What’s the difference between conocer and saber?

conocer vs. saber

The meaning of the verbs conocer and saber is very close; they can both be translated as the English verb know. This means that learning the difference between the two can be difficult for English-speaking learners of Spanish; where English has one verb Spanish has two, as is the case with ser and estar and haber and tener.

Broadly speaking, conocer implies a familiarity with someone or something, while saber refers to our know how; the things we have learned, such as abilities or our knowledge of facts. Learn the different contexts in which to use conocer and saber with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Este verano conocí la ciudad de Madrid. Unos meses antes había conocido a Teresa, y juntos organizamos el viaje. No sabíamos dónde alojarnos, así que le pregunté a mi hermana Lara, quien supo recomendarnos bien. Ella conoce todos los rincones de la ciudad que uno no se debe perder. Encontramos un mapa en internet, y con él supimos orientarnos sin problemas. Yo ya sabía que en Madrid hay muchos museos y quise visitar algunos. Así conocí la obra de Velázquez y Goya. Descubrí que poca gente sabe de las Pinturas negras de Goya, que, desde luego, merece la pena conocer. Quedamos encantados con la visita y, quién sabe, quizá volvamos pronto.

conocer

We use conocer for things that we have had personal contact with: it refers to familiarity with a person (with the preposition a), a thing or a place.

  • conocer a personas (to know people);
    Examples:
    Conozco a Marisa desde la guardería.I’ve known Marisa since nursery.
    Conozco bien a todos mis compañeros de trabajo.I know my colleagues well.

    to have contact and communication with someone

  • conocer una cosa (to know things);
    Example:
    Conozco la baraja de cartas española, pero no la francesa.I know the Spanish deck of cards but not the French one.
    to be familiar with the different parts and characteristics of a thing
  • conocer un lugar (to know a place);
    Examples:
    Conozco Sevilla como la palma de mi mano.I know Seville like the back of my hand.
    Conozco el camino a la estación.I know the way to the station.
    to have personal experience of a place
  • conocer algo (to know something);
    Examples:
    Conozco esta pieza de Vivaldi.I know this piece by Vivaldi.
    Conozco el funcionamiento del motor de un coche.I know how the engine of a car works.
    Conozco tu afición por las cartas.I know your fondness for cards.

    to have knowledge of something abstract

Conocer is also used to mean meet or discover for the first time.

Examples:
Hoy hemos conocido a los vecinos.Today we met the neighbours.
El verano pasado conocimos Oporto.Last summer we went to Porto for the first time.
Por fin conozco tus dotes culinarias.Finally I get to experience your culinary skills.

saber

Saber refers to things that we have learned, such as abilities or facts.

  • details (to know that …);
    Examples:
    No quién es Marisa.I don’t know who Marisa is.
    a qué hora empieza la película.I know what time the film starts.
    dónde está la plaza del mercado.I know where the market square is.
    to have information about something or someone
  • learned abilities (to know how to do something);
    Examples:
    nadar a crol.I know how to swim the front crawl.
    programar ordenadores.I know how to programme computers.

    to have an ability or to be trained to do something

  • in some cases, the meaning of the verb saber can change depending on whether it is used in the imperfect tense or in the preterite.
    Example:
    Mariano no sabía dónde estaba la salida.Mariano didn’t know where the exit was.
    imperfect → conventional sense of (not) having information about something or someone
    Carlos nunca supo que había ganado la lotería.Carlos never knew that he had won the lottery.
    preterite → to find something out, to learn of something

The verb saber + the preposition de

  • saber de: to have evidence of something;
    Example:
    Todo el mundo sabe de la reputación del cantante.Everyone knows about the singer’s reputation.
  • saberse de memoria: to know something by heart.
    Example:
    Me sé todos los ríos de España (de memoria).I know all of the rivers in Spain (by heart).

Remember

Unless the verb saber is combined with the preposition de (saber(se) de), it can only be followed by verbs in the infinitive or by an interrogative pronoun (who, where, which etc.). Conocer is never followed by another verb.

How to conjugate conocer and saber

The table below shows the present, past and future conjugations of the verbs conocer and saber. Use the conjugator to see the verbs conjugated in all tenses in both the indicative and subjunctive moods. Note, both verbs are irregular.

CONOCER present imperfect preterite future
yo conozco conocía conocí conoceré
conoces conocías conociste conocerás
él, ella, usted conoce conocía conoció conocerá
nosotros/-as conocemos conocíamos conocimos conoceremos
vosotros/-as conocéis conocíais conocísteis conoceréis
ellos/-as, ustedes conocen conocían conocieron conocerán
SABER present imperfect preterite future
yo sabía supe sabré
sabes sabías supiste sabrás
él, ella, usted sabe sabían supo sabrá
nosotros/-as sabemos sabíamos supimos sabremos
vosotros/-as sabéis sabíais supísteis sabréis
ellos/-as, ustedes saben sabían supieron sabrán