"Je ne savais pas."

Translation:I did not know.

December 1, 2013

71 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lsimokov

"I was not knowing" - can anyone explain why this is wrong? Is it just awkward English or also wrongly translated tense?

June 3, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/finn.fr

It sounds incredibly awkward

August 1, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

The reason why "knowing" in that expression sounds awkward in English is that English speakers learn this automatically without intentionally applying rules. Here's why "knowing" doesn't work here. There are two major categories of verbs: action verbs and stative verbs. If a verb refers to a process, it is an action verb (it expresses something you do). If it refers to a state, it is a stative verb (it expresses something that "is"). The most important difference between stative and active verbs is that active verbs can be used in continuous tenses and stative verbs cannot be used in continuous tenses. A few verbs can sometimes be "active" and sometimes be "stative" so you have to pay attention to the context to see how they are used. In addition to the obvious stative verb "être" (be), stative Verbs include:

  • Verbs showing possession: belong, get, have, own, possess
  • Verbs showing emotion/feeling: hate, like, love, need, want
  • Verbs showing senses: feel, hear, see, smell, taste
  • Verbs showing thought/opinion: believe, know, recognize, think, understand

Here are a few examples:

  • I am having a car (incorrect). I have a car (correct)
  • I am liking this movie (incorrect). I like this movie (correct)
  • I am hearing a dog (incorrect). I hear a dog (correct)
  • I am knowing the answer (incorrect). I know the answer (correct) http://esl.about.com/od/grammarstructures/a/g_stative.htm
June 5, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/deeptendu

I agree with you but at the same time i am sceptical about some of your examples. I am giving examples where those stative verbs may actually be used as action verbs

Be: i was <<being>> good to him so that he would be good to me. Get: when i was in hospital, i was getting gifts from a lot of people. Have: i was having a cup of tea when the earthquake happened. Feel: i was feeling good this morning. Smell: i was smelling a variety of tea during the auction. Think: i was thinking of you.

September 22, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

And the examples you have given are illustrative of how some verbs which are usually stative can sometimes be active. All I'm saying is that you have to pay attention to how they are used. "I was not knowing" does not pass this test. Having said that, there is a form of English where using continuous tenses for verbs that are stative is a stereotypical earmark of a non-native speaker. Feel free to investigate the link above to get the information unfiltered by any bias I may have.

September 22, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/YahiaEssam

Hey n6zs! I was just wondering why my translation, "I wouldn't know." wasn't accepted? Thanks.

February 5, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

"Would" as part of a translation of the French imperfect tense is used to indicate a habitual action in the past. That is not the sense of "I wouldn't know". The tendency for non-native English speakers to use "would" as a plug-and-play translation of the imperfect tense frequently results in awkward English or a completely changed meaning. Your sentence is a perfectly good sentence in English; it's just not the translation of "Je ne savais pas". When someone says "I wouldn't know", it is not referring to anything in the past, but is likely to be considered a flippant rejection of a statement. I.e., more "How am I supposed to know?" rather than "I don't know". This is very subtle and would depend on the context, tone, etc.

February 5, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

n6zs

All true. Excellent points

Edit //////

I wouldn't know often is offered as an indication of the worth of knowing something. I would'n't know (because I am supremely indifferent to what you are talking about). Intentionally dismissive. Again, tone and such are part of the meaning.

February 5, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ALLintolearning3

"Have" in particular can mean "consume" used for drinks and food which is an active definition for it which is not usually found in other languages. So that is not used for possessing. You either have (own or have it with you) something or you don't, but you could be actively getting something. I don't think that "to get" should be on that list. In British English, "I have got" is possession, but "to get" is often about the process of going to obtain something.

"Know" is something different. You either know or you don't know. You could gain knowledge by learning or find out by someone explaining it to you. We have other verbs to create the actions. I hear something or I don't hear it, but I can be listening to something.

Now, the media is using the present progressive with stative verbs to attract attention to their advertisements just like a misspelling would. Over time, people will probably get used to these and who knows, maybe one day the rules may change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBlD2N_AwgI McDonald's "I'm loving it."

