Saber vs conocer: A splendid guide on when to use them + chart

Learning a new language will expose you to different ways of seeing the world, and the difference between saber and conocer in Spanish is a perfect example.

While many words translate very easily from English to Spanish, there are certain words and expressions that don’t have a comparable counterpart. That’s usually not because of a simple lack of vocabulary, but rather because different languages have different ways of understanding the world. Getting exposure to these differences is one of the biggest benefits of learning a foreign language, as you will gain a brand-new understanding of concepts that you thought you were already fully familiar with.

The difference between saber and conocer in Spanish is a new concept for English speakers. If you’ve already taken some Spanish classes before, you might already know that both of these verbs translate into the verb “to know.” However, these Spanish verbs cannot be used interchangeably, as Spanish considers there to be different types of knowledge or different levels of knowledge. For example, you can know something for a fact, but you can also know a place. Spanish uses these two different verbs to differentiate between these two (and more!) situations.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between saber and conocer, how to conjugate them, and more!

Conocer or saber?

Roughly, the difference between conocer and saber is that conocer implies a more superficial knowledge while saber implies a deeper understanding. You might know of something, but that doesn’t mean your knowledge is deep. For example, if you’ve heard of the country of Uruguay, you could say you know of Uruguay. However, if you’ve lived in Uruguay for several years, you could say you know Uruguay.

However, keep in mind that conocer and saber cannot be used interchangeably. In other words, there is always one correct verb to use — you cannot choose between one of the two to denote your knowledge level on the subject. Although this means you will have to memorize which verb to use depending on the situation, we will cover some of the most common ways to use them below to help you get started.

When to use saber

As you now know, the verb saber is used to denote a deeper understanding or acquaintance with a certain concept or skill. Here are some of the most popular ways to use them.

1. When talking about information

The verb saber is the most common for expressing knowledge on most types of information. This is what you would use to say I don’t know in Spanish. Use this verb any time you talk about all kinds of information that you know (or don’t know!).

The verb saber is used to denote a deeper understanding or acquaintance with a certain concept or skill.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
I don’t know how to get home. No cómo llegar a casa. no seh coh-moh yeh-gar ah cah-sah ˈno ˈse ˈkomo ʎeˈɣaɾ a ˈkasa ‖
Do you know when this school was founded? ¿Sabes en qué año se fundó esta escuela? sah-bess ehn keh ah-nyoh seh foon-doe ess-tah ess-coo-eh-lah ˈsaβes en ˈke ˈaɲo se funˈdo ˈesta esˈkwela ‖
I know that María lives in Denmark, but I don’t know in which city exactly. que María vive en Dinamarca, pero no exactamente en qué ciudad. seh keh mah-ree-ah vee-veh ehn dee-na-mar-cah, pear-oh no seh ex-ac-ta-mehn-teh ehn keh see-ooh-dahd ˈse ˈke maˈɾia ˈβiβe en dinaˈmaɾka | ˈpeɾo ˈno ˈse eksaktaˈmente en ˈke θjuˈðað ‖

2. When talking about skills

This is an essential verb if you want to get to know someone and what they’re interested in. If you’re looking to date a Spanish speaker, perhaps you should learn how to use the verb saber before you set out to memorize dozens of Spanish pick-up lines. You’ll be able to ask your date if they know how to play any sports, play any instruments, how many languages they can speak, and any other hobbies they might have.

Friends playing chess in the park.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
I know how to play chess, but I’m not very good at it. jugar ajedrez, pero no soy muy bueno. seh who-gar ah-heh-dress, pear-oh no soy mooy boo-eh-no ˈse xuˈɣaɾ axeˈðɾeθ | ˈpeɾo ˈno ˈsoj muj ˈβweno ‖
My siblings and I know how to play the flute. Mis hermanos y yo sabemos tocar la flauta. mees air-mah-noss e yo sah-beh-moss to-car la fla-ooh-tah mis eɾˈmanos i ˈʝo saˈβemos toˈkaɾ la ˈflawta ‖
Do you know how to speak Mandarin Chinese? ¿Sabes hablar Chino Mandarín? sah-bess ah-blar chee-no man-dah-reen ˈsaβes aˈβlaɾ ˈʧino mandaˈɾin ‖

3. When talking about facts

Use the verb saber to talk about things that you know to be true, like any events that happened recently or your mom’s favorite type of flowers. This can also be a very helpful verb to know as you travel through Spanish-speaking countries.

