Saber vs Conocer: Their Differences Explained (+ Examples)

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Saber vs Conocer: Their Differences Explained (+ Examples)

Saber. Conocer.

Two different Spanish words that translate the same way but are used in quite different contexts.

You might have come across other similar Spanish verbs like ser and estar, or haber and tener and found them tricky to distinguish between.

Well, saber vs conocer are also a bit tricky for non-native Spanish learners. But with a few tips and usage examples, you’ll soon find that understanding the differences between saber and conocer isn’t as challenging as you first thought.

Today’s post will hopefully clarify the differences for you.

If you want a quick answer to how saber and conocer are different, here’s a simple answer:

Saber refers to knowledge of facts or abilities.

Conocer refers to knowing people or places.

But read on for a detailed explanation with examples.

What do saber and conocer mean in Spanish?

Both saber and conocer mean ‘to know’ in Spanish.

For this reason, the difficulty we’ve referred to in the opening paragraph about distinguishing between ser and estar also applies to saber and conocer.

It’s also important to know that using a translator to try and differentiate between the verbs saber and conocer will only add to your confusion. Machine translation will simply generate the same definition for each word, which will be ‘to know’.

That’s why you will benefit from a range of usage examples to help you understand when saber is required and when conocer is required.

Which part of speech do saber and conocer belong to?

Saber and conocer are both Spanish verbs.

So far, we have referred to each verb in the infinitive form, indicated by the -er endings. These Spanish verbs should always be conjugated when referring to a particular subject.

How to conjugate saber and conocer in the present tense

So, if you want to conjugate the verbs saber and conocer in the present tense, take a look at the following table to help you:

Subject PronounSaberConocer
YoConozco
SabesConoces
Él/Ella/UstedSabeConoce
NosotrosSabemosConocemos
VosotrosSabéisConocéis
Ellos/Ellas/UstedesSabenConocen

And, did you notice if you’re studying at a beginner level, that the verb saber takes the irregular form in the present tense?

The first person present indicative doesn’t follow any pattern when it comes conjugating this verb, which makes it tricky to remember.

To help with this, you’ll need to practice conjugating this verb with Spanish verb exercises — the more the better.

But also, try to speak with Spanish natives to hear this verb being used to round out your knowledge and get used to hearing the verb in different contexts.

Gerund and participle forms of saber and conocer

The gerund forms of the verbs saber and conocer are sabiendo and conociendo, respectively, and the participle forms are sabido and conocido.

Here are a couple of examples of the gerund form being used for saber and conocer:

Sabiendo que él es un mentiroso cambiaría todo.

Knowing that he is a liar would change everything.

Conociendo bien Barcelona, te aconsejo que te pruebes su comida. Es rico.

Knowing Barcelona well, I would advise you to try their food. It's delicious.

And here are some examples of the participle being used to help you practice:

De haberlo sabido… no habría ningun problema.

If I had known... there would be no problem.

Miguel Bose es un cantante muy conocido en España.

Miguel Bose is a very well-known singer in Spain.

When do we use saber in Spanish?

Now let’s focus on when saber is used in Spanish. The verb saber is used for two main reasons:

1. We use saber when we want to say we have knowledge of something — or of a particular fact.

Ella sabe que estaba enfadado.

She knew he was angry.

La gente sabía hacer fuego hace mucho tiempo.

People knew how to make fire a long time ago.

2. We use saber followed by a verb in the infinitive form when we want to mention that we have a particular aptitude or ability.

María sabe tocar el piano muy bien.

María knows how to play the piano very well.

Lucía sabe hablar inglés con fluidez.

Lucía knows how to speak English fluently.

When do we use conocer in Spanish?

Like the verb saber, the verb conocer is used for two main reasons as well, but these reasons differ from the verb saber:

1. We use conocer when we want to say we know someone or who someone is (such as our best friends). Note the personal a in the following example, which should be used when mentioning a particular person who you know.

Conozco a Diego desde hace veinte años.

I've known Diego for twenty years.

Nos conocimos desde la niñez.

We knew each other from childhood.

2. We use conocer when mentioning that we’re familiar with a certain place.

Julia y yo conocemos Londres y las afueras muy bien.

Julia and I know London and the outskirts very well.

Mi abuelo conocía Madrid y le gustaba pasear por la cuidad.

My grandfather knew Madrid and he liked to walk around the city.

Practice using saber and conocer in verb drills to enhance your knowledge

Before I go, what’s your next step when it comes to understanding the difference between saber and conocer?

You’re going to need to practice using them in different contexts. Verb drills — lists of fill-in-the-blank grammatical questions that feature different contexts — are very useful for this.

They’re a good idea if you’re just beginning to learn Spanish and want to build your confidence.

But don’t stop there! Once you’ve got the hang of the main differences, start speaking with Spanish natives (see italki) and see whether you can use each verb in the right context. Also, follow up with a Spanish course or app for learning Spanish to reinforce what you’ve learned.

Don’t forget to practice your verb conjugations, too! This will really help you when it comes to speaking more fluently and using these verbs for any subject.


Got any other tips for understanding saber and conocer?

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic
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