French Verbs to Know: Savoir and Connaître

Couples meeting, greeting, and getting to know one another at a fancy restaurant

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French has two verbs which can be translated to the English verb "to know": savoir and connaître. This can be confusing to English speakers (though it might be easy for Spanish speakers), because in fact there are distinct differences in meaning and usage for the two verbs.

Possible Uses for Savoir

  1. to know how to do something; savoir is followed by an infinitive (note that the word "how" is not translated into French):
  2. Savez-vous conduire ?
    Do you know how to drive?
  3. Je ne sais pas nager.
    I don't know how to swim.
  4. "to know" plus a subordinate clause:
  5. Je sais qu'il l'a fait.
    I know he did it.
  6. Je sais où il est.
    I know where he is.
  7. In the passé composé, savoir means "to learn" or "to find out":
  8. J'ai su qu'il l'a fait.
    I found out that he did it.

Possible Uses for Connaître

  1. to know a person
  2. Je connais Pierrette.
    I know Pierrette.
  3. to be familiar or acquainted with a person or thing
  4. Je connais bien Toulouse.
    I know / am familiar with Toulouse.
  5. Je connais cette nouvelle - je l'ai lue l'année dernière.
    I know / am familiar with this short story - I read it last year.
  6. In the passé composé, connaître means "to meet (for the first time) / become acquainted with":
  7. J'ai connu Pierrette à Lyon.
    I met Pierrette in Lyon.
  8. Note that connaître always needs a direct object; it cannot be followed by a clause or infinitive:
  9. Je connais son poème.
    I am familiar with his poem.
  10. Je connais bien ton père.
    I know your father well.
  11. Nous connaissons Paris.
    We know/are familiar with Paris.
  12. Il la connaît.
    He knows her.

Savoir or Connaître

For some meanings, either verb can be used.

  1. to know (have) a piece of information:
  2. Je sais / connais son nom.
    I know his name.
  3. Nous savons / connaissons déjà sa réponse.
    We already know his response.
  4. to know by heart (have memorized):
  5. Elle sait / connaît cette chanson par cœur.
    She knows this song by heart.
  6. Sais-tu / Connais-tu ton discours par cœur?
    Do you know your speech by heart?

Ignorer

Ignorer is a related verb which means "not to know" in the sense of "to be unaware of." Depending on the context, it can replace either ne pas savoir or ne pas connaître.

  1. J'ignore quand il arrivera.
    I don't know when he is arriving.
  2. Il ignore Ionesco.
    He's not aware of (doesn't know about) Ionesco.