Italian verbs: sapere or conoscere?

Sapere and conoscere are pesky little verbs. If you want to know everything about sapere and conoscere, follow this lesson. You will find many examples and native audio recordings along the way.


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

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

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

Sai suonare il piano?
Can you play the piano?

sapere and conoscere learn italian online for free
So suonare il piano.
I can play the piano.

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

Sapere can also be used to express specific theoretical knowledge. So it can also mean to know [something]. In this case it will be followed by a direct object.

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! 😉)

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

sapere and conoscere difference learn italian online for free
Mi annoio, non so cosa fare.
I’m bored, I don’t know what to do.

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

A difference between sapere and conoscere 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


Conoscere

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

Alright, let’s hear how conoscere is pronounced.

Conoscere
To know, to get to know


Usage examples of conoscere

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

Like sapere, however, conoscere can be used to express theoretical knowledge, but mainly in-depth knowledge of something. 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.

sapere and conoscere difference learn italian online for free
Conosco questo film a memoria.
I know this movie by heart.

Another difference between sapere and conoscere 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.

Yet another difference between sapere and conoscere: conoscere is used for geographical locations.

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

Conosci bene Londra?
Do you know London well?

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

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


Sapere and conoscere: 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

Sapere and conoscere: Italian sayings with conoscere

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 difference learn italian now conosco i miei polli
Conosco i miei polli!
I know them so well I can predict their behavior!

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


What next?

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

Are you looking for the ultimate Italian verb conjugation manual? Check the box below!

Title: 501 Italian Verbs
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: Barrons Educational Series
Pages: 656

This brand-new edition of 501 Italian Verbs provides language learners with fingertip access to a carefully curated selection of the 501 most common Italian verbs–in all tenses and moods! Each verb is listed alphabetically in chart form—one verb per page along with its English translation. Follow the clear, concise instruction, then take your language fluency to the next level with an all-new online activity center.

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