saber vs conocer - to know

Saber vs Conocer: Know How to Use These Spanish Verbs Correctly

Leonor Garcia Published on November 16, 2023

¡Hola, amigos! If you’re trying to know when to use saber and when to use conocer in Spanish, don’t worry! You’re not alone. These two verbs might seem tricky, but they’re not. Both verbs translate as “to know” in English, which can lead to confusion. In this article, I’m going to clarify saber and conocer for you. Saber is to have knowledge or know how to do something, while conocer is all about being familiar with people, places, or things. Grab a cup of coffee, and let’s delve deeper into these two verbs.

saber vs conocer - to know

How to Use Saber

Imagine saber as your reliable companion for everything related to knowledge and skills. You use it when you want to make clear what you know, or your abilities. Additionally, saber is a helpful verb when you want to express certainty or agreement, because it adds emphasis to your statements. 

Saber also has less common uses that are present in Spanish. It works if you’re chatting about your hobbies, sharing trivia, or simply agreeing with a friend. This is why saber is an important element of everyday Spanish conversations, making it easier to discuss different topics with clarity. 

How to Conjugate Saber

Saber is a fundamental Spanish verb that means “to know.” It’s used in various contexts to express knowledge, skills, or facts. To use saber effectively in different situations, it’s essential to understand its conjugation in different tenses and forms. Note that it’s irregular in the “yo” form. Below, you’ll find a conjugation table that outlines how to conjugate the verb saber in the present tense.

To see saber conjugated in all tenses, check out our complete saber conjugation guide.

PronounSaber ConjugationEnglish Meaning
YoI know
SabesYou know
VosSabésYou know
Él/Ella/UstedSabeHe/She knows, You know
NosotrosSabemosWe know
VosotrosSabéisYou know
Ellos/Ellas/ UstedesSabenThey know, You know

Talking About Skills & Abilities

We use saber to talk about people’s skills and abilities. It helps us convey that we know how to do something, or that we are proficient in something. For example:

  • -Él sabe tocar la guitarra. / He knows how to play the guitar.
  • -Ella sabe nadar muy bien. / She knows how to swim very well.
  • Nosotros sabemos cocinar platos deliciosos. / We know how to cook delicious dishes.

Expressing Knowledge or Information

Another common use of saber is to express knowledge or share information,. We use it to talk about facts or things we are aware of. For example: 

  • ¿Sabes cuándo es su cumpleaños? / Do you know when is his birthday?
  • que Madrid es la capital de España. / I know that Madrid is the capital of Spain.
  • sabes hablar Francés. / You know how to speak French.

Showing Awareness 

Saber is also used to indicate awareness with people, places, or things. This use differs from expressing knowledge; it’s about being familiar with something. Saber focuses on factual knowledge or skills, and it’s used when we discuss concrete information or abilities. It’s about personal awareness rather than dealing with facts. For example: 

  • No mucho sobre María. / I don’t know much about Maria.
  • dónde está la tienda, pero no he estado allí. / I know where the store is, but I haven’t been there.
  • ¿Sabes quién es ese hombre de allá? / Do you know who that man over there is?

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How to Use Conocer

Conocer is your passport to familiarity in Spanish conversations. We use it when we want to express that we know people, places, or things. You should use it to talk about someone you’ve met, places you’ve visited, or objects you’ve encountered. Unlike saber, which deals with knowledge and skills, conocer focuses on personal experience and recognition, making it the go-to verb to describe your connections with the world around you.

Conjugation of Conocer

Remember that conocer is a versatile Spanish verb that means “to know” or “to be familiar with.” It’s used to express personal familiarity with people, places, or things. To use conocer effectively in various contexts, it’s important to understand its conjugation in different tenses and forms. Below, you’ll find a conjugation table that outlines how conocer changes in the present tense.

To see conocer conjugated in all tenses, check out our complete conocer conjugation guide.

PronounConocer ConjugationEnglish Meaning
YoConozcoI know
ConocesYou know
VosConocésYou know
Él/Ella/UstedConoceHe/She knows, You know
NosotrosConocemosWe know
VosotrosConocéisYou know
Ellos/Ellas/ UstedesConocenThey know, You know

Knowing a Place

Conocer is frequently used to express familiarity with places or locations. It helps to express that you’ve been to or are familiar with a particular area. It’s a tool to describe your connections with various destinations and regions. For example:

  • Conozco París; estuve allí el verano pasado. / I know Paris; I was there last summer.
  • Ella conoce muy bien esta ciudad. / She knows this city very well.
  • Mis amigos conocen la playa de cabo a rabo. / My friends know the beach through and through.

Knowing People

Another common use of conocer is to describe knowing or being familiar with people. It indicates familiarity with individuals you’ve met or have a personal connection with. For example:

  • Conozco a Juan desde la infancia. / I’ve known Juan since childhood.
  • ¿Conoces a mi hermana? Ella es doctora. / Do you know my sister? She’s a doctor.
  • Mis padres conocen a tus padres. / My parents know your parents.

