Я не ослышалась? Клянусь, я только что слышала, как она поблагодарила меня.

I just heard this (sarcastically said) in conversation. In English, you'd express the same idea with the conditional tense: "I could've sworn I just heard ...". I wonder if it is more common in Russian to use the present tense like this?

  • Does the English phrase imply that the speaker has realized that they were mistaken? Dec 14 '18 at 17:15
  • @SergeySlepov Yes. You now think you were wrong. e.g.: "I could've sworn I placed it on the table. (But I see it's not there.)" Dec 14 '18 at 17:26

"Я мог бы покляться" appears in many translations of English books. However, it sounds bookish and not quite idiomatic.

Let me turn the tables around a bit and ask: why does English use the conditional mood in "I could've sworn"? Is it to say "I could have sworn but I didn't because I knew I was wrong?" Probably not. The use of conditional makes the language milder e.g. "Could you help me?" vs "Can you help me?", "I would think" vs "I think", "I would like" vs "I want", etc. So what you are really saying is "I swear", just using more "polite" language.

Similar use of conditional exists in Russian: "Не мог бы ты помочь мне?" vs "Ты не поможешь мне?", "Я бы так не думал" vs "Я так не думаю", "Шёл бы ты ..." vs "Иди ты ..." but, as I said, it sounds bookish and "overly polite" which is why when combined with the common insult "Иди ты", it creates a comical effect (well, used to; now the effect has nearly worn off, leaving the two almost identical).

What "I could've sworn" is, it is largely an attempt to rationalize one's surprise reaction ("I was sure until now that...") and there are countless ways you can do that:

  • Странно! Я был полностью уверен, что ...
  • Удивительно! Куда она могла подеваться?
  • Опаньки! А я-то думал, что ...

Or how Mr. Скуперфильд would put it,

  • Провалиться мне на этом самом месте!

Generally swearing isn't typical to modern Russian, but if used it's in the indicative mood including in the form of готов(а) поклясться which is dated and bookish.

In the past one would hear вот тебе (истинный) крест and ей-богу, but these are rare nowadays.
Modern vernacular replacements include говорю, отвечаю, зуб даю (semi-modern), кроме шуток (slang), бля буду (vulgar and very low register)

The English I could've sworn means that the mistake has been realized, i don't think there's a set construction to convey such connotation in Russian. In theory one could use conditional mood я мог бы покляться which would have that meaning but in practice it normally doesn't happen. So the Russian sentence is ambiguous due to the indicative mood.


OALD explains 'I could have sworn' like this:

[transitive] to promise that you are telling the truth swear (that)… She swore (that) she’d never seen him before. I could have sworn (= I am sure) I heard the phone ring.

Basically in Russian present tense would be quite typical as in Клянусь, or Могу покляться. Russian has conditionals, but it may sound more literary in such situations. In theory it's OK to say Я мог бы покляться - but it sounds a bit like actor in a play, or if one wants to sound very educated, etc.

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