Difference Between ‘Saber’ and ‘Conocer’ in Spanish


Most of the time, new Spanish learners have some difficulties telling the difference between saber and conocer in Spanish. Even though these verbs are the direct translation of ‘to know’, their nuances in meaning prevent us from using them interchangeably. 

So what’s the difference between ‘saber’ and ‘conocer’ in Spanish? Saber is used to express that someone has the ability or knowledge to perform an activity. It also implies that a person has knowledge about a topic or event. Conocer expresses that someone is familiar with a topic, person or place.  

On top of being slightly different in meaning, saber and conocer are also used with different structures. Therefore, learning the difference between these verbs will help you avoid some common Spanish mistakes. In order to help you understand these verbs better, in this article we are going to discuss when and how to use them.

Saber – To knowConocer – To know
– Saber implies that someone has knowledge about a certain topic or event.
– It is also used to express that someone has the ability to perform an activity.
– It works with interrogative words such as qué, cuál, dónde, quién, cómo, por qué, cuándo.
– Conocer expresses that you are familiar with a topic or event.
– It is used to talk about the places and people you know.
Mara sabe mucho de historia
Maria knows a lot about History

Ramón sabe hablar tres idiomas
Ramon knows how to speak three languages
No conozco mucho de futbol
I don’t know a lot about soccer

Mis papás conocen a mis amigos
My parents know my friends

What’s the difference between ‘saber’ and ‘conocer’?

Although saber and conocer are the direct translation of ‘to know’, in Spanish, we use these verbs in different contexts. Saber is used to expressing that someone has the ability and knowledge to perform an activity like speaking a language, cooking, driving a car, etc. It also expresses that someone has knowledge about a topic or event. 

Mis primas saben hablar coreano My cousins know how to speak Korean

Sé que a Marco le gusta el color azul y la comida china I know that Marco likes the color blue and Chinese food

Unlike ‘saber’, conocer doesn’t express that someone has the knowledge about certain topics or events, it rather means that the person is familiar with them. 

Conozco la canción, pero no me la sé de memoria I know the song, but I don’t know it by heart

Even though the English translation is the same for both saber and conocer, in Spanish the meaning of these verbs is slightly different. In the previous example, we would only use saber if we knew the lyrics of the song. But if you use conocer instead, you’re expressing that you’ve heard the song before, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would be able to sing it.

Just as in English you use ‘to know’ to express that you and someone else are acquaintances, but in Spanish, we use conocer. ‘Conocer’ is also used to express that you know a country or city because you visited them. 

Yazmín conoce París y Alemania Yazmin knows Paris and Germany

Conozco a la hermana de Pedro, pero nunca hemos hablado I know Pedro’s sister, but we’ve never talked

If you still don’t understand the difference between saber and conocer, in the following sections we’ll talk in-depth about how and when to use each verb.

When to Use ‘Saber’ in Spanish

As mentioned earlier, ‘saber’ is the direct translation of ‘to know’ and is used to express that someone has the ability or the knowledge about a topic, action or event. Depending on what you want to express, ‘saber’ will work with different structures. 

To express the ability/knowledge to do something

In Spanish, we use saber to talk about someone’s ability or knowledge to do some activities. In this context, saber can be translated as ‘to be able to’ or ‘know how to’.  This is the structure we use:

Saber + infinitive verb

La mamá de Juan Pablo sabe hacer pasteles Juan Pablo’s mom knows how to bake

Mis hermanos saben hablar francés My brothers can speak french

¿Sabes conducir? Do you know how to drive?

Saber can also be used in its negative form to express that someone doesn’t have the knowledge or ability to do something. 

Saber (conjugated) + no + infinitive verb

No sé conducir I can’t drive

Mis hermanos no saben hablar francés My brothers can’t speak french

La mamá de Juan Pablo no sabe hacer pasteles Juan Pablo’s mom doesn’t know how to bake

To ask someone’s else about information

In Spanish, when we want to ask someone if they know (have the knowledge) about certain information, we use the verb saber. In this case, we need to use the following interrogative words:

Saber (conjugated) + interrogative word + verb (conjugated)

¿Daniel sabe por qué su hermana está enojada conmigo? Does Daniel know why his sister is mad at me?

¿Sabes dónde está la central de autobuses más cercana? Do you know where is the next bus station?

¿Ustedes saben cuándo vamos a ir a la playa? Do you guys know when are we going to go to the beach?

¿No sabes cuál es el libro favorito de tu mamá? Don’t you know which one is your mom’s favorite book?

Take Note: When using interrogative words, you need to conjugate both saber and the second verb you want to use. However, when using cómo, the structure needs some modifications. 

Saber (conjugated) + interrogative word + infinitive verb

¿Sabes cómo llegar al centro? Do you know how to get to downtown?

Saberse: To express that someone has some knowledge about a topic or event

This use of the verb saber is the one that causes more confusion among Spanish learners. In this situation, saber expresses that you or someone else has some knowledge about a topic or event. As a result, we need to do some minor modifications to the structure we discussed in the previous section. 

