Viernes de Vocabulario: Knowing

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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In Spanish, there are two different verbs that are often translated to know, saber and conocer.  How do you know which one to know when?

Saber often implies a more profound knowledge than conocer, which often implies familiarity with something it is impossible to know completely.  Saber, then, is used to refer to knowing facts, or knowing how to do something:

¿sabías que…?                              did you know…?
saberse (algo) (de memoria)        to know (something) by heart
saber hacer (algo)                         to know how to do (something)
no saber ni jota (de algo)             to have no clue (about something)
¿quién sabe?                                 who knows?
sólo Dios sabe                              God only knows
¿yo qué sé? / ¿qué sé yo?           what do I know?

Do you know that song?  Sí, me lo sé de memoria.  (“Yes, I know it by heart.”)  ¿Así que sabes cantar? (“So you know how to sing?”)

Conocer, on the other hand, is used when you want to talk about knowing a person or a place.  People and places are much more complicated than facts, so you can never know them completely.  Don’t forget that you need a before the direct object when it refers to a person.  ¿Conoces a María? (“Do you know María?”)  ¿Conoces Los Ángeles?  (“Do you know (i.e. have you been to) Los Angeles?”)

conocer de vista                          to know by sight
conocer al dedillo                       to know like the palm of one’s hand

Both saber and conocer have different meanings in the past tense that illustrate the difference in these two types of knowing.  The preterite tense of saber generally means “to find out” while the preterite of conocer means “to meet” or “to go to (a place) for the first time.”  Conocí a María ayer, y poco después supe que es tu novia.  (“I met María yesterday, and a bit later I found out that she’s your girlfriend.”)

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