How to say “to know” in Italian?
Did you know in Italian there are two ways to say “to know”?
Before we tell you what these two verbs are, let’s first focus on the meaning of “to know” in English.
In common English usage, the verb “to know” covers the concept of “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.
As you can see, the verb “to know” in English has different meanings that could be separated.
You can understand now why there might be two different verbs in Italian that mean “to know”.
In Italian, we can either say conoscere or sapere.
There’s a difference between them like there’s a difference between the meanings of the English verb “to know”.
Both sapere and conoscere mean to know
Why is there just one verb in English when there are two verbs in Italian to say “to know”?
This is for historical reasons: the Old English knowen came to dominate over the Latin sapere or cognoscere. That’s why we now just say “to know”.
However, there are some English words that derive from those Latin words. Think of the words “cognition”, and “sage” and “sapient.”.
In Italy, those Latin counterparts prevailed and define the world of knowledge in two main ways. We now say conoscere and sapere.
Even though conoscere and sapere share meanings and are also sometimes interchangeable, they took on different uses that are important to know.
So, what’s the difference between sapere and conoscere?
Let’s find out!
What’s the difference between 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.
Here’s the difference between sapere and conoscere:
Sapere (which is an irregular verb), means “to know” in the sense of:
- knowing about a fact or a situation
- being able to do something (sapere + infinitive)
While in English we can say “I know”, in Italian we have to express what we know and therefore we might say “lo so” (“I know it”).
This is why, differently from the English verb “to know”, the Italian verb sapere is always used with a direct object (like lo in the previous sentence).
A direct object could also be introduced by the word che. This is when we want to introduce a whole new sentence. In English, we sometimes use “that”, as in “so che mi vuoi bene” (“I know that you love me.”)
Conoscere (which is a regular verb), on the other hand, means “to know” in the sense of:
- knowing (being acquainted with) someone
- meeting someone for the first time
- knowing (being familiar with) an area, town, restaurant, etc.
Just so you know, in Italian, you cannot use sapere for knowing a person!
Have a look at a sentence with both verbs where in English you would use the same verb (“to know”):
Luca sa tutto e conosce tutti.
Luca knows everything and knows everyone.
To put it short, sapere is used to express knowledge, while conoscere is used to express familiarity.
Sapere vs conoscere: Italian conjugation
Let’s now have a look at the conjugation of both sapere and conoscere.
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
Let’s now look at examples of when to use sapere and when to use conoscere.
Examples with sapere
Sapere or conoscere?
Remember sapere means to be knowledgeable about something.
In other words, sapere is used to express knowledge about a fact or situation, or awareness about a piece of information.
Let’s look at some sentences to see when it’s suitable to use the verb sapere:
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)
Oggi è un giorno importante! Sì, lo so.
Today is an important day! Yes, I know.
Sai che Luisa e Mattia sono sposati?
Do you know that Luisa and Mattia are married?
A: Sai che ore sono?
B: Non lo so.
A: Do you know what time is it?
B: I don’t know.
Sapere is also used to express ability (= to be able to do something or know how to do something).
Remember the structure is the following: sapere + verb in the infinitive.
Let’s have a look at some examples with that structure and use:
Lorenzo sa nuotare.
Lorenzo can swim.
Literally: Lorenzo knows how to 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?
Examples with conoscere
Sapere or conoscere?
Conoscere means to be familiar or acquainted with someone or something.
In the following examples, we’re going to see when we use conoscere specifically to talk about knowing a person or meeting someone for the first time:
A: Conosci Marcella?
B: Certo che la conosco, è la mia vicina di casa!
A: Do you know Marcella?
B: Of course I know her, she is my neighbor.
Finalmente ho conosciuto tua sorella!
I finally met your sister!
We can also use conoscere to talk about a place we are familiar with, as in the sentences below:
Filippo conosce i migliori ristoranti della città!
Filippo knows the best restaurants in town!
Nonconosco questa zona, quindi ho bisogno di consultare una mappa.
I’m not familiar with this area, so I need to use a map.