Know the Difference Between Spanish Verbs 'Saber' and 'Conocer'

Both Verbs Mean 'To Know' in Different Ways

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The Spanish verbs saber and conocer both mean "to know" in English but they are not interchangeable. There is a cardinal rule when you're translating in any language: translate meaning, not words.

The two verbs have different meanings. The Spanish verb conocer, which comes from the same root as the English words "cognition" and "recognize," generally means "to be familiar with." You would use conocer in the following ways; note it is conjugated to agree with the person and tense:

Spanish SentenceEnglish Translation
Conozco a Pedro.I know Pedro.
¿Conoces a María?Do you know Maria?
No conozco Guadalajara.I don't know Guadalajara. Or, I haven't been to Guadalajara.
Conócete a ti mismo.Know yourself.

The most common meaning for Saber is "to know a fact," "to know how" or "to possess knowledge." Following are examples of saber in a sentence:

Spanish SentenceEnglish Translation
No sé nada.I don't know anything.
Él no sabe nadar.He doesn't know how to swim.
No sé nada de Pedro.I don't have any news about Pedro.

Secondary Meanings of Saber and Conocer

Conocer also can mean "to meet," just as we use might say in English, "Pleased to meet you" upon meeting someone. Conocer can be used in the preterite past tense as well, for example, Conocí a mi esposa en Vancouver, which means, "I met my wife in Vancouver." In some contexts, it also can mean "to recognize," although there also is a verb, reconocer, that means "to recognize."

Saber can mean "to have flavor," as in sabe bien, which means "it tastes good." 

Both conocer and saber are fairly common verbs, and both are irregular verbs, meaning their conjugation patterns break from regular - er ending verbs. To differentiate , the first-person present singular of saber, from se, a reflexive pronoun, note that there is an accent.

Phrases Using Saber and Conocer

The two verbs are used commonly in idiomatic phrases.

Spanish PhraseEnglish Translation
a sabernamely
conocer al dedillo o conocer palmo a palmoto know like the palm of one's hand
conocer de vistato know by sight
cuando lo supewhen I found out
dar a conocerto make known
darse a conocerto make oneself known
me sabe malI feel bad about
no saber ni jota (o papa) de algo to not have a clue about something
no se sabenobody knows
para que lo sepasfor your information
que yo sepa as far as I know
¿Quién sabe?Who knows?
se conoce que apparently
según mi leal saber y entenderto the best of my knowledge
¿Se puede saber ... ?May I ask ...?
se sabe queit is known that
vete (tú) a sabergoodness knows
¡Yo que sé! or ¿Qué sé yo?I have no idea! How am I supposed to know?

Other Spanish Verbs With Similiar Meanings

As in English, there are verbs that sometimes have the same meaning, but are used differently depending on the context of the sentence. The following Spanish verbs meaning, "to be," "to look," "to have" and "to hear," can be a little tricky. Below is a guide for these commonly mistaken verbs.

Ser and Estar

Both ser and estar mean "to be." Ser is used to talk about permanent or lasting attributes.

There is an acronym to help Spanish learners remember when ser is used: DOCTOR, which stands for descriptions, occupations, characteristics, time, origin and relationships. Examples include, Yo soy Maria, for "I am Maria," or ​Hoy es Martes, for "Today is Tuesday."

Estar is used to express a temporary condition or location. A good mnemonic to remember estar is another acronym: PLACE, which stands for position, location, action, condition and emotion. For example, Estamos en el cafe, means, "We are in the cafe." Or, Estoy triste, which means, "I am sad."

Mirar, Ver and Buscar

The English verb "to look" can be expressed in most cases interchangeably by the verb mirar or ver in Spanish when you want to say "to look at" or "to watch." For instance, if you want to say, "Want to watch the game?" a Spanish speaker can say either ¿Quieres ver el partido?

or ¿Quieres mirar el partido?

The verb buscar has a slightly different meaning, it is used to express the idea "to look for." For example, Estoy buscando un partido, which means, "I am looking for a game."

Haber and Tener

Both tener and haber mean "to have." Tener is used mostly as the active verb. If you "have something," you would use ​tener. Haber is mostly used like a helping verb in Spanish. For an example in English, we might say, "I have been to the grocery store." The "have" in the sentence is a helping verb.

Escuchar and Oir

Both escuchar and oir mean, "to hear," however, oir refers to the physical capacity to hear, and escuchar implies that one is paying attention or listening to a sound.