FR: I can swim / I know how to swim

Bonjour à tous,

I have been looking at expressions such as:

Je sais nager - I know how to swim

Je sais conduire - I know how to drive

and so on.

On the other hand, I have come across expressions such as:

Je sais comment m'y rendre - I know how to get there


It's certainly incorrect to say "je sais comment nager", but why is that "comment" is sometimes used with savoir? In other words, what is the place of the formation "savoir comment + verb"?

Thanks in advance for your help.
:D
 
  • jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Swimming and driving are skills. To say that you have mastered a skill, you can just use savoir + infinitif.

    How to get somewhere (how to go about doing something, by what means, etc) is a process. When a process is involved, you often add comment: savoir comment + infinitif.

    Do you see the distinction? :)
     

    Suehil

    Medemod
    British English
    A quick (and maybe not always accurate) way to tell is if you would normally use 'can' in English.
    'I can swim' is the most usual way of expressing it in English.
    'I can get there' is more likely to mean that you have the time, the transport or whatever to get there. 'Je sais comment m'y rendre' means 'I know how to get there'
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    savoir comment is used when you may substitute for how the expression in what way or by what means.
    I don't know how to thank you. Je ne sais pas comment vous remercier.
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    It's certainly incorrect to say "je sais comment nager", but why is that "comment" is sometimes used with savoir? In other words, ....
    :D

    Hi,
    It is absolutely correct to say "Je sais comment nager", but it would mean exactly "I know how to swim".

    Unlike what you said, "Je sais nager" does not mean "I know how to swim", it means "I CAN swim"
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    Hi,
    It is absolutely correct to say "Je sais comment nager", but it would mean exactly "I know how to swim".

    Unlike what you said, "Je sais nager" does not mean "I know how to swim", it means "I CAN swim"

    I have always believed that to know how, when a skill is involved, is savoir + a direct infinitive. I can only think of one case where the addition of "comment" might be used, and that is if the meaning suggested " I know the correct way to swim."

    As for "I can swim", the meaning can also be a physical one, such as I can swim today because my broken arm has mended. Je peux nager.
     
    Last edited:

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    I have always believed that to know how, when a skill is involved, is savoir + a direct infinitive.

    Hi,
    I have always believed that when a skill is involved, it is forbidden to say "know how to" in English, to mean "savoir + infinitive". Or at least, it sounds very strange.

    I can only think of one case where the addition of "comment" might be used, and that is if the meaning suggested " I know the correct way to swim."
    And I thought that it could only be tolerated if you meant "I know the correct way to swim".....
    (I am not a parrot, no, I am not.... :))

    As for "I can swim", the meaning can also be a physical one, such as I can swim today because my broken arm has mended. Je peux nager.
    Yes, we agree on this one, It is easy to make a difference between the two meanings in French by using either savoir or pouvoir.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Of course I can swim! = Of course I know how to swim!

    Le deux phrases sont parfaitement correctes, courantes et équivalentes pour dire que vous savez nager. En revanche :

    I can (know how to) swim but I don't know how to do the butterfly.
    Je sais nager, mais je n'ai jamais appris le papillon (i.e. j'ignore complètement quels mouvements il faut faire avec les bras et les jambes)
    I can (know how to) swim but I can't do the butterfly.
    Je sais nager, mais je n'arrive pas à faire le papillon (i.e. je sais à peu près quels mouvements il faut faire avec les bras et les jambes, mais je ne maîtrise pas cette nage)
    Avec cette 2e phrase il y a tout de même une petite ambiguïté, et quelqu'un pourrait vous demander You can't, or you don't know how? Et puis il faudrait répondre soit I don't know how; I never learned soit No, I try but I just can't get the hang of it.


    Et puis l'olympien dira Of course I can swim the butterfly! = Of course I know how to swim the butterfly! ... et les deux constructions seront de nouveau équivalentes. Alors comme vous voyez, l'usage dépend un peu du contexte. :p
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    'I know how to swim' may be perfectly normal in AE, but I would just like to add that in BE it sounds very peculiar. :)

    Is it? What a relief!
    (I was positive about the fact that my teachers told me that it was incorrect.)
    In France, English Teachers are often unaware of American English.
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    'I know how to swim' may be perfectly normal in AE, but I would just like to add that in BE it sounds very peculiar. :)

    "b : to have a practical understanding of or a distinct skill in through instruction, study, practice, or experience *knows how to write vividly— William Clerk*"

    This is from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

    I was unaware that know how + infinitive was not used in British English in this context. Yet, Mash, who claims to be from the UK, apparently sees no problem with it. Would Suehil's opinion be universal in British English?

    Just curious!
     

    DidoCarthage

    New Member
    English - western Canada
    I know this is an old thread, but I just thought I'd point out that "I know how to swim" and "I can swim" are not necessarily equivalent. If I learned to swim years ago but have recently developed a terrible skin condition, then I would know how, but still could not do it.
     
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