Saberse (conjugated) + noun

Yo me sé todos los cumpleaños de mis amigos I know all my friends’ birthdays

Laura y Arturo se saben todas las canciones de Queen Laura and Arturo know all the songs by Queen

Mi abuela y yo nos sabemos muchas historias de terror My grandma and I know a lot of horror stories

When talking about your or someone else’s knowledge, in conversational Spanish, we change saber to saberse. Even though the verb may seem very different, its meaning and structure remain the same. You can also use this verb in its negative form:

No + Saberse (conjugated) + noun

Yo no me sé los cumpleaños de mis amigos I don’t know my friends’ birthdays

Mi abuela y yo nos sabemos muchas historias de terror My grandma and I know don’t know a lot of horror stories

As you may notice, saberse is conjugated just as saber. However, in its infinitive form, ‘saberse’ has a pronoun and, therefore, it works similarly to reflexive verbs. These verbs may be a little bit confusing and complicated to understand since their structure is new to Spanish learners. Since using these verbs is very important in Spanish, I wrote this guide to reflexive verbs. In this guide, you will find how to conjugate reflexive verbs, how to use these verbs and where to place the pronoun. 

When to Use ‘Conocer’ in Spanish

As mentioned earlier, conocer is used as ‘to know’ for contexts that ‘saber’ is not. On top of the nuances in meaning, saber and conocer follow different grammatical structures. For instance, conocer never works with another verb. Here are some of the most common uses of this verb in Spanish. 

To express that we are familiar with a topic or an event

Even though ‘conocer’ is translated as ‘to know’, this verb has some nuances in meaning. Unlike ‘saber’, conocer expresses that someone is familiar with a topic or an event. However, this doesn’t mean that you have knowledge about them. Here is an example where you can appreciate the difference in meaning:

Yo conozco a Napoleón I know Napoleon

Todos saben quién es Napoleón Bonaparte Everybody know who Napoleon is

In the first sentence, you’re expressing that you know about Napoleon because is a history subject that everybody studies at some point. However, in the second example, conocer is talking about an acquaintance. This is the structure that we use to express conscious or familiarity with a certain topic. 

 Conocer (conjugated) + noun

Conozco algunas palabras coloquiales en español mexicano I know some slang words in Mexican Spanish

Mis papás conocen mi canción favorita, pero no se saben la letra My parents know my favorite song, but they don’t know the lyrics

To express that we know a place 

Another common use of ‘conocer’ is to express that we are familiar with a place because at some point you visited. In this context, you can talk about a country, a city as well as establishments. Keep in mind that when talking about countries and cities, conocer could be also translated as ‘to visit’. 

 Conocer (conjugated) + country/ city

Mi mejor amiga conoce México y España My best friend knows Mexico and Spain

El próximo año conoceré Madrid y Berlín Next year I’ll visit Madrid and Berlin

When using ‘conocer’ to talk about the establishments you know, you’ll need to make some modifications to the previous structure. 

 Conocer (conjugated) + el/la/los/las + noun 

Ayer conocimos la Catedral de Barcelona Yesterday we visited Barcelona’s Cathedral

Karina conoce los mejores restaurantes de Guadalajara Karina knows the best restaurants in Guadalajara

To express that we know a person

When talking about people that you know in Spanish, you need to use the verb ‘conocer’. In this case, ‘conocer’ implies that you’re familiar with that person or that he or she is an acquaintance of yours. Furthermore, depending on the context, conocer may be the direct translation of ‘to meet’. 

 Conocer + a + person

Karla conoció a su novio en la secundaria Karla met her boyfriend in junior high

Conozco a la hermana de mi vecina y a su mamá I know my neighbor’s sister and her mom

Wrapping Up

In this article, we discussed the difference between saber and conocer and learned that even though these verbs are translated as ‘to know’, in Spanish they are not interchangeable. Learning when and how to use these verbs will help you improve your Spanish fluency and vocabulary. Just as ‘saber’ and ‘conocer’, there are other Spanish verbs that are easily confused because of their English Translation. In this article, I talk about the difference between contar, decir and hablar and how to use these verbs properly. 

Here are some key points you should remember when using conocer and saber:

Key points

  • Saber implies that someone has knowledge about a certain topic or event. In informal Spanish, we use the form saberse. 
  • Conocer expresses that you are familiar with a topic or event.
  • We use saber with interrogative words such as qué, cuál, dónde, quién, cómo, por qué, cuándo. Saber is also used to express that someone has the ability to perform an activity. 
  • Conocer is used to talk about the places and people you know. It never works with another verb. 

Related Questions

What’s “know by heart” in Spanish? Saber de memoria is the Spanish equivalent of ‘know by heart’. In informal and conversational Spanish, we use saberse de memoria. 

Mi hermana se sabe esas canciones de memoria My sister knows those songs by heart

Related Resources
‘Saber’ vs ‘Conocer’ quiz

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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