Do you know what saber means? What about conocer? The funny thing about saber and conocer is that they can both be translated as ‘to know.’ But they are completely separate verbs.The difference is that saber is used for talking about knowing facts, information, or how to do something, while conocer is used for talking about knowing people, places, or things. Let's look into the details and examples in this article.
Saber refers to having knowledge of something, like a piece of information. Weirdly, it also means ‘to taste’! Anyway, this is how it’s conjugated in the present tense:
Here are some examples of how you can use it:
Sé que eres buena persona.
I know that you’re a good person.
¿Sabes el nombre de esta canción?
Do you know the name of this song?
Vera no sabe que estamos planeando su fiesta.
Vera doesn’t know that we’re planning her party.
No mientas, Santiago. Sabemos cómo tratas a nuestra amiga.
Don’t lie, Santiago. We know how you treat our friend.
¿Sabéis los verbos irregulares?
Do you (plural) know the irregular verbs (off by heart)?
Ustedes saben la letra, ¿verdad?
You (formal plural) know the lyrics (by heart), right?
In the preterite tense, saber actually has a slightly different meaning. It refers to discovering or finding something out.
Ayer supe que Francesca me ha puesto los cuernos.
Yesterday I learnt/found out that Francesca has cheated on me.
Andrés se enfadó cuando supo la verdad.
Andrés got angry when he discovered the truth.
Bonus tip: to sound like a native, know that there are some situations where we add the word lo before saber. It means something along the lines of ‘it.’
This is used when we want to say ‘I know!’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Sometimes we even add ya at the beginning, which adds a meaning of ‘already.’
—Tienes que limpiar la casa.
—(Ya) lo sé.
“You have to clean the house.”
“I (already) know that.”
—¿Qué hora es?
—No lo sé.
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know."
—Chicas, mirad mi anillo. ¡Estoy comprometida!
—¡Ya lo sabemos! No hablas de ninguna otra cosa.
“Girls, look at my ring. I’m engaged!”
“We know already! You don’t talk about anything else.”
—¿Y ahora qué hacemos?
—¡No lo sé!
“Now what do we do?”
“I don’t know!”
Another interesting thing is when saber is used to mean ‘to be able to,’ i.e. knowing how to do something. Don’t confuse it with poder, which is also translated as ‘to be able to’ but is about having the means and opportunity to do something, rather than having acquired a skill.
You can read more on saber vs poder here.
Mi hermano y yo sabemos nadar bien porque crecimos cerca de la playa.
My brother and I can swim well (we know how to) because we grew up near the beach.
When you use ‘saber’ in this way, don’t be tempted to put in the word ‘como’ (‘how’) like we would in English! Just conjugate ‘saber’ and then put the infinitive right next to it.
Graham sabe como cocinar.
Graham knows how to cook.
To sum up saber:
Conocer refers to being familiar with someone or something. It could be to talk about someone you know (acquaintance, friend, etc.), a place you know, or a thing you’re familiar with.
This is how it’s conjugated in the present tense:
Check out these example sentences. Don’t forget that when you want to talk about knowing a person or people, you need to use what we call the ‘personal a.’ In other words, stick an ‘a’ after the conjugated ‘conocer.’
Yo conozco a muchos famosos.
I know lots of famous people.
¿Conoces a mi abogada? Te podrá ayudar.
Do you know my lawyer? She’ll be able to help you.
Anabel conoce bien la ciudad.
Anabel knows the city well.
Conocemos muy bien la tristeza.
We know sadness very well.
Para trabajar aquí, es importante que conozcáis las tecnologías de punta.
To work here, it’s important that you (plural) are familiar with the leading-edge technologies.
No conocen la obra de Shakespeare. Solamente conocen películas estúpidas.
They’re not familiar with Shakespeare’s work. The only know dumb movies.
Conocer has a slightly different meaning in the preterite. It means ‘to meet.’
Anoche conocí a un chico muy amable.
Last night I met a really nice guy.
William y Kathy se conocieron en la universidad.
William and Kathy met at university.
The example above uses the ‘reciprocal se.’ You can read more about se here. All this means is that we use the word se to convey the meaning of ‘each other.’
If we wanted to, we could add ‘el uno al otro’ (‘the one to the other’) to clarify.
—¿Conoces a Karla?
—Sí, nos conocimos.
“Do you know Karla?”
“Yes, we know each other.” (Present tense)
Mi marido y yo nos conocimos (el uno al otro) en 1959.
My husband and I met (each other) in 1959. (Preterite tense)
To sum up conocer:
A gray area…
Saber and conocer become almost interchangeable when we’re talking about ~abstract ideas~. You could try to identify a super subtle difference between the two, as illustrated in these examples:
El historiador quiere saber la razón principal por la que empezó la guerra.
The historian wants to know the main reason why the war started. (He wants to know the facts.)
El historiador quiere conocer la razón principal por la que empezó la guerra.
The historian wants to know the main reason why the war started. (He wants to become familiar with the truth.)
But, to be honest, either saber or conocer would be acceptable in cases referring to abstract ideas.
We’ve compiled a list of interesting set phrases for you to incorporate into your writing or speaking!
saber de primera mano
to know first-hand
¡ve(te) tú a saber!
your guess is as good as mine!
no saber para dónde agarrar*
to not know what to do (literally: to not know where to grab hold)
conocer de nombre
to know by name/to have heard of
conocer en persona
to meet in person
dar algo a conocer
to make something known/to publish something
*This is a colloquialism used in some parts of Latin America!
When you’re working without a teacher, it’s important to be honest with yourself about how much of a lesson you’ve understood. Testing yourself allows you to see which areas you still need to work on. If you’re up for it, try and work out whether you need saber or conocer in each of the following!
1. Los científicos dieron a _ los resultados. (The scientists published the results.)
2. Me encanta esta canción. _ la letra desde pequeño. (I love this song. I’ve known the lyrics by heart since I was little.)
3. Yo no _ esta canción. (I don’t know this song.)
4. Nos _ en Australia el año pasado. (We met each other in Australia last year.)
5. Mis padres no _ si se van a divorciar. (My parents don’t know if they’re going to get divorced.)
So now you know!
In this lesson, we’ve shown how the verb ‘to know’ can be translated into Spanish in two different ways: saber and conocer. ¡Hasta la proxima!