Both Spanish verbs mean “to know,” so what’s the difference between saber and conocer? This question often stumps learners of Spanish, and the distinction can be difficult to grasp But it’s important to take the time to understand the appropriate context for each Spanish verb, as they have different meanings and are (usually) not interchangeable.
To put it simply, the key difference between saber and conocer boils down to the type of knowledge in question. Saber relates to knowing information or facts. Conocer is generally used to express a familiarity with places, people or things.
In this guide, we’ll review some helpful examples that clarify when to use saber vs. conocer. We’ll also look at how each verb is conjugated in several common tenses, including the present, simple past, and simple future.
The difference between saber and conocer
As with the verbs estar vs. ser (to be), the difference between saber and conocer depends on the context. Yes, the two words are related—both of them describe knowledge or awareness. But they describe unique types of knowledge or awareness and are thus used in distinct situations. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Saber relates to knowing information or possessing factual knowledge.
- Conocer means to be familiar with. In other words, it’s mostly used to describe the state of being acquainted with something, somewhere or someone.
Should I use saber or conocer? An example
Let’s look at a sentence to illustrate the difference:
- Sí conozco la canción, pero no sé qué dice. (I do know the song, but I don’t know what it says.)
Here, we’re saying that we’re familiar with the existence of the song (conozco is a conjugated form of conocer) but we don’t possess information on the content (sé is a conjugated form of saber).
Now let’s delve deeper into how to know when to use saber or conocer.
When to use saber
There are two general use cases for saber. The first involves possessing knowledge of information or facts. The second relates to general skills or know-how.
Let’s look at some specific uses and examples:
To possess (or not) knowledge, information or facts:
- Sé que Sandra no come carne. (I know that Sandra doesn’t eat meat)
- ¿Sabes qué hora es? (Do you know what time it is?)
- Linda no sabe dónde está Daniel. (Linda doesn’t know where Daniel is.)
- No sé qué decirte. (I don’t know what to say to you.)
- Yo sé italiano. (I know Italian.)
- Sí sé cómo hacer lasagna. (I do know how to make lasagna.)
- ¿Sabes usar Excel? (Do you know how to use Excel?)
- Lisa todavía no sabe leer. (Lisa doesn’t know how to read yet.)
How to conjugate aber
Beyond knowing when to use saber, let’s take a look at some basic conjugations. Which one you use will depend, of course, on the gender and number of the subject in question.
Let’s look at the present, simple past and simple future tenses of saber:
|Pronoun||Present||Simple past||Simple future|
|Él/ella/usted (he/she/formal you)||Sabe||Supo||Sabrá|
|Nosotros/nosotras (masculine we/female we)||Sabemos||Supimos||Sabremos|
|Ellos/ellas (masculine they/female they)||Saben||Supieron||Sabrán|
|Ustedes (plural you)||Saben||Supieron||Sabrán|
When to use conocer?
Conocer refers to being familiar or acquainted with something, somewhere or someone. It’s related to (but not entirely synonymous with) the process of recognizing. Spanish speakers typically use it in the following situations:
When we know or are familiar with a person (or not):
- No conozco a Raúl en persona. (I don’t know Raúl in person.)
- ¿Conoces a Cynthia? (Do you know Cynthia?)
When we know a place (or don’t):
- No conozco Asia. (I don’t know Asia/I haven’t been to Asia/I haven’t gotten to know Asia.)
- Sí conozco tu casa. (I do know your home/I have been in your home.)
When we’re acquainted with something (or are not):
- No conozco el proceso de inscripción. (I don’t know the registration process.)
- Tommy conoce un lago cerca. (Tommy knows a lake nearby.)
When we’re meeting or would like to be acquainted with someone or something:
- Qué gusto conocerte. (It’s good to meet you.)
- Quisiera conocer nuevos restaurantes. (I would like to know/find new restaurants.)
How to conjugate conocer
Let’s look at some conjugations of conocer:
|Pronoun||Present||Simple past||Simple future|
|Él/ella/usted (he/she/formal you)||Conoce||Conoció||Conocerá|
|Nosotros/nosotras (masculine we/female we)||Conocemos||Conocimos||Conoceremos|
|Ellos/ellas (masculine they/female they)||Conocen||Conocieron||Conocerán|
|Ustedes (plural you)||Conocen||Conocieron||Conocerán|
Knowing the difference
Whenever you’re in doubt about when to use saber and conocer, just think of whether you would say you are familiar (conocer) with something or you know (saber) a piece of knowledge. Keep those simple differences in mind, and you’ll soon begin to intuit when to use saber or conocer as you speak. Knowledge is power, right? We know you’ll be a pro in no time.
Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.