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The Key Things to Know about the French “Savoir” Conjugation

The return of ABBA has got us all singing “knowing me, knowing you, a-ha”, but do you really know the ins and outs of the French savoir conjugation? Savoir, of course, means “to know”, and if you want to add a little “je ne sais quoi” to your French skills, then it’s a verb that you’re going to find very useful.

When to Use the “Savoir” Conjugation

For facts or in-depth knowledge

Often followed by a subordinate clause introduced by a subordinating conjunction such as que, qui, où, and quand, among others. This shows you have knowledge of something.

  • On sait qu’il y a plus de 100 milliards d’étoiles dans la Voie Lactée – We know that there are over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way

For skills

Followed by an infinitive verb, it means “to know how to do something”, and is usually translated by “can”.

  • Je sais danser mais je ne sais pas chanter – I can dance but I can’t sing

For received information

Also introduced by subordinate propositions, this can be used to express something you’ve learned, found out, been told or heard.

  • Je sais que tu démissionnes, je l’ai entendu au réfectoire – I know you’re quitting (your job), I overheard in the canteen

Savoir is one of many verbs ending in -oir. Once you’ve learned the endings for these verbs it will be much easier for you to use all of the other oir verbs.

Connaître vs. Savoir

There are two verbs in French that mean “to know” depending on the context. As we saw above, savoir is used for facts and figures, received information and skills, so when do we use connaître? Connaître is used to talk about the existence of something, things you’ve already experienced before, as well as for talking about places and people you know. You could also remember it as the way of saying what you’re familiar with.

Unlike savoir, connaître is never followed by a verb. Moreover, it can never be followed by a subordinate proposition introduced by que/qui/où/quand/pourquoi etc. Instead, connaître must be used with a direct object, which may be a person, place, or thing.

  • Je pense qu’il connaît ma mere de l’école – I think he knows my mother from school
  • Je connais cette chanson, elle est trop bien ! – I know this song, it’s so good!
  • Nous connaissons ce logiciel, nous l’utilisons au travail – We know this software, we use it at work
  • Ils connaissent Paris, ils y sont allés 3 fois – They know Paris, they’ve been there 3 times

Savoir Conjugation Present Tense (le présent)

Je sais

I know

Tu sais

You know

Il/elle sait

He/she/it knows

Nous savons

We know

Vous savez

You know (formal/plural)

Ils/elles savent

They know

  • Est-ce que tu sais combien de personnes habitent dans l’Arctique ? – Do you know how many people live in the Arctic?

  • Elle sait compter jusqu’à 10 déjà – She already knows how to count to 10

  • Nous savons comment utiliser l’imprimante – We know how to use the printer

Savoir Conjugation Imperfect Tense (l’imparfait)

Je savais

I knew

Tu savais

You knew

Il/elle savait

He/she/it knew

Nous savions

We knew

Vous saviez

You knew (formal/plural)

Ils/elles savaient

They knew

The French imperfect tense can usually be translated with “used to”. It makes it easy to understand and to remember. Unfortunately, with the “savoir” conjugation it’s not quite so straightforward. The imperfect tense is in fact used more frequently than le passé composé with this verb. It is used to express that you knew something in the past, or you already knew something prior to the present moment, as is the case for exclamations as you can see in the first example…

  • Je le savais ! – I knew it!

  • Il savait qu’elle était militaire mais il ne savait pas qu’elle était pilote – He knew she was in the military, but he didn’t know she was a pilot

  • Vous saviez qu’il fallait commander en avance – You knew you had to order in advance

Savoir Conjugation Passé Composé

J’ai su

I knew

Tu as su

You knew

Il/elle a su

He/she/it knew

Nous avons su

We knew

Vous avez su

You knew (formal/plural)

Ils/elles ont su

They knew

You’re probably used to using le passé composé to talk about the past tense, yet with the verb savoir the meaning is sometimes slightly different. This tense is often used to talk about when you came to know something, or when you “found out”.

  • Je l’ai su hier lors de la réunion – I found out yesterday during the meeting

  • Elle a su la date depuis 3 semaines, elle devrait être prête – She has known the date for 3 weeks, she should be ready

  • Ils ont su qu’ils partaient en vacances au moment d’arriver à l’aéroport – They knew they were going on vacation the moment they arrived at the airport

Savoir Conjugation Simple Future (le futur simple)

Je saurai

I will know

Tu sauras

You will know

Il/elle saura

He/she/it will know

Nous saurons

We will know

Vous saurez

You will know (formal/plural)

Ils/elles sauront

They will know

  • Si tu n’est pas sage, je sauraiIf you’re not nice, I’ll know

  • Nous saurons si c’est ne pas fait maison – We’ll know if it’s not homemade

  • Vous saurez si tout va bien dès que nous recevrons l’information – You’ll know if everything’s ok as soon as we receive the information

Savoir Conjugation Near Future (le futur proche)

