‘To Know’ in Spanish: Saber vs. Conocer
Do you know what saber means? What about conocer? The funny thing about saber and conocer is that they can both be translated as ‘to know.’ But they are completely separate verbs.
The difference is that saber is used for talking about knowing facts, information, or how to do something, while conocer is used for talking about knowing people, places, or things. Let's look into the details and examples in this article.
Saber refers to having knowledge of something, like a piece of information. Weirdly, it also means ‘to taste’! Anyway, this is how it’s conjugated in the present tense:
Here are some examples of how you can use it:
1. Sé que eres buena persona.
I know that you’re a good person.
2. ¿Sabes el nombre de esta canción?
Do you know the name of this song?
3. Vera no sabe que estamos planeando su fiesta.
Vera doesn’t know that we’re planning her party.
4. No mientas, Santiago. Sabemos cómo tratas a nuestra amiga.
Don’t lie, Santiago. We know how you treat our friend.
5. ¿Sabéis los verbos irregulares?
Do you (plural) know the irregular verbs (off by heart)?
6. Ustedes saben la letra, ¿verdad?
You (formal plural) know the lyrics (by heart), right?
In the preterite tense, saber actually has a slightly different meaning. It refers to discovering or finding something out.
1. Ayer supe que Francesca me ha puesto los cuernos.
Yesterday I learnt/found out that Francesca has cheated on me.
2. Andrés se enfadó cuando supo la verdad.
Andrés got angry when he discovered the truth.
Bonus tip: to sound like a native, know that there are some situations where we add the word lo before saber. It means something along the lines of ‘it.’
This is used when we want to say ‘I know!’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Sometimes we even add ya at the beginning, which adds a meaning of ‘already.’
1. —Tienes que limpiar la casa.
—(Ya) lo sé.
“You have to clean the house.”
“I (already) know that.”
2. —¿Qué hora es?
—No lo sé.
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know."
3. —Chicas, mirad mi anillo. ¡Estoy comprometida!
—¡Ya lo sabemos! No hablas de ninguna otra cosa.
“Girls, look at my ring. I’m engaged!”
“We know already! You don’t talk about anything else.”
4. —¿Y ahora qué hacemos?
—¡No lo sé!
“Now what do we do?”
“I don’t know!”
Another interesting thing is when saber is used to mean ‘to be able to,’ i.e. knowing how to do something. Don’t confuse it with poder, which is also translated as ‘to be able to’ but is about having the means and opportunity to do something, rather than having acquired a skill.
1. Mi hermano y yo sabemos nadar bien porque crecimos cerca de la playa.
My brother and I can swim well (we know how to) because we grew up near the beach.
When you use ‘saber’ in this way, don’t be tempted to put in the word ‘como’ (‘how’) like we would in English! Just conjugate ‘saber’ and then put the infinitive right next to it.
1. Graham sabe como cocinar.
Graham knows how to cook.