Saber vs. Conocer Rules | Practical Tips & Examples

Have you  ever heard this eye-rolling phrase that plagues the Spanish language: “it depends on the context”? 

Well, this is one of those moments. Only this time, the contexts are pretty clear, with little room for overlapping, yay!

The English language is, for this purpose, blissfully concise. The verb ‘to know’ is used for all the circumstances in which we would use saber or conocer in Spanish, which often leaves English speakers scratching their heads.

when to use saber

Saber and conocer are not interchangeable. They not only mean different things… whichever one you pick depends entirely on the context.

The trick here is to change the way you think about these verbs. Your English trained brain will fight you on this one but with patience and perseverance, you can conquer it.

It is quite simple: Associate ONLY the word saber with the English translation to know.  And translate conocer as follows: to be acquainted/familiar with, to meet, and to have been to.

Now let’s get into it.

When to Use Saber...


Saber is used to talk about:

  1. FACTS

  2. INFORMATION

  3. LEARNED SKILLS

  • *Tip: You will often see the verb saber followed by interrogative pronouns such as por qué, que, qué, quién, dónde, adónde, cuándo, cuál.

1. Examples for how to use saber when talking about FACTS (or lack thereof):

When to use saber and conocer

-Yo sé que tú sabes leer, de lo contrario no podrías entender este artículo.

-I know that you know how to read, otherwise you couldn’t understand this article.

-Ellos no saben que nosotros sabemos que ellos saben que nosotros sabemos.

-They don’t know that we know that they know that we know.

-¿Sabías que la cabeza humana pesa ocho libras?

-Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds?

-Nadie sabe por qué Ana no ya llegado a su casa todavía. Estamos preocupados por ella.

-Nobody knows why Ana hasn’t arrived home yet. We are worried about her.

2. Examples of how to use saber when talking about INFORMATION (or lack thereof):

using conocer

A: ¿Sabes a qué hora empieza la película?

  Do you know at what time the movie starts?

B: ¿Sabías que hay un tablero delante tuyo con los horarios de todas las películas?

  Did you know that there is a board in front of you with the schedules of all the movies?

A: No, no sabía.

  No, I didn’t know.

B: Pues bien, ahora lo sabes.

  Well, now you know it.

3. Examples of how to use saber when talking about LEARNED SKILLS (or lack thereof):

Use Saber plus infinitive
how to use conocer

-Él sabe cocinar las mejores empanadas pero no sabe tratar a la gente.

 -He knows how to cook the best empanadas but he doesn’t know how to treat people.

-Ella sabe pintar los mejores cuadros pero no sabe cocinar.

-She knows how to paint the best pictures but she doesn’t know how to cook.

-Juan sabe editar videos.

-Juan knows how to edit videos.

-Yo no sé manejar, tengo que aprender.

-I don’t know how to drive, I have to learn.

-¿Sabes usar tu imaginación para inventarle un final a la historia?

Do you know how to use your imagination to make up the end of a story?

When to Use Conocer...


Conocer is used to express familiarity or an acquaintance with a:

  1. PERSON

  2. PLACE

  3. THING

1. Examples of how to use conocer when talking about familiarity or an acquaintance (or lack thereof) with a PERSON:

a) There is a special rule that applies specifically when talking about people. 

Don’t worry, it’s quick and easy.

We will call it personal ‘a’. You simply add the preposition ‘a’ after the verb conocer and right before the person.

For example: Conozco a Nate.

Let’s look at a few other examples:

Using conocer and saber

No conozco a tu mamá pero conozco a tu papá.

I don’t know your mom but I know your dad.

Conocí a tu vecino la última vez que vine de visita.

I met your neighbor the last time I came to visit you.

¿Conoces a su novio?

Do you know his/her boyfriend?

b) Conocer is also used when meeting someone for the first time:

Fue un gusto conocerla.

It was nice to meet you.

¡Me encantó conocerte finalmente!

I loved finally meeting you.

Conocí a mi suegra la semana pasada.

