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When our students use a dictionary — whether it’s a physical one or an application installed on their phone — to look up the Spanish verbs saber and conocer, they usually find the same translation for both words: in English, to know. As a result, in addition to realizing their search was pretty useless, they start to feel a bit stressed as they remember other classic Spanish grammar issues they’ve studied, like the differences between ser and estar or por vs. para.
Today we aim to ease your mind by explaining the differences between saber and conocer. If you want to read this post in Spanish, click here.
Since both verbs have very similar meanings, and in many languages a single verb is used to translate both of them, we recommend you keep the following cheat sheet in mind:
Acquired knowledge or ability
We use the verb saber to talk about knowledge we have acquired through instruction, training, study, or any other means.
We also use saber to talk about abilities.
We use the verb conocer to talk about knowledge we have gained through experience (or perception).
*Note that conocer + a place means that you have been there
Take a look at these pairs of sentences:
In the first case (a), we are referring to knowledge that we have acquired through studying or reading about the weather in Malaga.
In the second case (b), we are talking about a lived experience we have had. We have personally enjoyed/suffered the summer heat in Malaga.
In the latter case (b) we know the director of studies personally (we have talked to him, said hi to him, or asked him a question at some point or another).
In the former case (a) we know his identity (who he is, what his name is, where his office is) but haven’t actually had the pleasure of meeting him in person.
Thanks to Ramón from our school in Malaga for writing this post.