Familiarity with Things or Concepts

We also use conocer to express familiarity with objects, concepts, or topics. It indicates that we are aware of or have knowledge about something. For example:

  • Conocemos mucho sobre historia antigua. / We know a lot about ancient history.
  • Ella conoce la obra de este pintor famoso. / She is familiar with the work of this famous painter.
  • Mis compañeros de clase conocen todas las reglas del juego. / My classmates know all the rules of the game.

Meeting or Getting to Know Someone

In certain contexts, conocer can be used to mean “to meet” or “to get to know” someone for the first time. This use often implies an introduction. For example:

  • Hoy conoceré a tu amigo Carlos. / Today, I will meet your friend Carlos.
  • Es un placer conocerte. / It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Discovering or Becoming Aware

In some cases, conocer can be used to express the idea of discovering or becoming aware of something for the first time. It implies a sense of newfound knowledge or awareness. For example:

  • Acabo de conocer el resultado de las elecciones. / I just found out the results of the elections.
  • Conocí el significado de esa palabra ayer. / I discovered the meaning of that word yesterday.

Saber vs Conocer: Similarities and Overlaps

While saber and conocer are distinct verbs with different primary meanings, there are situations where they can overlap. Both verbs can be used to convey knowledge or familiarity in specific contexts. For example, you might use saber to indicate that you know facts about a particular person or place, and you could use conocer to express knowledge of a skill or ability.

Additionally, in some instances, either verb can be used interchangeably when the context allows, such as when expressing familiarity with a person you also have knowledge about. Understanding when to use each verb will help you navigate these occasional overlaps and use them effectively in your Spanish communication.

For example, you can say:

1. mucho sobre Pedro. / I know a lot about Pedro.

In this sentence, saber is used to express factual knowledge about a person, which is similar to what conocer would convey in this context.

2. Conozco su forma de trabajar. / I know (am familiar with) his way of working.

 Here, conocer is used to express familiarity with Pedro’s work style, which is similar to having knowledge about how he works, a context where saber could also be used interchangeably.

Saber vs Conocer: Know the Differences

In Spanish, saber and conocer may both translate to “to know” in English, but they have distinct uses. Saber is employed when you want to convey factual knowledge, skills, or the ability to do something. For example, “Sé hablar francés,” means “I know how to speak French.” On the other hand, conocer is used to express familiarity with people, places, or things on a personal level. For instance, “Conozco algo de Francés,” means, “I am familiar with French.” 

These two verbs often differ in their application when it comes to knowing about places and objects. Saber is usually used to indicate knowledge or information about them, as in, “Sé de un buen restaurante” (I know about a good restaurant). Conocer, however, implies personal visits or experiences, such as, “Conozco este restaurante” (I am familiar with this restaurant). Understanding these differences can help you choose the right verb to convey the specific type of knowledge or familiarity you intend in your Spanish communication.

Saber vs Conocer: Common Mistakes to Avoid

We need to be capable of using saber and conocer correctly if we want to avoid common mistakes that Spanish language learners often make.

Some learners mistakenly use saber when conocer should be used and vice versa. Remember that saber is related to facts and skills, while conocer deals with familiarity. Another common mistake is using both verbs in a single sentence to describe the same information. For instance, it’s incorrect to say, “Sé y conozco la respuesta” (I know and am familiar with the answer). Stick to the verb that best fits the context.

Finally, be cautious about overusing saber. Some learners rely on saber more often because it’s the simplest choice. However, using conocer in the right context is essential to express ourselves accurately. If you know the difference between saber and conocer, and avoid these common mistakes, you’ll improve your ability to communicate effectively in Spanish.

Tips for Learning Saber vs Conocer

Understanding when to use saber and conocer might seem tricky, but it doesn’t have to be challenging. One of the best ways to learn Spanish is to practice in real conversations. Listen to native Spanish speakers and pay attention to when they use these verbs. A great way to separate saber from conocer is by looking at the sentences around them. Context is your best friend. If a sentence talks about facts or skills, it’s probably saber. If it’s more about being familiar with people or places, think conocer. You can also create your own sentences to practice. Describe your hobbies using saber and your friends using conocer. With practice, you’ll become more confident.

To further your language learning, consider using language learning apps which can help you through interactive exercises and constant practice. Taking online Spanish courses on different platforms can offer structured lessons and interaction with instructors and fellow learners. Reading books in Spanish is also a valuable tool. Start with beginner-friendly titles and gradually work your way up to more complex content, immersing yourself in the language. Remember, learning a language takes time, so be patient. Keep using these tips, and you’ll soon understand saber vs conocer in your Spanish conversations.

Saber vs Conocer: Final Thoughts

To reach fluency in Spanish, you need to be able to distinguish between saber and conocer. While both verbs might seem like linguistic twins, they each have their own roles and purposes. Saber delves into facts and skills, whereas conocer explores familiarity and personal connections. If you immerse yourself in conversations, pay attention to context, and practice consistently, you can confidently navigate the maze of these two tricky verbs. With time and perseverance, you’ll find yourself using saber and conocer in the right situations and improving your Spanish communication skills.

Leonor Garcia

Leonor García is a Peruvian ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Portuguese. She is passionate about cultural exchange and using languages to drive globalization. Through her writing and teaching, Leonor aims to help people achieve their language learning goals. Connect with Leonor on LinkedIn.

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