Things might become clearer if you consider both sapere and conoscere. Both translate into English 'to know', but sapere is to know facts, data, information, while conoscere is to know (be acquainted with) people, places, objects, etc.
So far so good. But the English past tense 'I knew' is a continuous state, which demands the imperfetto. This leaves the passato prossimo tense (completed action in the recent past) with no obvious function. However, being logical, Italian applies it to the action of acquiring the knowledge.
So, the most literally accurate translation is 'first knew', 'came to know' or 'got to know' according to context. But in English it would be more common to say 'I found out [about]' = ho saputo [di] and 'I met' = ho conosciuto. Simple really.
Thank you for your kindness. Perhaps we should note for completeness that sapere or conoscere may not be the right choices when translating from English, unless the context is 'first getting to know'. Commonly, found out = scoperto, appreso o trovato; heard = sentito o appreso; learned = imparato o appreso; met = incontrato o fatto la conoscenza di. Note how generically useful apprendere is.
This makes some sense to me since I speak Spanish. But Spanish actively uses the preterite, the imperfect and the present perfect, and this finite concept of knowing which translates as to find out, learn about or meet is only applicable to the preterite. Normally in Italian the passado prossimo can be translated to or from either the English simple past or the present perfect. So my question here is If I wanted to say I have known which definitely would imply that I still know, I would use the imperfect for these verbs?
Grazie, I really like this explanation. I read it a couple of weeks ago and really took the English translation "I found out [about]" to heart. So, later, in the same lesson, I get this sentence to translate into Italian: I found out why the motorcycle was not working. So, I translated that as "Ho saputo perché la motocicletta non funzionava." But, no, it wasn't correct. They wanted "Ho capito perchè . . ."
In the instant sentence, I get more of the "found out ABOUT" that my motocicletta sentence didn't have.
Is that the reason the motorcycle sentence wanted "capire" instead of "sapere"? To use sapere, do you need to be finding out ABOUT something? Thanks for your help.
Are you sure that it used capire? That is to understand, so that's different. Conoscere is the other verb generally translated as to know. Sapere is used for the knowledge of facts. It is also used before some infinitives to mean to know how to. Conoscere is used for people, objects, works of art. One source I read said that sapere is for what we figure out with our minds, while conoscere is for what we figure out with our senses. Conoscere can also mean something like to be familiar with.
This is the sentence for reference:
To my understanding, "ho saputo" is a passive discovery. You heard or learned the information from an outside source. "I heard why the motorcycle wasn't working" would be my impression of that sentence if you use "ho saputo".
"Ho capito" is more active. You found out the information by investigating it for yourself. I would translate the motorcycle sentence as "I figured out..." rather than "I discovered", which is a more standard definition that you can find in most English-Italian dictionaries.
These are just my wishy-washy impressions, so I'm interested to hear if anyone understands the difference more clearly or has some good sources about the differences.
Though as Roman2095 pointed out in his Reverso citatation that even the infinitive of sapere can sometimes be translated as "hear about" or "find out," the key to understanding the meaning here is the verb tense. In Italian (as in Spanish, but unlike English) there is a clear difference in the meaning of sapere in the imperfect (sapevo) and in the passato prossimo (ho saputo). The first simply means that I knew something in the past. The second, however, means that I didn't know it previously, but came to know it (=heard, found out, learned of). Yes, there are examples at Word Reference under both the WR and Collins tabs. The Italian gloss for this meaning there is "venire a conoscenza" under the WR tab. Under Collins, look under 1a. The matter is spelled a little more explicitly at: https://blogs.transparent.com/italian/passato-prossimo-e-imperfetto/. They give the examples: 1 Non sapevo che eri malato. I didn't know you were sick. 2 Solo ieri ho saputo che eri malato. I only found out yesterday that you were sick. And if you think to "learn of" is confined to school, then when one learns of another's treachery, they must have learned about it in the school of hard knocks.
Reverso Context has a few of them, so it seems that sapere di has a pretty loose range of translations into English according to the context:
I agree with Germanlehrerlsu that "learned of..." might be a better translation as "found out about...." can have connotations of either defeating attempts to hide something, or accidentally hearing about something you were not supposed to hear about.
As far as i know, this is a tricky issue with sapere -- passato prossimo or imperfetto. With imperfetto, it means "i knew about it", while with pp, it refers to a particular moment after which you knew it -- i.e., you figured it out/learned/heard about. Learned should be nevertheless ok...
The passato prossimo is technically referred to as the present perfect tense, but when translating it into English it is usually the simple past. They are the same tense, so technically you can translate an Italian passato prossimo sentence as either, but the simple past is preferred and usually closer to the Italian meaning.