I met my mother-in-law last week.

c) …And meeting someone for the first time in reciprocal sentences:
Spanish mistakes

A: ¿Cuándo se conocieron?               

When did you guys meet?

B: Nos conocimos hace dos años.   

We met 2 years ago.

A: ¿Cómo se conocieron?                    

How did you meet?

B: Nos conocimos en la Universidad. 

We met at the university.

2. Examples of how to use conocer when talking about familiarity or acquaintance (or lack thereof) with a PLACE:

Buenos Aires

-Conozco Buenos Aires pero no conozco el resto de Argentina.

-I know Buenos Aires but I don’t know the rest of Argentina.

-¿Conoces la casa de sus padres?

-Do you know his/her parents’ house?

-Conocemos el camino hacia la finca.

-We know the way to the farm.

3. Examples of how to use conocer when talking about familiarity or acquaintance (or lack thereof) with a THING:

-Conozco este ascensor. Es muy lento, es mejor usar el otro.

-I'm familiar with this elevator. It’s very slow, it’s better to use the other one.

Saber practice examples

-No conozco este barrio muy bien, creo que debemos pedir direcciones a alguien.

-I don’t know this neighborhood well, I think we should ask someone for directions.

A: ¿Conoces este modelo de celular? 

Do you know this type of phone?

B: Sí, lo conozco. ¿Necesitas uno nuevo?

Yes, I do. Do you need a new one?

Interchangeability Between Saber and Conocer

By now, you hopefully have a pretty clear idea of the difference between saber and conocer.

There is a gray area (isn’t there always?) where a kind-of-interchangeability may occur, and that is when talking about abstract ideas.

However, it is not something you should overly concern yourself with. It will come naturally with practice.

Below are a couple of examples of what I mean:

Spanish Travel words

-El arqueólogo quiere conocer el motivo por el que se extinguieron los dinosaurios.

 -The archaeologist wants to know the reason why dinosaurs became extinct.

-El arqueólogo quiere saber el motivo por el que se extinguieron los dinosaurios.

-The archaeologist wants to know the reason why dinosaurs became extinct.

There is a subtle difference in the meaning of each of those two sentences.

The first one (using conocer), refers to wanting to find out the truth and the second one (using saber) refers to wanting to know something for a fact.

Yes, there is a subtle difference!

Summing Up Saber vs. Conocer

Saber

Conocer

Facts

Person

Information

Place

Learned Skills

Thing

Knowing when to use saber and when to use conocer is no simple task.  

Let's take a look at what we learned one last time and at the end I've made sure to give a few more saber vs. conocer examples to make sure you've grasped what's been taught.

Saber: to know.


Conocer: to be acquainted/familiar with, to meet, to have been to.

Saber is used to talk about:

  • FACTS
  • INFORMATION
  • LEARNED SKILLS

                (or lack thereof)

Conocer is used to express familiarity or acquaintance with a:

  • PERSON - pronoun a, meeting for the first time, reciprocal sentences
  • PLACE
  • THING

                (or lack thereof)

Best TV Series to Learn Spanish

Practice makes….better, much better! (What is perfection anyway?)

Practice with your tutor interchanging saber and conocer in the same sentence, noticing how the meaning of it changes depending on which one you use.

A Few More Conocer vs. Saber Examples...

-Harry no sabe dónde está Malta.

-Harry doesn’t know where Malta is.

Conocer practice

-Harry no conoce Malta.

 -Harry doesn’t know Malta.

-Mike no sabe acerca del nuevo centro comercial.

-Mike doesn’t know about the new mall.

-Mike no conoce el nuevo centro comercial.

 -Mike isn't familiar with the new mall.

-Ella no sabe cuál es la capital de Indiana.

 -She doesn’t know what the capital of Indiana is.

-Ella no conoce la capital de Indiana.

-She doesn’t know the capital of Indiana.

Take some time to practice the common uses of both saber and conocer with native Spanish speakers.

Be creative with your time, practice on your way to and from work, in the shower, and before bed (you may even dream in Spanish!)

Work diligently with your tutor and don’t forget to have fun with it!

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