present tense is strictly standard, and we sometimes here the word “¿sabes?” (You know?) when people are chatting informally.  Another useful spoken form, this time in the past tense, is “¡lo sabía!” (I knew it!) when something predictable occurs.  In the future form, we can say “tú sabrás” which is the equivalent of the English “You should know!” This has the same kind of dismissive meaning as it has in English, similar to the idea behind “Don´t ask me!”

Another good little phrase uses the verb “saber” in the present subjunctive.  Even if you know nothing at all about subjunctives you can still make use of this one: “que yo sepa” (as far as I know).  This is a great get-out clause when you’re passing on second hand information that you don´t want to take any responsibility for.  “El concierto empieza a las 8, que yo sepa” (the concert starts at 8 o’clock, as far as I know).  “Él es el jefe, que yo sepa” (he’s the boss, as far as I know).  It can stand on its own as a response:  “¿La oficina está aquí” “Sí, que yo sepa”.  (Is the office here?  Yes, as far as I know).  As you see, it’s a good to use, but you should also pay close attention when you’re the one on the receiving end.

Finally, returning to the present tense, we have the phrase “¿Sabes qué?” (You know what?)  I’ve noticed that this question has become increasingly common as a rhetorical question in spoken English, introducing some kind of personal statement: “You know what?  I’m not going to do this anymore”. In Spanish, “¿Sabes qué?” is a real question, even though the only answer expected is:  “No. ¿Qué?” (No, what?) , paving the way for some interesting information or nice bit of gossip to be imparted.


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