Saber vs Conocer — How You Can Master "To Know" In Spanish

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Saber and Conocer. If you go to Google Translate right now and type each of these words, you will see that they both translate to “to know” in English.

Even though both of them translate the same way, they are used in different contexts and are not interchangeable. 

This is why they trip up many people that are trying to learn Spanish.

They cause a lot of problems for students that aren’t Native Spanish speakers. 

So in today’s article, we will cover the differences between saber and conocer so that you can use them correctly. 

In this article, you’ll learn when you should use one over the other…

And we will review some basic conjugations for both saber and conocer

General Overview of Saber vs Conocer

Let’s take a look at the true meaning of each of these verbs. 

We will start with the verb saber, since it is the most common.

Think of “saber” as the real “to know” in English.

The majority of time when you are referring to “knowing” something in English, you would be using the verb saber. 

So you should use saber when talking about facts, information, and learned skills. 

How to use saber when referring to the knowledge of facts

Here are a few examples demonstrating the verb saber for explaining the knowledge of facts:

  1. Yo que la fiesta empieza a las ocho.
    I know the party starts at eight.
  2. No sabemos nada de este tipo.
    We don’t know anything about this guy.
  3. sabes que hablo tres idiomas.
    You know that I speak three languages. 

(Note: When using saber to talk about facts, often times it will be followed my words like por qué (why), que (that), qué (what), quién (who), dónde (where), cuándo (when), and cuál (which).

How to use saber when referring to the knowledge of information

Next, let’s look at some examples of saber being used to explain knowledge of information:

  1. ¿Sabes a qué hora sale el vuelo?
    Do you know what time the flight leaves? 
  2. Yo dónde viven ellos.
    I know where they live.  
  3. ¿Él sabe cuándo empieza la película?
    Does he know when the movie starts?

How to use saber when referring to the knowledge of learned skills

Lastly, let’s look at a few examples of saber being used to refer to the knowledge of skills:

  1. Yo tocar la guitarra.
    I know how to play the guitar.
  2. Mi abuela no sabe conducir.
    My grandma doesn’t know how to drive.
  3. Él sabe jugar baloncesto.
    He knows how to play basketball

Notice how immediately after we use saber, we use the verb that demonstrates the skills.

One mistake I see a lot of students make is that they want to put the word “cómo” which means “like” after the verb saber.

So they want to say, “yo sé cómo tocar la guitarra.”

That’s because in English, we always say, “I know how to do this, I know how to do that,” but in Spanish you don’t use cómo. You just put the verb demonstrating the skill after using saber. 

Ex: “Yo sé cómo tocar la guitarra.”

How to use conocer in Spanish

Now let’s move on to the verb conocer. 

Conocer means: to meet, to be acquainted/familiar with, and to have been to. 

It is used to express knowledge or familiarity with people, places, and things. 

So, for example if you say that you know someone. In Spanish, you would use conocer to imply that you are familiar with them.

How to use conocer with people

Let me show you a few examples of how you would use this when referring to the knowledge of/being familiar with people. 

  1. El otro día, conocí a Josh.
    The other day, I met josh.  
  2. ¿Conoces a mi madre?
    You know (are familiar with) my mom right? 
  3. Él no me conoce a mí.
    He doesn’t know me. 

Notice here that in between conocer and the “person” we are using “a.” 

Some people like to call this the “personal a.” 

The “a” is only used when referring to people.

This is important to remember because you will see how it’s different in the next examples when we are referring to knowledge of places and things. 

How to use conocer with places

  1. ¿Conoces Mexico?
    Are you familiar with Mexico? 
  2. Yo conozco Washington, DC muy bien.
    I am very familiar with Washington, DC.  
  3. Ustedes conocen las calles aquí.
    Y’all are familiar with the streets here. 

Again, notice how here we remove the “a” when referring to places and you will see the same thing happen in the next example when referring to things. 

How to use conocer with things

The last use of conocer is to describe your knowledge of things, for example:

  1. ¿Conoces algún sitio en internet que me pueda ayudar?
    Do you know any website on the internet that can help me? 
  2. Mi madre no conoce bien ese tipo de computadora.
    My mom is not familiar with that type of computer.  
  3. Conozco esta ciudad muy bien, porque crecí aquí.
    I am very familiar with this city, because I grew up here. 

How to conjugate saber

I won’t waste your time looking at every conjugation for each of the verbs…

But let’s look at a few of the most popular conjugations for both saber and conocer.

Present Preterite Imperfect Future
yo supe sabía sabrá
sabes supiste sabías sabrás
él, ella, usted sabe supo sabía sabrá
nosotros sabemos supimos sabíamos sabremos
vosotros sabéis supisteis sabíaeis sabréis
ellos, ellas, uds. saben supieron sabían sabrán

How to conjugate conocer

Present Preterite Imperfect Future
yo conozco conocí conocía conoceré
conoces conociste conocías conocerás
él, ella, usted conoce conoció conocía conocerá
nosotros conocemos conocimos conocíamos conoceremos
vosotros conocéis conocisteis conocíais conoceréis
ellos, ellas, uds. conocen conocieron conocían conocerán

Conclusion

Remember you should use “saber” for “to know.”

And “conocer” for “to be familiar with, to meet, and to have been to.”

You use saber for facts, information, and talking about learned skills.

And conocer when you meet or are familiar with people, places or things.

The more you consume comprehensible in Spanish the more this stuff will become natural, so don’t sweat it.

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