1

In Italian, I could say Lo sai cosa è successo? ("Do you know what happened?") for introducing a new topic. I would not generally expect an answer, as it is just a way to let the other person know I am changing topic; in the case I see the other person is not paying attention, maybe because he is thinking to something else, or something else is distracting him, I would not continue until he doesn't reply back with Cosa? ("What?") or a similar phrase. If the person to whom I am speaking would be paying attention, and he notices I am not saying anything, he would ask Cosa?

Would "Do you know what happened?" be understood in the same way from English native speakers? What would happen if I say "Do you know what happened?" and I don't say anything else?
I am speaking about a face-to-face communication.

5

The ordinary phrase in US English is "You know what?" It is spoken with a falling intonation on know and a strong rising intonation on what:

Ya kno↘w wh↗at?

This is employed to announce that you are about to reveal some exciting piece of information, presumably new to your hearers:

You know what? —I won!

It has the prosodic contour of a question, but it doesn't "expect" an answer: it's a rhetorical question. But the speaker may pause to build suspense until they get an answer, which is normally "What?".

The "what" piece may be expanded to a full free relative clause, as in your Italian example, and in that case "what" may be replaced by another more appropriate interrogative:

You know what happened? —Bob won the 440!
You know who I just saw? —Bob!

In these the pitch-stress moves onto the piece after what or who:

You kno↘w what h↗appened?
You kno↘w who ↗I just saw?

There's also a version with the opposite intonation:

Ya kno↗w wh↘at?
Ya kno↗w what happ↘ened?

This is typically employed to announce new information which is not exciting but unexpected and perhaps unwelcome:

You know what —we've been working on the wrong end.
We've completed our study and you know what —Bob was right all along.

  • 1
    Ahh, now that I read your answer I see that this is what the OP was looking for. I thought he meant something slightly different. Ah well, as my answer still might be useful I shall leave it up. +1! (Also, "Guess what/who" can be used instead for the positive examples, though I probably would find it odd in the negative ones.) – WendiKidd Jul 6 '13 at 17:34
  • Isn't "You know what? used as "You know what? I don't care." too? – kiamlaluno Jul 6 '13 at 18:43
  • @kiamlaluno It can be used to announce anything: "I know everybody admires Levi-Strauss, but you know what? -Leach leaves him in the dust." – StoneyB Jul 6 '13 at 19:17
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    @J.R. 'kew. Just remember, when we launch: gotta have a Uniode-rich font! – StoneyB Jul 6 '13 at 21:46
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    @StoneyB: Will ↗do! – J.R. Jul 6 '13 at 21:59
3

I think it would always been understood as a literal question about something in the shared frame of reference. That means the question would be understood as being about one of the following topics:

  1. the current topic of discussion
  2. a topic obvious from the current situation, which both the speaker and listener both know about

I don't think this question has idiomatic meaning in English, and I think an answer would generally be expected whenever it's asked. This question doesn't introduce a new topic. It would most likely be asked when it seems that something bad has happened (or may have happened).

  • I see. In Italian, I would use Cosa è successo? to ask what happened, not Sai cosa è successo?, although the latter could be used as well. – kiamlaluno Jul 7 '13 at 8:14
2

I agree with snailboat's answer that "Do you know what happened?" is going to be taken as a literal question in English. For example, if Jim arrives at the scene of a car accident and Mary is already there, he might ask "Do you know what happened?" or perhaps more likely "Did you see what happened?"

But I've also been trying to think of a phrase in English that you might use to get the same meaning across. The only idiomatic expression that came to mind for changing the subject (in American English at least) is "In other news..." The phrase is used literally on news programs to change news topics ("And that's all we have today for sports. In other news, the President...") and the idiom might have originated there. You don't always have to know what you're changing the topic to, just that you want the topic to change. There might have been an awkward silence, or you might be uncomfortable with the current topic of conversation, or you might actually have something else to talk about.

Jim: ...and that's when the lion jumped out and ate the baby gazelle! It ripped the head off and—

Mary: (uncomfortable and wanting to change the subject) In other news...

Or perhaps:

Jim: ...and that's the short version of how you make motor fuel. Now if you go a little more in-depth on the subject—

Mary: (very, very bored) In other news, have you seen this YouTube video of a cat?

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