What is the difference between SABER and CONOCER? – Breaking down the two “To Knows”

SABER and CONOCER are two verbs that many of our students confuse easily. Why? Because in English we just have just one verb “to know”. I know him. I know the time. I know how to do that. I know this city like the back of my hand. It’s all the same in that we say “to know” for each example. However, in Spanish, there are two verbs that exist, and it is important that any student differentiates them. The good news if you have a look at a few of our examples below – it’s really not that hard to learn!

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We’ll show you how we can distinguish these irregular verbs and differentiate the two “to knows” that exist in the Spanish language.

Some differences include: the verb “SABER” is related to the information that know or have knowledge about something. It also refers to all of that information or those skills we have learned at some point in our lives, and do not forget.  Some examples of these are: Can you speak Spanish? ¿Sabes hablar español?.  Do you know that John had a motorcycle accident?  Can you write with one finger? ¿Sabes escribir con un dedo?

Instead, the verb “CONOCER” refers to the fact that you have been in contact and are familiar with someone, something or someplace. Once this event takes place, you can report that you’ve been to a place, seen and/or spoken to a person before, or you are familiar with the workings or general concepts of something. For example: Do you know Luis? ¿Conoces a Luis? I know how to use the typewriter.¿Conozco el funcionamiento de la máquina de escribir? I know Barcelona very well. Conozco Barcelona muy bien.

One other point about CONOCER is that to “know” someone, you will have to have met them before – and this verb is also used for those events and took or will take place.

Perhaps try this to understand a bit better: SABER is mental knowledge and CONOCER is more visual and experienced, for example:

Examples for “CONOCER”:

(Present tense)  Hoy conozco bien la diferencia entre saber y conocer.  Now I know the difference between saber y conocer.

(Past tense) Ayer conoci a una chica.  Yesterday I met a girl. 

(Future tense) Mañana voy a conocer a una amiga.  I will meet a friend tomorrow. 

Examples for “SABER”:

(Present tense) Hoy sé mas español.  I know more Spanish today. 

(Past tense) Ayer supe que mi amigo esta enfermo.  Yesterday I knew that my friend was sick. 

(Future tense) La proxima semana sabré si puedo ir a la playa.  Next week I will know if I will go to the beach. 

Be careful though using “saber” and “conocer” as depending on the subtle contexts (such as expressing knowledge or ignorance of a subject, or the actual discipline of learning):

Por ejemplo:

  • Tú no sabes nada de francés.  You don’t know any French.
  • El maestro sabe matemáticas.  The teacher knows math.
  • Yo conozco la literatura española.  I am familiar with Spanish literature.

Hopefully, it is all clear as mud? 🙂

photo credit: Aidan Jones  via photopin

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