Sapere vs conoscere = to know?
In English, you say “to know”. How to say “to know” in Italian?
You say sapere or conoscere.
Sapere means “to know”, but also conoscere means “to know”!
What? When to use sapere vs conoscere?
They’re both Italian verbs to know. But how to use them?
In common English usage, the verb “to know” covers knowing in all its forms:
- to know a person;
- to know a trivial fact;
- to know about something in-depth;
- to be aware of to have a perception of something.
It is not for lack of alternatives that this word’s footing is so broad in contemporary English: it’s simply that, for historical reasons, the Old English knowen and knouleche came to dominate over older Latin-rooted bedfellows such as cognitus or sapiens.
In Italy, however, those Latin counterparts prevailed and came to define the world of knowledge in two main ways: conoscere, which gives rise in English to “cognition,” and sapere, from which come “sage” and “sapient.”
And though conoscere and sapere share meanings and are also sometimes interchangeable, they took on different uses that are important to know.
So, Conoscere vs sapere. What’s the difference between sapere and conoscere?
Verbs about knowing in Italian: Sapere and Conoscere
Both Italian verbs sapere and conoscere can be translated in English with the verb “to know”, but their meaning about “knowing” has different implications.
Conoscere vs sapere. Here’s the difference!
Sapere (which is a second conjugation irregular verb), means “to know” in the sense of
- knowing about a fact or a situation
- being able to do something (sapere + infinitive)
- knowing how to do something (sapere + infinitive)
Differently from the English verb “to know”, the Italian verb sapere is used with a direct object. While in English we can say “I know”, in Italian we have to express the object and therefore we have say “Lo so” (I know it).
Conoscere (which is a second conjugation regular verb), on the other hand, means “to know” in the sense of:
- knowing (being acquaintance with) someone
- knowing (being familiar with) an area, town, restaurant, etc.
To put it short, sapere is used to express knowledge, while conoscere is used to express familiarity.
Let’s look into examples of when to use sapere and when to use conoscere.
Sapere or conoscere?
In this comparison of conoscere vs sapere, let’s look into sapere first.
Sapere means to be knowledgeable about something.
When to use sapere?
Let’s look at some sentences to see when it’s suitable to use the verb sapere.
- Sapere is used to express knowledge about a fact or situation, or awareness about a piece of information:
Sai che Luisa e Mattia sono sposati?
Do you know that Luisa and Mattia are married?
Non so la risposta giusta.
I don’t know the right answer.
Mi scusi, sa dov’è la fermata dell’autobus?
Excuse me, do you know where the bus stop is? (Formal)
Sai che ore sono? Non lo so.
Do you know what time is it? I don’t know.
Oggi è un giorno importante! Sì, lo so.
Today is an important day! Yes, I know.
- Sapere is used to express ability (being able to do something, or know how to do something):
Sapere + verb (infinitive)
Lorenzo non sa nuotare.
Lorenzo can’t swim.
Sai suonare il pianoforte?
Do you know how to play the piano?
Tutti gli italiani sanno cucinare la pizza?
Do all Italians know how to make pizza?
In this comparison of conoscere vs sapere, let’s now look into conoscere.
Conoscere means to be familiar or acquainted with someone or something.
When to use conoscere?
Let’s look at some sentences to see when it’s suitable to use the verb conoscere.
- Conoscere is used to talk about knowing a person (both for people who we have just met or people that we know well) :
Conosci Marcella?- Certo che la conosco, è la mia vicina di casa!
Do you know Marcella? – Of course I know her, she is my neighbor.
- Conoscere is used to talk about a place we are familiar with:
Filippo conosce i migliori ristoranti della città!
Filippo knows the best restaurants in town!
Non conosco questa zona, quindi ho bisogno di consultare una mappa.
I’m not familiar with this area, so I need to use a map.
Sapere vs conoscere: Italian conjugation
Now they you know the difference between the verbs sapere and conoscere, you might want to learn the conjugation of these two verbs.
Here’s the conjugation of the Italian verb sapere:
- io so
- tu sai
- lui sa
- noi sappiamo
- voi sapete
- loro sanno
Here’s the conjugation of the Italian verb conoscere:
- io conosco
- tu conosci
- lui conosce
- noi conosciamo
- voi conoscete
- loro conoscono
Audio lessons to practice sapere vs conoscere
Sapere vs conoscere. Two Italian verbs to know!
To practice sapere vs conoscere, take Lesson 20 of the Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!“.
Here’s a preview of the lesson about the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere: