Savoir vs. connaître: How to say “to know” in French

Savoir vs. connaître: How to say “to know” in French

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated August 7, 2023

Two for the price of one — this is how you could think about savoir vs. connaître. After all, both of these French verbs mean “to know.” Yet, they are not interchangeable. Not only are they conjugated differently, but they also don’t appear with the same grammatical words and structures. 

Even as you begin learning French, you’ll find it useful to distinguish between savoir and connaître when expressing the act of knowing. With savoir, you can confirm that you know how to do something or that you know a fact. This always involves a verb to describe an action or a state of being. On the other hand, connaître is about knowing a person, an object or a place, all of which are designated by nouns. 

In this guide, we’ll explore how to use both verbs in more detail.

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How to conjugate “connaître” and “savoir”

The first step in differentiating connaître from savoir is to learn the forms each verb takes — at least for the three main French tenses

Contrary to regular verbs, such as er verbs, savoir is an irregular verb that uses different stems to which the usual verb endings are then added. The table below contains a summary of the verb in the main tenses in the present, past and future. 

Simple PresentPassé composéSimple Future
Je saisI knowJ’ai suI knewJe sauraiI will know
Tu saisYou knowTu as suYou knewTu saurasYou will know
Il/elle/on saitHe/she/one knowsIl/elle/on a suHe/she/one knewIl/elle/on sauraHe/she/one will know
Nous savonsWe knowNous avons suWe knewNous sauronsWe will know
Vous savezYou (plural/formal) knowVous avez suYou (plural/formal) knewVous saurezYou (plural/formal) will know
Ils/elles saventThey knowIls/elles ont suThey knewIls/elles saurontThey will know

In comparison, connaître is a regular verb and thus follows the same general pattern of –re verbs. Contrary to savoir, its future tense follows the standard formula of adding the endings to the infinitive form of the verb, after removing the final –e.

PresentPassé composéFuture
Je connaisI knowJ’ai connuI knewJe connaîtraiI will know
Tu connaisYou knowTu as connuYou knewTu connaîtrasYou will know
Il/elle/on connaîtHe/she/one knowsIl/elle/on a connuHe/she/one knewIl/elle/on connaîtraHe/she/one will know
Nous connaissonsWe knowNous avons connuWe knewNous connaîtronsWe will know
Vous connaissezYou (plural/formal) knowVous avez connuYou (plural/formal) knewVous connaîtrezYou (plural/formal) will know
Ils/elles connaissentThey knowIls/elles ont connuThey knewIls/elles connaîtrontThey will know

When to use “savoir” and “connaître”

Once you have learned the forms of both savoir and connaître, the next step is to understand when to use one or the other.

The uses of “savoir”

A very simple trick to know if you need to use savoir is to check if there is a verb that follows it. There are two main ways this may happen.

In the first case, the verb is in the infinitive form. You’ll need this structure if you want to say you know how to do something:

  • Je sais parler français. (I know how to speak French.)

In this use case, the verb refers to practical knowledge. More specifically, it refers to when you’re capable of performing an action, whether it be in the context of sports, arts and crafts, driving or other activities that demand learning and practice. In English, this is often expressed by the auxiliary verb “can.” To take the previous example, another translation of the French sentence would be, “I can speak French.” 

In the second case, the verb is followed by a subordinate clause, which includes another conjugated verb. You can easily spot the subordinate clause, as it starts with the word que (that), si (if) or a question word such as pourquoi (why), (where) or quand (when). The table below contains several examples: 

Je sais que tu as vu ce film.I know that you’ve seen this film.
Tu ne sais pas si c’est vrai.You don’t know if it’s true.
Il sait où il doit aller.He knows where he must go.
Nous savons quand le train arrive.We know when the train arrives.
Vous savez pourquoi elle est partie.You know why she left.
Elles savent combien elles ont de temps.They know how much time they have.

When used in the past tense, savoir takes the slightly different meaning of “found out” to refer to the moment a thing is learned:

  • J’ai su qu’il était parti à Paris. (I found out he left for Paris.)

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The uses of “connaître”

Connaître is used with a noun, be it a person, a place or an object. When in doubt, remember that savoir contains the letter “v” for verb, whereas connaître contains a double “n” for noun:

  • Je connais bien Paris. (I know Paris well.)
  • Tu connais Caroline. (You know Caroline.)
  • Il connaît les conditions. (He knows the conditions.)

The verb connaître may take on a different meaning to express the idea of experiencing something:

  • Cet acteur a connu la célébrité très tôt. (This actor experiences fame very early on.)

In the past tense, connnaître may mean “to meet,” to reflect the first time you got to know someone:

  • Elle a connu son mari à l’université. (She met her husband at university.)

13 expressions with “connaître” vs. “savoir”

Connaître and savoir are two of the most frequently used verbs, including in a number of common expressions in French.

7 expressions with “savoir”

bien savoir

Example: Vous savez bien que c’est interdit.
to know full well

Example: You know full well this is forbidden.
croire tout savoir

Example:  Il croit tout savoir sur la question.
to think one knows everything

Example: He thinks he knows everything on the matter.
On ne sait jamais.You never know.
Qui sait?Who knows?
sans le savoir

Example: Elle a fait une erreur sans le savoir.
without knowing it 

Example: She made a mistake without knowing it.
Tu sais quoi?You know what?
Va savoir.Go figure.

6 expressions with “connaître”

connaître quelqu’un de nom

Example: Je connais cet auteur seulement de nom.
to know somebody by name

Example: I know this author only by name.
connaître par cœurto know by heart
connaître ses limitesto know one’s limits
en connaître un rayon

Example: J’ai travaillé dans un restaurant à Paris, alors j’en connais un rayon sur la cuisine française.
to know a lot about a topic

Example: I worked in a restaurant in Paris, so I know a lot about French cuisine.
connaître la musique

Example: Thomas s’énerve toujours pour un rien. Je connais la musique.
to know the score/to have heard it all before

Example: Thomas always gets angry over nothing. I know the score.
connaître la chanson

Example: Les clients changent toujours d’avis. Tu connais la chanson.
to know the score/to have heard it all before

Example: Customers always change their minds. You’ve heard it all before.

Spot the difference between “connaître” and “savoir”

While both verbs mean “to know,” they are used in different ways, with different structures and words. Put simply, savoir always involves a verb, whereas connaître needs a noun. When it comes to conjugation, savoir is also more irregular. But both are very common verbs and appear in various daily phrases. Understand these basic rules and you’ll be able to distinguish between savoir vs. connaître before you know it!

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Anne-Lise Vassoille

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries… Settled down in London, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

Anne-Lise Vassoille
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