Conjugating the Irregular French Verb Connaître ('to Know')

Its conjugation is so irregular that you just have to memorize it

women greeting each other
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Connaître, meaning "to know" or "to be familiar with," is a very frequently used French verb. Below are the simple conjugations of the verb; they do not include the compound tenses, which consist of a form of the auxiliary verb with the past participle.

'Connaître' as an Irregular French '-er' Verb

Connaître is an -re verb that is highly irregular. There are regular -er verbs and there are irregular -er verbs, and the irregular group can be organized into essentially five patterns around the verbs prendre, battre, mettre, rompre and those that end with the root word -craindre. 

But connaître does not fit into any of these patterns. It belongs to the remaining irregular -re verbs, which have such unusual or unwieldy conjugations that you have to memorize each one separately. These are very common and important verbs, so you really do have to learn them in order to communicate effectively in French. Try working on one verb a day until you've mastered them all. They include: absoudre, boire, clore, conclure, conduire, confire, connaître, coudre, croire, dire, écrire, faire, inscrire, lire, moudre, naître, plaire, rire, suivre and vivre.

'Connaître' as a Model for Irregular Verbs Ending in '-aître'

Connaître is so common and useful that its conjugation is the model for other French verbs ending in -aître; nearly all of them are conjugated like connaître. The big exception is naître.

The Difference Between 'Connaître' and 'Savoir' 

Both of these verbs mean "to know." But they mean "to know" in very different ways; as a very rough rule of thumb, savoir relates more to things and connaître relates more to people, although there is overlap on both sides.

The more you use French, the more you'll get a feel for this difference and won't make the mistake of confusing them. Here is a side-by-side look at their everyday meanings.

'Connaître' Means:

1. to know a person

  •    Je connais Pierrette. > I know Pierrette.

2. to be familiar with a person or thing

  •    Je connais bien Toulouse. > I know / am familiar with Toulouse.
  •   Je connais cette nouvelle. Je l'ai lue l'année dernière. > I know / am familiar with this short story. I read it last year.

'Savior' Means:

1. to know how to do something. Savoir is followed by an infinitive (the word "how" is not translated into French):

  •     Savez-vous conduire ? > Do you know how to drive?
  •     Je ne sais pas nager. >  I don't know how to swim.

2.  to know, plus a subordinate clause:

  •    Je sais qu'il l'a fait. > I know he did it.
  •    Je sais où il est. > I know where he is

Use Either 'Connaître' or 'Savoir': 

For the following meanings, either verb can be used.

1. to know (have) a piece of information

  •    Je sais / connais son nom. > I know his name.
  •   Nous savons / connaissons déjà sa réponse. > We already know his response.

2. to know by heart (have memorized)

  •    Elle sait / connaît cette chanson par cœur. > She knows this song by heart.
  •    Sais-tu / Connais-tu ton discours par cœur ? > Do you know your speech by heart?

Simple Conjugations of the Irregular French Verb 'Connaître'

 Present Future Imperfect Present participle
ilconnaîtconnaîtraconnaissaitPassé composé
nousconnaissonsconnaîtronsconnaissions   Auxiliary verb avoir
vousconnaissezconnaîtrezconnaissiez   Past participleconnu
 Subjunctive Conditional Passé simple Imperfect subjunctive
tuconnaissesconnaîtrais connusconnusses

(nous) connaissons