17 May 2021

Saber vs conocer - how do you know what you know?

In Spanish, there are two verbs we use for the English “to know”. They’re saber and conocer, and if you want to know when to use them it all depends on the context. As you practice your Spanish and listen carefully to the native speakers around you or the actors on TV, you’ll notice you can’t simply substitute one for the other. Let’s have a look at the verbs saber vs. conocer in Spanish.

Woman looking confused with hands up at her sides
No sabe la respuesta - she doesn't know the answer

Before we go ahead, let’s look at the presente de indicativo (present indicative, or present simple) conjugations of saber and conocer . If you’re interested in learning how to conjugate other verb tenses, check out our other articles on learning Spanish grammar and expressions.

Conjugation of the verb saber

Yo sé
Tú sabes
Él/ella/usted sabe
Nosotros sabemos
Vosotros sabéis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes saben

Conjugation of the verb conocer

Yo conozco
Tú Conoces
Él/ella/usted conoce
Nosotros conocemos
Vosotros conocéis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes conocen

When to use saber

In Spanish, the verb saber is used to express knowledge of something. This could be:

Learned abilities or skills

When you’ve developed a skill through learning, use the verb saber + infinitive to show it.

¿Sabes hablar español?
Do you know how to speak Spanish?

María sabe coser desde pequeña.
Maria has known how to sew since she was little.

Knowledge of information or fact

¿Sabes quién es el nuevo alcalde?
Do you know who the new mayor is?

No sé dónde dejé mis llaves.
I don’t know where I left my keys.

Things you’ve learned by heart

Hoy en día poca gente sabe los números de teléfono de memoria.
These days few people know telephone numbers by heart.

Woman playing the piano.
Elena sabe tocar muy bien el piano - Elena knows how to play the piano very well

When to use conocer

Conocer is used in the context of being familiar or acquainted with something. If you’ve had previous contact with the thing or person you’re speaking about you’ll use conocer.

No conozco a Mari Carmen.
I don’t know Mari Carmen (I’m not acquainted with her).

Vamos a una playa secreta que conozco.
Let’s go to a secret beach that I know.

Let’s look at these two examples to show how context can change whether or not you need to use conocer or saber.

Pablo conoce la música electrónica.
Pablo is familiar with electronic music.

Pablo sabe mucho de música electrónica.
Pablo knows a lot about electronic music.

As you can see, in the first example we use conocer because it’s a light familiarity. In the second one Pablo’s knowledge is much deeper so we use the verb saber.

Woman bringing a pie to her neighbours
Susana conoce a sus vecinos - Susana knows her neighbours

I hope this article has been using in helping you dissect the slight differences in the two verbs that mean “to know”. If you’re interested in learning Spanish in Barcelona, check out our class offerings. And if you’re not around to learn with us, maybe you’ll enjoy our post on Spanish slang you’ll hear on the streets of Spain!

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