Train times from Uscita to Valencia.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
We don’t know when our cat escaped. No sabemos cuándo se escapó nuestro gato. no sah-beh-moss coo-ahn-doe seh ess-cah-poh noo-ess-troh gah-toe ˈno saˈβemos ˈkwando se eskaˈpo ˈnwestɾo ˈɣato ‖
I know that my mom’s favorite flowers are petunias. que las flores favoritas de mi mamá son las petunias. seh keh las floh-ress fah-vor-e-tass deh me ma-mah sohn lass peh-too-nee-ass ˈse ˈke las ˈfloɾes faβoˈɾitaz ðe mi maˈma ˈson las peˈtunjas ‖
Do you know what time the train to Valencia departs? ¿Sabes a qué hora sale el tren a Valencia? sah-bess ah keh oh-rah sah-leh elle tren ah vah-lehn-see-ah ˈsaβes a ˈke ˈoɾa ˈsale el ˈtɾen a βaˈlenθja ‖

When to use conocer

The Spanish verb conocer is used to talk about things that you’re familiar with and places that you’ve been to. It doesn’t denote such a deep sense of knowledge as the verb saber, but rather implies that you’re aware of something. Here are some common ways to use the verb conocer in Spanish.

1. When talking about things you know of

As mentioned earlier in this article, you’ll want to use the verb conocer when talking about things you know of or have heard of before. These can be things like abstract ideas, businesses, and virtually any noun that you’ve heard of before.

Taking in the scenery.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
I knew the real heat when I visited Northern Mexico over the summer. Conocí el calor cuando visité el norte de México en verano. coe-no-see elle cah-lore coo-ahn-doe vee-see-teh elle nor-teh deh meh-he-coe ehn veh-rah-no konoˈθi el kaˈloɾ ˈkwando βisiˈte el ˈnoɾte ðe ˈmexiko em beˈɾano ‖
I don’t know that clothing brand, is it new? No conozco esa marca de ropa, ¿es nueva? no coh-noss-coe eh-sah mar-cah deh ro-pah, es noo-eh-vah ˈno koˈnoθko ˈesa ˈmaɾka ðe ˈropa | ˈez ˈnweβa ‖
The teacher says that he knows a website with excellent resources for learning Spanish. It’s called Berlitz! El maestro dice que conoce una página de internet con muy buenos recursos para aprender Español. ¡Se llama Berlitz! elle mah-ess-troh dee-seh keh coh-no-seh oo-nah pah-he-nah deh een-ter-net con mooy boo-eh-nos reh-coor-sos pah-rah ah-prehn dehr es-pah-nyol. seh yah-mah ber-leetz el maˈestɾo ˈðiθe ˈke koˈnoθe ˈuna ˈpaxina ðe jnteɾˈnet kom muj ˈβwenoz reˈkuɾsos ˈpaɾa apɾenˈdeɾ espaˈɲol ‖ se ˈʎama βeɾˈlitθ ‖

2. When talking about people you know

This might be an exception to our rule about the intensity of knowledge, as you can know a person extremely well and you’d still use the verb conocer. Whether it’s someone you’ve only met once, a close family member, or someone you’ve only heard of, you want to use this Spanish verb!

Conocer and the preposition a

One important thing to keep in mind is to always use the Spanish preposition “a” when talking about people you know. This can be tricky for English speakers, as English doesn’t use any prepositions for these cases. Just remember to always use it when talking about people you know!

