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For example, why do you say "как узнать сказал ли он правду" and not "как знать" although you ask for the general rules of knowing that someone spoke the truth and not just in one certain situation?

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    "Как узнать сказал ли он правду" - means "I want to know the way to determine if he told the truth or not". "Как знать сказал ли он правду" means "I'm not sure if he told the truth". "Как знать" has a rather stable meaning "I wonder".
    – Artemix
    Dec 16 '16 at 17:31
  • If you want "general rules of knowing that someone spoke the truth and not just in one certain situation", you should use the verb узнавать (imperfective from "узнать"), i.e. "Как узнавать, сказал ли он правду?" (or, probably better, "Как узнавать, говорит ли он правду?" ). The verb "знать" means "to have knowledge", while "узнавать" means "to get knowledge". You need the latest one here.
    – Lara
    Dec 16 '16 at 18:42
  • @Lara ну вот серьёзно, вы представляете себе носителя языка, который в принципе когда-либо скажет "Как узнавать, сказал ли он правду?"
    – shabunc
    Dec 16 '16 at 20:01
  • Most dictionaries don't translate "как знать" as "I wonder". multitran.ru/c/…
    – VCH250
    Dec 17 '16 at 7:00
  • @shabunc, честно говоря, я в принципе плохо себе представляю такую ситуацию, чтобы кому-то понадобилось систематически выяснять, говорит ли некий определенный человек правду или нет. Просто узнать - сколько угодно, но вот чтобы требовались именно общие правила и системный подход... Сам пример странный, вот и перевод соответствующий. А может я просто не понимаю сути вопроса?
    – Lara
    Dec 18 '16 at 10:34
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  1. If you want to say something meaning I don't know and you don't want to know exactly, if he said the truth, you may say Как знать, сказал ли он правду

  2. If you are interested to know exactly if he said the truth or not, you may say Как узнать, сказал ли он правду, meaning you need an bunch of steps to detect, did he said the truth and you rather going to perform them.

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knowing that someone spoke the truth and not just in one certain situation?

Note that you have two verbs here. The verb "сказать" (or "говорить") shows if you talk of a single instance or of many ones. But the verb "знать" (or "узнать") is about what exactly you want to know.

Mentioning some "general rule" implies that your knowledge should be as much independent on actual situation as possible. So it's only natural to use perfective to show this.

But actually in Russian there are very few restrictions on what you can't say. So let's put it this way (shuffling words a little to get rid of secondary meanings):

А мне как знать говорит он правду или нет?

This sentence uses imperfective "знать" and is perfectly OK. But as you may see it's not about "general rules". It's rather a rhetorical question which could be transformed into simple "I don't know".

That's because imperfective verb "mixes" into all "situations", so you are not talking about any "positive general knowledge" anymore.

So to put it short, the choice of verb is nearly always about semantics, and not about grammar rules.

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  • А мне как знать is colloquial and illiterate.
    – V.V.
    Dec 17 '16 at 9:17
  • @V.V. I guess that "а мне почём знать" you'd call even more illiterate. So it comes that one can't say just anything without breaking some imaginary "academic rule". Please, don't be so harsh on our language.
    – Matt
    Dec 17 '16 at 10:55

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