In Spanish, there are two very different verbs that both translate into English as “to know”. These two verbs both have very different meanings, but the fact that they translate to the same thing means a lot of English-speaking students of Spanish get confused when they learn the words and make a lot of mistakes when using them. Here we’re going to look at the difference between the two words, why they’re not interchangeable, and make sure that you don’t make any mistakes with them in the future.
The two Spanish verbs in question are:
Now, each of these verbs can have several different meanings in themselves, but they each have a meaning that translates into English as “to know”.
So what’s the difference between the two meanings?
Well, there isn’t only one form of “knowing”. You can know people, or you can know something, and this is where the difference lies between the two.
Conocer = to know somebody
Saber = to know something
For this reason, it wouldn’t be correct to replace ‘conocer’ in Spanish with ‘saber’ or vice-versa, as their meanings are not equivalent – only their translations are. Let’s look at some examples to solidify our knowledge.
Conozco a ese hombre, es un gran científico
I know that man, he’s a great scientist
¿Conoces a mi amiga, Julia? Ella es muy inteligente y valiente
Do you know my friend Julia? She’s very intelligent and brave
Yo sé la razón por la que están enfadados
I know the reason that they’re angry
Ellas no saben lo difícil que es trabajar en una fábrica
They don’t know how difficult it is to work in a factory
Hopefully, you can see here the clear difference between the usages of the two verbs. ‘Conocer’ is always used for knowing people, while ‘saber’ is used for knowing something/ knowing things.