There are verbs that have a different meaning in the present progressive like "have", for example "see". "I am seeing him." actually would mean that I am dating him. So, I either see someone or I don't, but I could be looking at someone.

I would say "I was good to him, so that he would be good to me." and "I felt well this morning."

"I was thinking of you." is definitely quite common and I have always thought of "thinking" as an active process, unlike whether you know something or not.

The fact is in English we can use the simple past in lieu of almost any other past tenses if we want. I smelled tea. would be just fine. It doesn't give that "imperfect" information, but "during" does.

July 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Rasalingo

Some English verbs rarely take the progressive (ing) form, generally because they're states of being which are not temporary-- progressives often show temporariness.. ie: he is eating - now, at this moment. Some examples of verbs which don't often use 'ing' are: believe, admire, forget, remember, like, love, hate, fear, have (possessive), etc.

November 26, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jdgamble555

Agreed. Although technically grammatically correct, it is wrong to use to know in ANY progressive tense. to be knowing means you are in the process of knowing; this makes no sense. knowing is not an action.

I could only come up with one ear pleasing sentence, but it is really a trick.

  • I am knowing what real pain is as I watch my sister cry.

It is really just an emphatic way to say I feel, remember you can't be in the process of knowing! As far as the imperfect, we can would know, knew, or used to know just fine.

April 22, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AmeyaNJ

I agree with your explanation. However doesn't translating it as 'I did not know' make it more suitable for passe compose than imparfait?

July 17, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ALLintolearning3

The other language does not have that limit. In French they are perfectly happy using the imperfect with this verb, even if we cannot in English.

July 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

English speakers are uncomfortable using the imperfect in conversation in just about every context. They prefer to use the past tense and let the listener work it out.

French speakers prefer to use the various shades of the past tense in conversation rather than forcing the listener to work out the nuances of the intended meaning.

July 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lane973

Or you can use "knowing" as an adjective: He gave her a knowing smile. She had a knowing look in her eyes.

June 5, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ledobject

I read through the comments and nobody seems to address this. Can anyone explain why "I knew not" is unacceptable? I know it sounds old-fashioned, but in my mind it should still be correct. It's interesting that while both answers make sense, the correct answer "I did not know" uses the past tense of "to do" (did), while my answer uses the past tense of "to know" (knew). Thoughts?

April 23, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

The expression "I knew not" is grammatically correct and might fit in a poetic scenario but as part of standard English speech, it would be quite far down the list of possible ways to translate this.

August 31, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jbergen

In another example, savais was translated as 'know how' so why is it not in this sentence?

December 1, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/laurenb2094

because "savais" isn't followed by a verb

December 2, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/14490

Why I did and not I'd. In another question they did is wrong and they'd correct . Does not make sense to me

October 27, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

Not sure what Duo's reasoning is on any given example but I can tell you that in English, I'd could mean ...I would ... or it could mean ..I had...

I'd not know is likely to be taken to mean I would not know.

October 27, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

There are some (hidden) algorithms at work which may display incorrect answers regarding contractions. Best advice: avoid contractions like this. See comment by northernguy.

September 22, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Mackers8

Why is "I did not know" not counted as correct, when "I'd not know" is counted as correct?

February 10, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

Read the comment by 14490 that is a little bit up the page from your question. It is identical and has already been answered.

February 10, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Mackers8

Well, not exactly, because the phrase "I'd not know" we don't use really in US english, but "I did not know" is a phrase we would say. Maybe in British english or another standard such a phrase has that denotation, but... I'd not know.

February 12, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

I'd = I would, I had = correct

I'd = I did = incorrect

I'd it = I did it = incorrect

I'd not know = I did not know = incorrect

I'd have gone (if you asked me to) = I would have gone. = correct

I'd done it = I had done it.(because you asked me to) = correct

I'd not know that = I would not know that (so don't ask me) = correct

In this example I would not know is closer to the original French Imperfect than the simple English past I did not know.

Other than as an exercise in mapping the French imperfect and English simple past this Duo example is a poor choice.

February 12, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wizwisdom

Just thinking, did anyone think of it as "I knew not". It was marked wrong though, an explanation would be great. :)

August 1, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

It is an archaic form of saying "I didn't know."