Two young brothers flying paper aeroplanes.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
Do you know Pedro’s sister? ¿Conoces a la hermana de Pedro? coh-noh-sehs ah la air-ma-nah deh peh-droh koˈnoθes a la eɾˈmana ðe ˈpeðɾo ‖
I know all of his family, but not very well. Conozco a toda su familia, pero no muy bien. coh-noss-coe ah toh-dah soo fah-me-lee-ah, pear-oh no mooy bee-ehn koˈnoθko a ˈtoða su faˈmilja | ˈpeɾo ˈno muj ˈβjen ‖
Of course I know her! She’s my sister. ¡Claro que la conozco! Es mi hermana. clah-roh keh la co-noss-coh! ess me air-mah-nah ˈklaɾo ˈke la koˈnoθko ‖ ˈez mj eɾˈmana ‖

3. When talking about places

Another instance of not following our rule on the depth of knowledge, you’ll want to always use the Spanish verb conocer when talking about places you’ve been to. Whether talking about different neighborhoods in your city or all the different countries you’ve been to, remember to always use conocer!

Friends travelling by van through Europe in summer.

English Spanish Pronunciation IPA
She lives in Buenos Aires, she must know a good neighborhood for tourists. Ella vive en Buenos Aires, seguro conoce un buen vecindario para turistas. eh-yah vee-veh ehn boo-eh-nos ah--e-ress, seh-goo-roe coh-noh-seh oon boo-ehn veh-seen-dah-re-oh pah-rah too-rees-tas ˈeʎa ˈβiβe em ˈbwenos ˈajɾes | seˈɣuɾo koˈnoθe wm ˈbwem beθinˈdaɾjo ˈpaɾa tuˈɾistas ‖
I’ve been almost everywhere in Europe, but I still haven’t been to Portugal. Conozco casi toda Europa, pero aún no conozco Portugal. coh-noss-coe cah-see toe-dah eh-ooh-roh-pah, pear-oh ah-oon no coe-noss-coh pore-too-gall koˈnoθko ˈkasi ˈtoða ewˈɾopa | ˈpeɾo aˈun ˈno koˈnoθko poɾtuˈɣal ‖
My parents have already been to all fifty states in the United States. Mis papás ya conocen los cincuenta estados de Estados Unidos. mees pah-pas yah coh-noh-sehn los seen-coo-ehn-tah ess-tah-doss deh ess-tah-doss oo-nee-doss mis paˈpaz ʝa koˈnoθen los θinˈkwenta esˈtaðoz ðe esˈtaðos uˈniðos ‖

Saber vs. conocer present conjugations chart

Any Spanish learner knows that knowing how to use a verb is only half the battle — knowing how to conjugate it is the other half. To make sure you have everything you need to master these tricky verbs, we’ve included helpful conjugation charts for you below.

Saber conjugation

The verb saber is an irregular verb. This means that you cannot follow the normal conjugation rules for verbs that end in –er. Instead, you will have to memorize the specific conjugation form of each person in each tense for this verb. Don’t worry, though, we promise it’s not as hard as it sounds! Here’s the present indicative conjugation for the verb saber.

Person Spanish Pronunciation IPA
First person singular Yo seh ˈse
Second person singular sabes sah-bess ˈsaβes
Second person singular (formal) Usted sabe sah-beh ˈsaβe
Third person singular Él / ella sabe sah-beh ˈsaβe
First person plural Nosotros sabemos sah-beh-moss saˈβemos
Second person plural Ustedes saben sah-behn ˈsaβen
Second person plural (Spain) Vosotros sabéis sah-base saˈβejs
Third person plural Ellos / ellas saben sah-behn ˈsaβen

