Have you met me? But do you know me? There is a big difference between the two, wouldn’t you agree? Well, welcome to the saber vs. conocer brawl.
In this article, we’ll cover saber vs. conocer and help you tell them apart. We’ll start with some saber and conocer basics. Then we’ll focus on their uses and give you plenty of examples. We’ll also explain if saber and conocer can be used interchangeably. Finally, we’ll share some set phrases with both verbs.
Saber can mean to know information or facts, to know how to perform a skill, or to have news about someone. This verb also has a different meaning relating to how something tastes. However, the meaning referring to knowledge is the most commonly used and the one we’ll be focusing on in this article.
The verb saber is irregular, as it does not follow the usual pattern for Spanish verbs ending in “-er.” Moreover, saber can be a transitive or intransitive verb depending on context. This means it might require an object to function or not. You can learn the complete conjugation of saber in this article.
Conocer can mean to meet someone or to know something or someone. Regarding its “to meet” meaning, conocer only works when meeting someone new. Conocer is not used to convey that you are getting together with someone. For example, you can say, “Hoy conocí a la madre de Juan,” which means, “I met Juan’s mother today.” But if you want to say you’ve met up with a friend, you would use a verb like salir (go out) or juntarse (get together).
Just like saber, conocer is irregular. The verb is generally transitive, so it requires an object (that someone or somewhere we mentioned above). You can take a look at the complete conjugation of conocer in this article.
When it comes to usage, saber is used as “to know” when talking about information, facts, or how to do something.
Regarding conocer, it might be easier to think about it as translating into “to be familiar with,” “to get to know,” or “to meet/have met.” Conocer is used to talk about people, places, and things.
Let’s look at some examples below to illustrate this.
You can use saber when talking about a specific ability or know-how. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
- Sé hablar japonés. (I can speak Japanese.)
- Marcos no sabe tocar el ukulele. (Marcos doesn’t know how to play the ukulele.)
- ¿Saben cómo cambiar la rueda del coche? (Do you know how to change the car tire?)
If you are telling someone when a class ends or asking them when the train will arrive, saber is your verb. It’s also the verb to use when you don’t know a piece of information. Here are some examples:
- No sé a qué hora termina la obra. (I don’t know the time the play ends.)
- ¿Saben cómo se llama? (Do you know their name?)
- Sé que llegarán tarde, pero no a qué hora. (I know they’ll be arriving late, but not the exact time.)
Saber is also used to talk about facts. These facts can be scientifically accurate or just mere gossip. We’ll look at a few examples up next.
- Mi hermano el de 5 dice que sabe contar hasta un millón. (My five-year-old brother says he can count up to a million.)
- ¿Sabías que Pluto no es un planeta? (Did you know Pluto is not a planet?)
- ¿Sabían que María está embarazada? (Did you know María is pregnant?)
You can use conocer to say you know (or don’t know) a person.
Before we get on with the examples, there’s one thing we’d like to point out. When using conocer relating to people, the verb is followed by the preposition “a.” This does not happen with places or things, so it can be a bit confusing.
- Martin no conoció a su madre. (Martin never met his mother.)
- ¿Conocieron a la bebé? (Did you meet the baby?)
- ¡Encantada de conocerte! (Delighted to meet you!)
Conocer is also used to say you know or have been to a specific location. This can be a city or country or just a specific restaurant, museum or landmark.
- Conozco muy bien Buenos Aires. (I’m very familiar with Buenos Aires.)
- No conocen este restaurante. (They don’t know this restaurant.)
- ¿Conocés la Sagrada Familia? (Have you been to/Do you know the Sagrada Familia?)
Finally, you also use conocer to describe knowledge about a particular thing.
- Conozco esta camiseta. ¿La comprase en Zara? (I know this shirt. Is it from Zara?)
- ¿Conoces esta serie? (Do you know this TV show?)
- Conocemos esta guitarra. ¿Es la que te prestamos? (We know this guitar. Is it the one we lent you?)
To wrap up this example section, we’ll give you examples of similar sentences with both verbs so you can better appreciate the differences when using saber vs. conocer.
- Ángela no conoce el mar. (Ángela has never been to the sea.)
- Ángela no sabe dónde está el mar. (Ángela doesn’t know where the sea is.)
- No saben cuál es la capital de España. (They don’t know what the capital of Spain is.)
- No conocen la capital de España. (They don’t know/have never been to the capital of Spain.)
- Lo conozco. (I know him.)
- Lo sé. (I know [that].)
We’ve gone over the examples of all mainstream uses of saber and conocer. As you can probably tell, although similar, the uses are quite distinct. So the short answer is no.
However, there is one context in which you can use either verb and your sentence will be correct. This is when someone is asking about an abstract concept, like the truth, a secret, or a mystery. We’ll give you an example below.
- Su hijo quiere saber la verdad. (His/Her son wants to know the truth.)
- Su hijo quiere conocer la verdad. (His/Her son wants to know the truth.)
- El jefe quiere saber el motivo de tu renuncia. (The boss wants to know why you quit.)
- El jefe quiere conocer el motivo de tu renuncia. (The boss wants to know why you quit.)
Although the sentences are virtually the same, the meaning varies slightly. When using saber, the person in question wants to know the whole story, all of the facts of the matter. When using conocer, the person wants to find out what happened. They are not asking for the exact details. The difference is quite subtle, but no less important to know.
There is also a situation where you can use either verb if you rearrange your sentence structure a bit. This is when asking if someone knows another person.
Let’s look at two examples.
- ¿Sabes quién es? (Do you know who that is?)
- ¿Lo conoces? (Do you know him?)
- ¿Conoces al presidente de Bolivia? (Are you familiar with the President of Bolivia?
- ¿Sabes quién es el presidente de Bolivia? (Do you know who the President of Bolivia is?)
Finally, let’s look at some set phrases and expressions with the verbs saber and conocer. These are my favorite five!
This phrase roughly translates into “How should I know?” and is used in similar contexts as the English equivalent.
Who hasn’t gotten upset about missing information that might have been useful to have beforehand? Well, this phrase would be the equivalent of “If I had known!”
You know when you like someone but aren’t really sure why? You might find this form familiar from the French “je ne sais quoi,” which in English means a person has a certain something you can’t quite put your finger on.
This expression roughly translates into “to announce” or “make known.” For example, “El Presidente dio a conocer las nuevas medidas ecológicas” (The President announced the new ecological measures.).
This set phrase is roughly equivalent to the English “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” It cautions against risking what you have for something that seems better, but might not be.
As we’ve mentioned, these two verbs are close in meaning and can be easily confused. When in doubt, remember that saber is used for skills or facts (e.g., Sé tejer. [I know how to knit]). or ¿Saben el nombre del libro? [Do you know the name of the book?]), while conocer is about being familiar with people, places, or things (e.g., La conozco. [I know her.] or Conozco esa película. [I know that film.]).
We hope this article helped clear any saber vs. conocer doubts you might’ve had. If you want to have some more fun with these two verbs, you can take a look at this video.