August 31, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ianfeldman96

Is there a passe composer version of this?

February 24, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

Je n'ai pas su.

March 30, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MichaelF0111

why is 'I knew not' Not accepted???? I think it should

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

It is not so shocking because it is an archaic form. Sorry.

August 31, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LouisRFont

So much for the English classics. My first interpretation was "I knew not". It seemed like a obvious way to translate the phrase but I would seldom use it when speaking.

March 29, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

For our purposes, it is assumed that users are translating into current standard English. From that standpoint, Duo also does not accept "I knewest not". ;-) Neither will you find thee, thou, thine, canst, mayest, doth, doeth, hast, couldst, wouldst, and a host of other lovely terms of by-gone days.

March 29, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/halstead

I thought "savais" could be interpreted as "know" or "know how" but in this sentence"I did not know how " was marked wrong, any ideas??

December 21, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eric.59

"To know how to + verb" = savoir + verbe. Here, there is no verb.

Here, "I did not know how" would translate into je ne savais pas comment.
Ex: I wanted to do that, but I didn't know how: Je voulais faire ça, mais je ne savais pas comment.
I didn't know how to swim: Je ne savais pas nager.

March 6, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/halstead

Got you, Thanks

March 7, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/snc87

Is there "I didn't know that" in French too?

In English we can say "I didn't know" and "I didn't know that" in different situations.

"I didn't know" seems to be reserved for situations where you're suggesting you might have done something differently had you known a fact. For example:

"When can I meet you parents?" "My parents are dead." "Sorry. I didn't know."

You could also use "I didn't know that" here.

But in other situations (e.g. expressing interest rather than regret) only "I didn't know that" will do:

"My parents are scientists." "I didn't know that!"

Can I use "Je ne savais pas" in either kind of situation? Or would it sound wrong in the latter example, as "I didn't know" would?

January 28, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eric.59

You can say je ne savais pas, or je ne le savais pas. Both forms are correct and (IMHO) equally used, but there is no difference in the meaning between the two forms.

March 6, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Karol_Gherard

Simply, this French tense doesn't exist in English. You should invent one at least.

February 7, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

Actually, the French imperfect tense is expressed in several different ways in English; it just that it doesn't map directly to a single English tense. You will find the same kind of issue cropping up in the French present tense, as well. Since French does not have a present continuous tense (at all), it is often translated as either English simple present or English present continuous. The French Passé composé doesn't map to one English tense either. Sometimes it is translated as simple past, sometimes as present perfect and even occasionally as present perfect continuous. The latter is a real bug-a-boo because I have found as many as eight different ways in French to express the English present perfect continuous tense. Be grateful that this is only considered an elementary course in French.

March 30, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/noobiere

WHY ISNT I DONT KNOW ACCEPTABLE?!

March 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

Because the French is in the Past Imperfect tense and you must express it in an English past tense, i.e., I didn't know.

March 30, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/noobiere

ok thanks

March 30, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CherylFont1

Why is I knew nothing wrong?

April 4, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/eric.59

Because it would have been « Je ne savais rien ».

« Ne... pas » is the simple negation ("not"); « Ne... rien » translates into "nothing".

April 5, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CherylFont1

A year later I come across your answer and probably would not have asked the question now, because I have learned a bit more over the past year. Thank you for the explanation and sorry for the delayed thank you.

August 20, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KimSCasey

I translated this as "I had not known" It seemed to fulfill the idea of something in the past setting a scene and whatnot, but alas, marked wrong. Is it?

January 22, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

Using "had" + past participle marks it as pluperfect, i.e., "je n'avais pas su" but such an expression begs for more explanation about, "and then what happened?"

June 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

What about... I wouldn't know.

If the imperfect isn't how you would express it in French, then what tense would you use?

Also, if I didn't know something in past but I do now, wouldn't that lack of knowledge be expressed through past tense?

Edit: this was written a long time ago. I have answered my own question below.

May 25, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Robbimich

OK ... "I used to not know" was market wrong. What?!

