Sebbene (saib-bai-nai) means “although,” “even if,” “albeit” and pretty much all those little words you can use in English to indicate when something happens in spite of something else.
As usual, it is much easier to understand with examples! Sono andato alla festa di compleanno, sebbene non ne avessi molta voglia (“I went to the birthday party, even if I didn’t really feel like it”); or sebbene lo conosca, non sono mai stato a casa sua (“even though I know him, I’ve never been at his place”).
If you know Italian a bit already, you may have noticed a thing or two: sebbene is a bit of a fancy word and you are definitely more likely to be familiar with its – way more common – brother “anche se,” which has the same meaning. In fact, both sentences above would make perfect sense with “anche se” instead of sebbene, and they would still be translated in English the same way.
Another thing seasoned Italian speakers may have noticed is that sebbene always introduces a subjunctive, that mysterious verbal form that doesn’t exist in English, while “anche se” is perfectly happy with the indicative.
Confusing? Perhaps, but languages tend to be at times!
Etymologically, sebbene comes from the union of se (if) and bene (good) and it is attested for the first time in the 14th century.
You can use sebbene when you like, but it may sound a bit old-fashioned in spoken language, while it is quite common when writing. But make sure you know how to conjugate your subjunctives, though, otherwise you’ll make a pessima figura!
- Hai ignorato il mio consiglio, sebbene sapessi che mi avresti deluso
- You ignored my advice, even though you knew you’d disappoint me.
- Sebbene abbia studiato tantissimo, non ho passato l’esame.
- Even if I studied a lot, I failed the exam.
- Sebbene ne vada matto, non posso mangiare funghi!
- Even if I love them, I can’t eat mushrooms!