Non sapevo che + subjunctive: Italian grammar lesson

Lesson 211

Key Takeaways

Readers will learn how to correctly use the structure “non sapevo che” with the subjunctive in Italian grammar.

  • Use non sapevo che + congiuntivo imperfetto to express something you didn’t know in the past.
  • The structure is: Non + sapere in imperfetto + che + subject + verb in congiuntivo imperfetto.
  • Example: Non sapevo che facessi sport translates to “I didn’t know you did sports.”
  • Italians often use indicativo imperfetto instead of congiuntivo imperfetto in spoken language, but it’s incorrect in formal writing.
  • Example of common mistake: Non sapevano che eravate amici instead of Non sapevano che foste amici.

Quick facts

What is the structure for expressing uncertainty with "non sapevo che"?

Use "Non + sapere in imperfect indicative + che + subject + verb in imperfect subjunctive."

How does the congiuntivo imperfetto relate to expressing doubt?

The congiuntivo imperfetto expresses doubt or uncertainty, aligning with the imperfect indicative.

Why use the congiuntivo even if talking about the present?

To express past unawareness of a present fact, similar to English usage.

How is the verb "sapere" conjugated in the indicativo imperfetto?

It's conjugated as sapevo, sapevi, sapeva, sapevamo, sapevate, sapevano.

Can you use the indicative imperfect instead of the subjunctive imperfect?

In spoken Italian, yes. It's common but formally incorrect.

What is an example of using "non sapevo che" correctly?

"Non sapevo che Maria e Paolo stessero insieme" correctly uses the congiuntivo imperfetto.

How does using the past in English align with Italian structure?

Both use the past tense to refer to unawareness of present facts, e.g., "I didn’t know you did sports."

Why might Italians struggle with the congiuntivo imperfetto?

Its complex conjugation makes it challenging, even for native speakers.

In formal writing, which mood should be used after "non sapevo che"?

Always use the congiuntivo imperfetto in formal texts to be grammatically correct.

What practical tip can help learners with the congiuntivo?

Practice with everyday phrases and remember it's okay to make mistakes in conversation.

Audio images

🔊
Non sapevo che avessi un cane.
🔊
Non sapevo che andassi a scuola qui.
🔊
Non sapevo che fossi un artista.

Vocab

sapere
congiuntivo
imperfetto
frase
espressione
verbo
congiunzione
indicativo
tempo
modi
uso
regola
esempio
subordinata
soggetto
complemento
infinito
pronome
aggettivo
sintassi

Sentences

Non sapevo che fossi italiano.

I didn't know you were Italian.

Non sapevo che avessi un cane.

I didn't know you had a dog.

Non sapevo che studiassi all'università.

I didn't know you studied at the university.

Non sapevo che volessi cambiare lavoro.

I didn't know you wanted to change jobs.

Non sapevo che potessi cantare così bene.

I didn't know you could sing so well.

My Thoughts

Non sapevo che + subjunctive

Here we are again with the subjunctive.

You can check the previous lessons if you need to review something about the congiuntivo presente and the congiuntivo passato.

Let’s have a look at some examples for you to understand what we mean:

Oh ciao! Non sapevo che fosti a casa.

Oh hi! I didn’t know you were home.

Lucia non sapeva che tu fossi italiano.

Lucia didn’t know you were Italian.

🔊
Non sapevo che avessi un cane.

🔊
Non sapevo che andassi a scuola qui.

What is the structure of non sapevo che + subjunctive?

If we want to say we didn’t know about something, we use the following structure: Non + sapere in imperfect indicative + che + subject + verb in imperfect subjunctive.

As you can see, there’s a parallelism between the first and the second verb.

If we use the verb sapere in the imperfetto, it makes sense to use the second verb in the imperfetto too.

However, the second imperfetto is a congiuntivo, since one of the purposes of the congiuntivo is to express doubts or uncertainties.

By the way, here’s the conjugation of the verb sapere in the indicativo imperfetto in case you don’t remember:

Io sapevo
Tu sapevi
Lei / Lui sapeva
Noi sapevamo
Voi sapevate
Loro sapevano
🔊
Non sapevo che fossi un artista.

Non sapevo che + congiuntivo: examples

Before we have a look at some more examples, let’s concentrate on just one:

Non sapevo che facessi sport!

I didn’t know you did sports!

In this sentence, the person who’s talking didn’t know in the past the other person used to practice sports in the present, but now they do know.

As you can see in the translation, it’s the same in English.

We wouldn’t say “I didn’t know you do sport!” because it just sounds weird.

We use the past (did) even if we’re talking about the present.

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Now that you know this, you’re ready to look at other examples:

Non sapevo che Maria e Paolo stessero insieme.

I didn’t know Maria and Paolo were together.

Non sapevamo che volesse cambiare casa.

We didn’t know she wanted to move house.

Non sapevano che foste amici.

They didn’t know you were friends.

Non sapevo che stessi così male.

I didn’t know you were feeling so bad.

Non sapevo che + indicativo imperfetto is correct?

You will probably hear Italians using the indicativo imperfetto instead of the congiuntivo imperfetto.

This is because the congiuntivo can be difficult to conjugate even for Italians, which means you don’t have to worry if you make mistakes when you’re still learning.

For example, instead of sentence A, many Italians might say sentence B:

A: Non sapevano che foste amici.
B: Non sapevano che eravate amici.

This is because, in spoken Italian, it is accepted to use the indicativo imperfetto after non sapevo che.

However, in theory, it is incorrect, so if you’re writing a formal text, like an essay, make sure to use the congiuntivo.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

FAQs

What is the structure of non sapevo che + subjunctive?

Non + sapere in indicativo imperfetto + che + subject + verb incongiuntivo imperfetto.

Non sapevo che + indicativo imperfetto is correct?

In spoken Italian, it is accepted to use the indicativo imperfetto after non sapevo che. However, in theory, it is incorrect, so if you’re writing a formal text, like an essay, make sure to use the congiuntivo.

Italian word of the day
aziende
Example
Dalla crisi, molte aziende hanno chiuso.
Because of the financial crisis, many companies shut down.
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