Saber conjugations in past and future tense

Person Past Pronunciation IPA Future Pronunciation IPA
First person singular Yo supe soo-peh ˈsupe Yo sabré sah-breh sabré
Second person singular supiste soo-pees-teh suˈpiste sabrás sah-brass sabrás
Second person singular (formal) Usted supo soo-poe ˈsupo Usted sabrá sah-brah sabrá
Third person singular Él / ella supo soo-poe ˈsupo Él / ella sabrá sah-brah sabrá
First person plural Nosotros supimos soo-pee-moss suˈpimos Nosotros sabremos sah-breh-moss sabremos
Second person plural Ustedes supieron soo-pee-air-ohn suˈpjeɾon Ustedes sabrán sah-brahn sabrán
Second person plural (Spain) Vosotros supisteis soo-pees-tace suˈpistejs Vosotros sabréis sah-brace sabréis
Third person plural Ellos / ellas supieron soo-pee-air-ohn suˈpjeɾon Ellos / ellas sabrán sahbrahn sabrán

Conocer conjugation

If you thought the verb saber was difficult to conjugate, then we’ve got some good news for you: conocer is much easier. It’s still technically an irregular verb, but only its first-person singular conjugation in the present indicative tense is irregular — everything else is regular! That means you will only have to memorize one irregularity. Here’s the conjugation for the verb conocer in the present indicative tense.

Person Spanish Pronunciation IPA
First person singular Yo conozco coh-noss-coe koˈnoθko
Second person singular conoces coh-noh-sess koˈnoθes
Second person singular (formal) Usted conoce coh-noh-seh koˈnoθe
Third person singular Él / ella conoce coh-noh-seh koˈnoθe
First person plural Nosotros conocemos coh-noh-seh-moss konoˈθemos
Second person plural Ustedes conocen coh-noh-sehn koˈnoθen
Second person plural (Spain) Vosotros conocéis coh-noh-sace konoˈθejs
Third person plural Ellos / ellas conocen coh-noh-sehn koˈnoθen

Conocer conjugations in past and future tense

Person Past Pronunciation IPA Future Pronunciation IPA
First person singular Yo conocí coh-noh-see konoˈθi Yo conoceré coh-noh-seh-reh konoˈθi
Second person singular conociste coh-noh-sees-teh konoˈθiste conocerás coh-noh-seh-rass konoˈθiste
Second person singular (formal) Usted conoció coh-noh-see-oh konoˈθjo Usted conocerá coh-noh-seh-rah konoˈθjo
Third person singular Él / ella conoció coh-noh-see-oh konoˈθjo Él / ella conocerá coh-noh-seh-rah konoˈθjo
First person plural Nosotros conocimos coh-noh-see-moss konoˈθimos Nosotros conoceremos coh-noh-seh-reh-moss konoˈθimos
Second person plural Ustedes conocieron coh-noh-see-air-ohn konoˈθjeɾon Ustedes conocerán coh-noh-seh-rahn konoˈθjeɾon
Second person plural (Spain) Vosotros conocisteis coh-noh-sees-teh konoˈθistejs Vosotros conoceréis coh-noh-seh-rais konoˈθistejs
Third person plural Ellos / ellas conocieron coh-noh-see-air-ohn konoˈθjeɾon Ellos / ellas conocerán coh-noh-seh-rahn konoˈθjeɾon

Now you know the difference between to know and to know!

We get that this might be one of the less intuitive Spanish topics for non-native speakers, but you’ll be able to master it with enough practice. If you’ve read our guide on how to learn Spanish quickly, then you should head over there immediately for some great tips!

And if you’ve already read it, then you know that increasing your Spanish input (i.e., Spanish reading and listening) is one of the best ways to develop a feel for the language. Doing more of this will allow you to develop a feel for which situations call for conocer and which call for saber. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell what sounds right and what doesn’t!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out the rest of our articles in our Spanish blog! We regularly publish awesome (and free!) content to keep you leveling up your Spanish, like how to conjugate ser and estar and the ultimate guide to Spanish accent marks. Take advantage of this opportunity to conocer new topics!

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