Je vais savoir

I’m going to know

Tu vas savoir

You’re going to know

Il/elle va savoir

He/she/it is going to know

Nous allons savoir

We’re going to know

Vous allez savoir

You’re going to know (formal/plural)

Ils/elles vont savoir

They’re going to know

  • S’il me ment, je vais le savoirIf he’s lying to me, I’ll know about it

  • Il va savoir exactement comment réagir dans telle situation – He’s going to know exactly how to react in such a situation

  • Nous allons savoir comment faire les multiplications à l’ancien – We’re going to learn how to do multiplication the old-fashioned way

Savoir Conjugation Past Perfect (le plus-que-parfait)

J’avais su

I had known

Tu avais su

You had known

Il/elle avait su

He/she/it had known

Nous avions su

We had known

Vous aviez su

You had known (formal/plural)

Ils/elles avaient su

They had known

  • Si j’avais su que tu venais, j’aurai fait plus d’effort – If I had known you were coming, I’d have made more effort

  • Tu n’aurais pas mangé le poisson si tu avais su que tu étais allergique – You wouldn’t have eaten the fish if you had known you were allergic

  • S’ils avaient su avant nous, ils nous auraient prévenus – If they had known before us, they would have warned us

Savoir Conditionnel Passé (Past Conditional)

J’aurais su

I would have known

Tu aurais su

You would have known

Il/elle aurait su

He/she/it would have known

Nous aurions su

We would have known

Vous auriez su

You would have known (formal/plural)

Ils/elles auraient su

They would have known

  • S’il y avait plus d’indices, j’aurais su la réponse plus vite – If there were more clues, I would’ve known the answer sooner

  • Tu aurais su comment démarrer la voiture si tu avais écouté le mécanicien – You would have known how to start the car if you had listened to the mechanic

  • Elles auraient su où était la gare si elles avaient lu les instructions – They would’ve known where the train station was if they had read the directions

Savoir Subjunctive (le Subjonctif Présent)

que je sache

that I know

que tu saches

that you know

qu’il/elle/on sache

that he/she/it knows

que nous sachions

that we know

que vous sachiez

that you know (formal/plural)

qu’ils/elles sachent

that they know

The subjunctive mood is only used after certain verbs, such as those that express want/desire, doubt and emotion. This tense is always introduced by “que”, which is how you know that you may have to employ the subjunctive. If you’re not familiar with the subjunctive mood then don’t worry about it, it’s something you can work on later on once you’re comfortable with the other tenses.

  • Il faut absolument que je sache où tu as mis mes clés – I absolutely must know where you have put my keys

  • Je veux que tu saches que je t’aime – I want you to know that I love you

  • Il est important que nous sachions qui lui fournit ses matériaux – It’s important that we know who provides him with his materials

Expressions with Savoir

There are some expressions that the English language has borrowed from French, meaning that you might already be familiar with them, and some which just might surprise you.

The first three all use two verbs in the infinitive form, the first being savoir.

  1. Savoir-faire – Know-how

Literal translation: To know to do

  • Il faut un certain savoir-faire pour faire ce métier – It requires a certain know-how to do this job

  1. Savoir-vivre – Good manners/etiquette

Literal translation: To know to live

  • Ils sont impolis, ils n’ont aucun savoir-vivre – They’re rude, they have no manners at all

  1. Savoir-être – Social skills

Literal translation: To know to be

  • Elle aime être seule, elle n’a pas de savoir-être – She like being alone, she has no social skills

  1. Je-ne-sais-quoi – a touch/hint of something

Literal translation: I don’t know what

While this is used in English for an indefinable quality, that’s not the case in French. It’s commonly used before an adjective to mean “a small amount of”.

  • Je vois un je-ne-sais-quoi de tristesse dans ses yeux – I can see a hint of sadness in his eyes

  1. Monsieur/Madame je-sais-tout – Know-it-all

Literal translation: Mr/Mrs I-know-everything

  • Il se vante quand il reçoit ses notes, c’est un monsieur je-sais-tout – He brags when he gets his grades, he’s a know-it-all

  1. Le savoir c’est le pouvoir – Knowledge is power

Literal translation: Knowledge, it’s power

  • Il faut beaucoup lire, car le savoir, c’est le pouvoir – You have to read a lot, because knowledge is power

  1. Je n’en sais rien – I don’t know anything about it

Literal translation: I know nothing of it

This can be used in a similar way to “I don’t know” but it is a little more powerful.

  • “Où est-ce qu’elle est allée ? Et avec qui ?” – “Where has she gone. And who with?”

“Je n’en sais rien !” – “I don’t know anything about it!”

  1. Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts – To be completely useless, to not know one’s a** from one’s elbow

Literal translation: To not know how to do anything with his ten fingers

  • J’ai demandé que mon frère m’aide mais il ne sait rien faire de ses 10 doigts! – I asked my brother to help me but he doesn’t know his ass from his elbow!

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning the savoir conjugation might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with forms of the verb savoir.

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