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Saber V’s Conocer – The difference between the two “To know” verbs in Spanish

There are two different verbs n Spanish that mean “to know”. The first is conocer and the second saber. It takes a bit of practice to get used to the differences and to know when to use each verb. Once you do though you’re well on your way to mastering the language.

Learning how to conjugate verbs in Spanish is a skill and certainly goes a long way in moving from word-to-word translations to successful manipulation of the language. So before we go any further let’s look at how these two verbs are conjugated.

How to conjugate conocer in the present tense:

YoConozcoI know
ConocesYou know
Él/ella/UstedConoceHe/She/You know
NosotrosConocemosWe know
VosotrosConocéisYou all know
Ellos/ellas/UstedesConocenThey/You all know

How to conjugate saber in the present tense:

YoI know
sabesYou know
Él/ella/UstedsabeHe/She/You know
NosotrossabemosWe know
VosotrossabéisYou all know
Ellos/ellas/UstedessabenThey/You all know

Great so you can conjugate the verbs but how do you know when to use them?

When to use Conocer?
As a general rule, conocer has a stronger meaning than the verb saber, it’s used when you ‘know’ something, and you know it well.

It has the sense of having acquired knowledge from somewhere, such as cultural knowledge or general information, rather than knowing things through personal experience or practice.

Eg. Yo conozco bien Patagonia. (I know Patagonia well.)

We also use the verb conocer for the name or location of a person, place or thing.

Eg. Yo conozco a Julia desde hace muchos años. (I have known Julia for many years.)

You’ll notice there’s an ‘a‘ between you knowing something and the person you are referring to. In Spanish, we call this the ‘personal a’ and you’ll come across it when you learn Spanish beyond beginner level.

Use conocer when referring to knowing places too.

Eg. No conozco Argentina. (I don’t know Argentina (refers to not having been).)

When describing places, we don’t add the ‘a’ in Spanish.

We also use the verb conocer to talk about “meeting” someone.

Eg. Nos conocimos en Venezuela en 1996 (We met in Venezuela in 1996)

When to use saber
Saber means ‘to know’ as in knowing general information. There are some discrepancies with this and certain things to remember but as a general rule, if you have heard something or have found out some fact we use saber.

Eg. Es importante saber otro idioma (It’s important to know another language)

The verb saber is also used to ask somebody how to do something, or explaining that you know how to do something.

Eg. ¿Tú sabes jugar el golf? (Do you know how to play golf?)

Saber is used when a person has a basic knowledge or knows how to perform specific tasks.

Eg. Yo sé hablar español (I know how to speak Spanish)

Recap saber vs conocer

To recap, remember these simple rules when it comes to saber vs conocer and you can’t go wrong.

Use conocer for:

  • PERSON – pronoun a, meeting for the first time.
  • PLACE – expressing you know or do not know a place.
  • THING –expressing you know a something in particular.

Use saber when talking about:

  • FACTS – meaning you know something for a fact.
  • INFORMATION– expressing you know something in particular.
  • LEARNED SKILLS – stating you know how to do something.

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