Italian is a romance language and as such it is full of shades and meanings. 

You can sometimes find yourself struggling with the right word to use because there are many synonyms to choose from. 

Look for example at the verbs sapere and conoscere

Do these 2 verbs share the same meaning? 

Can we use them interchangeably in all situations? 

How can we understand when to use one instead of the other? 

This is a bunch of the questions I am going to answer in this brief article, and I hope you will find them useful to help you improve your knowledge of the Italian language. 

Let's see more in detail what each verb can express and then let’s practice a bit with some useful examples. 


This verb is a so-called modal verb, therefore it basically expresses that someone has knowledge of something, and by that, I specifically refer to the ability of someone to do something. 

I would say that in English this concept is expressed through the use of can:

e.g. I can swim (So nuotare) 

Meaning they have knowledge of how to swim, they know how to do it. 

As you can see from the example, this verb in this case is followed by another verb: nuotare (to swim). 

But you can also find it followed by a noun or a noun phrase: 

e.g. Daniele sa il francese. (Daniele knows French), meaning that he has knowledge of the language, so he can speak it. 


This verb is generally used to mean that you are acquainted with someone else, or that you met someone for the first time. 

Think about Piacere di conoscerti that you pronounce when you get to know someone for the first time. 

Of course, there are other situations in which you want to use this verb. 

It can also mean that you are familiar with something (an area, a town, a restaurant, etc.): e.g. Conosco Andrea da 5 anni (I’ve known Andrea for 5 years) 

Now, given the meanings of these two Italian verbs, can we easily assume that they basically do not share anything in common? 

Let me know what you think in the comment section down below! 

The point is, why if these two verbs express different meanings, would you see them marked as synonyms in a dictionary? 

This is very interesting, and the reason is that they both refer to knowledge. They, indeed, express what we know about something. 

Generally, the verb sapere is used to express passive knowledge (when it does not refer to an ability), something we get to know superficially, like basic information about the world around us. 

e.g. Non ti preoccupare, so la strada di ritorno a casa (Don’t worry I know the way back home) 

On the other hand, the verb conoscere refers to more, let’s say, active knowledge. 

That is to say that our knowledge comes from a detailed study of the topic, or simply from a particular attention to something.

e.g. Conosco il portoghese perché l’ho studiato all’università (I know portuguese because I studied it in college) 

And now, it is your turn! 

I am going to show you 10 sentences and I want you to choose amongst sapere or conoscere to give the sentence the right meaning! 

1) Fabio sa / conosce suonare il violino. 

2) Mi perdo sempre. Non so / conosco bene questa città. 

3) Michele sa / conosce Greta da 1 anno. 

4) So / Conosco bene dove vivi. Passo a prenderti alle 20? 

5) Mia nonna sa / conosce la ricetta segreta della torta Barozzi. 

6) Non mentire, sappiamo / conosciamo benissimo che non stai dicendo la verità. 7) Non so / conosco di cosa stai parlando. 

8) Non puoi dire di sapere / conoscere una persona se non la frequenti. 

9) Roberto sapeva / conosceva che non sarebbe tornato presto. 

10) Non so / conosco questa canzone. 

That is all for today! 

This is all I wanted to tell you about the main differences between the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere

I hope this article was helpful for you in clarifying some of your doubts and questions about the topic. Of course, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comment section down below!  

Thank you for reading this article! 

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