Italian, Lesson 10: Modal verbs, part 4. Sapere (know/know how/can)

Ciao a tutti! – Hiya all!

View from the Leaning Tower of Pisa
View from the Leaning Tower of Pisa

This is the last part about Italian modal verbs. But first let’s refresh our memory. We know 3 modal verbs (verbi modali) and theirs forms:

  • potere – can (posso, puoi, può, possiamo, potete, possono)
  • volere – want (voglio, vuoi, vuole, vogliamo, volete, vogliono)
  • dovere – must/have to (devo, devi, deve, dobbiamo, dovete, devono)

Today we’ll talk about fourth modal verb (or modal helper) – sapere (know/know how/can). Typical usage – we know and can do something well:

  • I can drive a car (I know how to)
  • I know how to cook

See, looks somehow similar to potere examples. But sapere and potere are different. Later we’ll see that.

Sapere – know/know how/can (irregular modal verb)
  • io so – I know
  • tu sai – you know
  • lei/lui sa – she/he knows
  • noi sappiamo – we know
  • voi sapete – you know (plural)
  • loro sanno – they know
New vocabulary

As usual, dozen of new phrases to learn. Let’s think about the things what we know how to do well, because sapere means a skill, an ability to do something (not right now, but in general):

  • suonare la chitarra – to play guitar
  • ballare la salsa – to dance salsa
  • riparare il computer – to fix a computer
  • guidare la macchina – to drive a car
  • insegnare lingue straniere – to teach foreign languages
  • cucinare – to cook

As usual, in sentences with 2 verbs, only first (modal) changes. Second verb is always used in infinitive. And typically we don’t use pronouns anywhere – by the form of the first verb, the actor is clear.

  • So suonare la chitarra – I can play guitar (=I know how and I can play well)
  • So cucinare – I know how to cook
  • Non so cucinare – I can’t cook
  • So guidare la macchina – I’m able to drive a car
  • Non so guidare la macchina – I don’t know how to drive a car
  • Sai guidare la macchina? – Can you drive a car?
  • So ballare – I can dance (I know how to dance)
  • So ballare la salsa – I can dance salsa
  • Sai ballare la salsa? – Do you know how to dance salsa?
  • Non so ballare la salsa – I don’t know how to dance salsa.
Andare in bicicletta – to cycle (to ride a bicycle)
  • So andare in bicicletta – I can cycle
  • Non so andare in bicicletta – I can’t ride a bicycle
  • Sai andare in bicicletta? – Can you ride a bicycle? (singular, when you ask a person)
  • Sapete andare in bicicletta – Can you cycle? (plural – question addressed to a group)
  • Non sappiamo andare in bicicletta – We cannot ride a bicycle.
Insegnare lingue straniere – to teach foreign languages
  • So insegnare lingue straniere – I know how to teach foreign languages (because I’m teaching students)
  • Sai insegnare lingue straniere? – Can you teach foreign languages?
  • Non sappiamo insegnare lingue straniere – We don’t know how to teach foreign languages.
And what you can do? Write few sentences about yourself, please!
  1. So suonare la chitarra – I can play guitar
  2. Non so ballare la salsa – I don’t know how to dance salsa
  3. So cantare – I can sing
  4. Non so cucinare molto bene – I can cook well
  5. So nuotare – I can swim
  6. So guidare la motociclo – I can drive a motorbike
  7. So andare in bicicletta veloce – I can cycle fast
  8. So riparare la bicicletta – I know how to repair a bicycle
Potere vs Sapere

Potere means a physical or mental possibility, opportunity to do something, but not skill. We use potere (posso, puoi, può, possiamo, potete, possono) in the following situations:

  • Posso chiamare alle 5 – I can call you at 5 (I’ll be free to call you at 5 = I can = posso)
  • I can help you with your bags (physical possibility, I’m strong = I can = posso)
  • I can learn 4 foreign languages (I have the time to do that = I can = posso)
  • I can’t start a car! (I’m trying but it’s broken = I can’t = Non posso)

Again: sapere – skill, potere – opportunity. Compare these situations:

  1. I can play guitar (give me guitar, I’ll play you right now, probably I even don’t know how, but I’ll play, because there’s a guitar in the room and I have an opportunity to touch the strings) – Posso suonare la chitarra
  2. I can play guitar (I play well in general, I know how to play, I know music theory, really, I have that skill) – So suonare la chitarra

  1. I can dance salsa with you (right now, let’s try, we have a chance to try, we have the time to dance) – Posso ballare la salsa
  2. I can dance salsa (this is not about this very moment, just in general I’m a good salsa dancer, I was taught how to, I dance well) – So ballare la salsa

  1. I can fix your car (may be I know how to, may be not – but I have the time and I just want to help) – Posso riparare la macchina
  2. I know how to fix cars (I’m a professional mechanic, I have skill and experience) – So riparare i macchini – I can fix cars.
  3. If you want to ask for a help – use potere (Puoi riparare la macchina? – can you fix my car? Can you at least look? Do you have the time?)
  4. If you just want to ask if a person knows or not how to fix cars – use sapere (Sai riparare la macchina? – Do you know how to fix a car? In general – do you understand how this mechanical stuff works?)

See, Italian is not a hard to learn language. Just work systematically, day by day learn grammar, new words and do the homework. Easy! :)

Two exercises today – English to Italian (1) and Italian to English (2). In some sentences you’ll need sapere, in some – potere. Answers in the next lesson.

  1. I can come today
  2. She can cook well
  3. I can call at 3 o’clock
  4. We can come at 2
  5. I can sing well
  6. Can you drive a car?
  7. They can teach languages
  8. Can you teach (me) English today?
  9. Can they swim?

  10. Non so cucinare
  11. Sai ballare la salsa?
  12. Non può venire alle 2
  13. Sai guidare la macchina?
  14. Non possono comprare una bicicletta
  15. Sapete riparare il computer?
  16. Non possiamo chiamare.
  17. Non sappiamo suonare la chitarra
  18. Non possono cantare oggi
Lesson 9 – homework answers
  • Lui ascolta musica ogni giorno
  • Compriamo una macchina nuova
  • Non vivono a Londra
  • Oggi gioca a calcio
  • Venite oggi?
  • Imparo spagnolo.
  • Leggi i libri?
  • Guardano i video su youtube
  • Faccio esercizi
  • Vogliono mangiare qualcosa
  • Dobbiamo studire la grammatica
  • Voglio andare in Italia
  • Non vuole chiamare alle 3

You read till the end? Perfetto! Molto bene!

A dopo! – See you later!