February 6, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

I'm going to take a guess that you wanted to put "used to" in there because it seems like a good formula to use when translating the past imperfect tense. A number of francophones thought so, too, when learning about how to express this in English. That resulted in an unwarranted proliferation of "used to" in just about every English translation involving the imperfect tense. The fact is that it doesn't always work that way. There are not such simple cookie-cutter approaches to translating the imperfect tense. One must be familiar with the several uses of the imperfect tense and know when to use one approach and when to use another.

August 31, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/UAjC7eUW

While I agree with your general sentiment about knowing the various applications of the imparfait and how these can be mapped to English tenses, I don't think you actually answered why, here, „I used to not know” cannot be an appropriate translation. So let me ask:

Why does it have to be marked wrong?

What be a better French sentence to translate „I used to know”?

May 2, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ZoranDuke

"I used to not know" is perfectly correct. Duolingo just marks things wrong because it's not common. And shame on them for doing so. The reason you would use this phrase is because your next sentence would be, "But now I do."

December 9, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mendala

what language is "I used not to know? Give me an example in English

February 18, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

English speakers turn negative imperfect into negative past.

The problem for Duo is to teach the use of a tense which English speakers routinely turn into the simple past in general. Tying the imperfect to negative is so rare in English that it is barely understandable. However, French does use the imperfect, much more than the simple past actually, and it is something that has to be learned even if it does seem bizarre and unworkable.

Imagine the frustration of a French speaker trying to translate something like ...... I did it again and again.... The French speaker says the sentence doesn't even make sense. It uses the simple past to talk about something that is obviously repeated and likely still going on. How can you understand what is meant when the imperfect ongoing situation is deliberately replaced with the simple past. Who would ever say that? His view is that of course it should be something like........I was doing it again and again/ I have done it again and again...... For him, it appears that Duo, using the simple past so much when teaching English to French speakers, is just crazy....no one talks like that in French!

February 18, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/stopbeingsoanno

thanks northernguy! I appreciate your explanation, being rather "unejamicated" I had never heard of "past imperfect" before. From reading your post I begin to understand a bit better. Have a lingot and a very nice day too.

February 24, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/northernguy

Thx.

English speakers avoid the imperfect tense so a literal translation into English seems strange. However, sometimes the notion of a repeated action or ongoing action is important in a sentence so English speakers should practice using the imperfect in their translations of the French imperfect.

I did it again and again seems perfectly normal while I was doing it again and again seems uncommon and a use of unnecessary words.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

It is the result of cookie-cutter translation. If one has it in one's mind that "used to" is always going to fit in this English past tense, it is considered as a given that it must be correct. In reality, it is just awkward and not idiomatic (natural) at all.

March 30, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/travelingCook

Imparfait does not always imply a repeated action. It can also be a about a past state or condition. This condition may still be true in the present and future. The "used to" translation implies the state has changed ... in my understanding’ this is not necessarily the case in this sentence.

March 18, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jebascho

"I didn't know" is wrong, but "I did not know" is correct?

June 24, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

Both forms are accepted and have been for a year.

August 31, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alCW44

I wrote i did not know and it was wrong

August 23, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/n6zs
  • 1748

There must have been some other error because it has been accepted for at least a year and as you can see at the top of the page, it is the preferred translation.

August 31, 2016

[deactivated user]

    What is wrong with didn't?

    March 7, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ALLintolearning3

    Nothing and it is accepted. If you had the multiple choice, there can be more than one correct answer and you have to choose all correct answers.

    August 28, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ClarkMiyam

    Why was "I don't know" not accepted?

    August 27, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ALLintolearning3

    That would be the present form: « Je ne sais pas. ». This is the past form. “I didn’t know.” is correct for « Je ne savais pas. »

    August 28, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Baibin2

    Could someone please clarify this for me? If 'savoir' means 'to know how', why is it wrong to translate 'je ne savais pas' as 'I did not know how'? And if my translation is really incorrect, how would one actually say 'I did not know HOW'? Many thanks in advance...

    September 24, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ALLintolearning3

    « Savoir » can be used to know a fact as well as for knowing how to do something. If it was about knowing how to do something, then we would mention what is was we know how to do, or didn’t know how to do.

    September 24, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BaldwinII

    I knew not.

    March 1, 2019
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