Conoscere and sapere in Italian

As you probably already know (you wouldn’t be here otherwise), there are two different ways to translate the verb to know into Italian: conoscere and sapere.

What’s the difference between them? How do you know when to use either?

You are in the right place. By the end of this lesson you will have no doubts whatsoever about these two pesky little verbs. You will find many examples and native audio recordings along the way.

Alright, let’s see what the difference is between conoscere and sapere. Let’s start! Iniziamo!

woman running - let's start!

Difference between conoscere and sapere

As you will see in a moment, conoscere and sapere are not interchangeable. This is because they are used to address different kinds of knowledge. Let’s see why starting from sapere.

Sapere

The primary difference between sapere and conoscere is that sapere is used to mean to be able to [do something], or can. Let’s hear how it is pronounced.

Sapere
To be able to, to know, can

Usage examples of sapere as “to be able to”

Sapere implies practical knowledge. It is often followed by an infinitive verb (the basic verb forms, ending in –are, –ere and –ire).

Saper scrivere
To know how to write

Saper fare di conto
To know how to count

Saper parlare
To know how to talk

Saper nuotare
To know how to swim

man swimming in pool

Potere or sapere?
When you want to translate to be able to do something, use sapere.
If you need to translate to be allowed to do something or a request to do something, use potere.

Sai suonare la chitarra?
Do you know how to play the guitar?

Puoi suonare la chitarra?
Could you play the guitar?

Mia nonna sa cucinare molto bene.
My grandma can (is able to) cook very well.

Mio figlio sa già scrivere il proprio nome.
My son is already able to write his own name.

Sai suonare il piano?
Can you play the piano?

conoscere and sapere - little girl playing the piano

Usage examples of sapere as “to know some information”

A major difference between conoscere and sapere is that sapere can also be used to express specific theoretical knowledge.

So it can also mean to know [something], as in a piece of information or a fact. In this case it will be followed by a direct object.

Sai che ore sono?
Do you know what time it is?

So che Stefano è andato in biblioteca, ma non so quando tornerà.
I know Stefano went to the library, but I don’t know when he will be back.

Sai se l’autobus delle tre è già passato?
Do you know if the three o’clock bus has already passed?

Sapete per caso quando apre l’edicola?
Do you happen to know when the newsstand opens?

Scusi, sa dove posso trovare una farmacia?
Excuse me, do you know where I can find a drug store?

So che ieri sera Marta è andata da sola alla festa.
I know that Marta went alone to the party yesterday evening.

Tu non sai niente, Jon Snow.
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
(GoT fan here! 😉)

Non so come tu riesca a mangiare così velocemente.
I don’t know how you manage to eat so fast.

Mi annoio, non so cosa fare.
I’m bored, I don’t know what to do.

bored man at a desk

Sapere as “have you heard…?”

Another difference between conoscere and sapere is that sapere can also be used to translate the English to hear in a very specific kind of sentence.

The English Have you heard…? is translated into Italian as Hai saputo che…?. Saputo is the past participle of sapere and it can be used as an adjective to address an insufferable know-it-all kind of person.

Hai saputo che Lorenzo si è rotto una gamba?
Have you heard that Lorenzo has broken his leg?

Fare il saputo
To act like a know-it-all

Ho saputo che hai preso 100 all’esame. Complimenti!
I heard you got 100 on the exam. Congratulations!

Non fare tanto il saputo, non sapevi nulla dell’evento fino a due giorni fa.
Don’t you be such a know-it-all, you didn’t know anything about the event until two days ago.

Alessia è incinta? Da chi lo hai saputo?
Alessia is pregnant? Who did you hear this from?

pregnant woman sitting on an armchair

Sa di… sapere with tastes

Yet another difference between sapere and conoscere is that sapere can be used to mean to taste, as in…

Questa torta sa di bruciato.
This cake tastes burned.

Queste fragole non sanno di niente.
These strawberries don’t taste like anything.

Quest’acqua sa di plastica.
This water tastes like plastic.

big water bottle server

“Mi sa che…”

There’s a colloquial expression with the verb sapere that goes mi sa che… + a verb, roughly translating the English I feel like… in sentences as:

Mi sa che andrà a piovere.
I feel like it’s going to rain.

Mi sa che Luca non verrà alla festa.
I guess Luca will not come to the party.

Mi sa che abbiamo perso il treno.
I think we missed the train.

This is appropriate to use only in informal settings and it can only be used in the first person singular.


Conoscere

If you have to quickly choose between conoscere and sapere, a rule of thumb for you to follow is that sapere is strictly used for things and expressing knowledge, while conoscere is mainly used to express familiarity regarding people and places.

Alright, let’s hear how conoscere is pronounced.

Conoscere
To know, to get to know

girl smiling and reading a newspaper

Usage examples of conoscere

Unlike sapere, conoscere is never followed by an infinitive verb. It is always followed by a noun. This is a major difference!

Like sapere, however, conoscere can be used to express theoretical knowledge, but mainly in-depth knowledge of something, be it a person, a certain topic or place. In this case it will be followed by a direct object, like sapere.

Federico conosce bene il tedesco.
Federico knows German well.

Ho visto quel film così tante volte che lo conosco ormai a memoria.
I’ve seen that movie so many times that at this point I know it by heart.

people watching a movie in a cinema

Nice to… know you!

Another difference between conoscere and sapere is that conoscere is used with the meaning of to know [someone]. Not something, but someone. Similarly, it can also mean to get to know [someone].

Conosci la madre di Marco?
Do you know Marco’s mother?

Ieri ho conosciuto tuo fratello.
I got to know your brother yesterday.

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!


Knowing places

Yet another difference between conoscere and sapere is that conoscere is used to express your kwowledge of geographical locations.

Dove siamo? Non conosco questa via.
Where are we? I don’t know this street.

Conosci bene Londra?
Do you know London well?

Non conosco questo posto.
I don’t know this place.

girl who got lost in the city and is looking at a map - conoscere and sapere in italian, what's the difference

Before wrapping up our lesson, I’d like to show you a few common sayings featuring conoscere and sapere in Italian. Let’s take a look at them!

Conoscere and sapere: Italian sayings with sapere

Saperci fare
To be skilled in doing something
Literally: To know to do

Per chi non lo sapesse
For the uninitiated
Literally: For those who didn’t know

Saperla lunga
To be knowledgeable, to think one’s reasoning is better
Literally: To know it long

Saperne una più del diavolo
To know more tricks than a cartful of monkeys
Literally: To know one more than the devil


Conoscere and sapere: Italian sayings with conoscere

Ma chi ti conosce!
Am I supposed to know you?
Literally: But who knows you!

Una vecchia conoscenza
An old acquaintance, an old pal
Literally: An old knowledge

Conoscere i propri polli
To know someone or something so well you can predict their behavior
Literally: To know one’s chickens

sapere and conoscere - conosco i miei polli - two chickens running

What next?

Now that you’ve seen the difference between conoscere and sapere in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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