If you came across this page, it’s because you have been confused by the usage of the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere. Fair enough!
English (and other languages) use only one verb, the verb to know, to cover the meaning of knowledge in all possible forms. Italian uses two different verbs: sapere and conoscere.
Sapere and conoscere are rarely interchangeable and y express a different form of knowledge.
Let’s see now how to use the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere and what is the difference between the two of them.
Conoscere means to be acquainted with something or someone: a topic, a person, a place or a subject.
Conoscere is used with people, places or things and means to have a good knowledge of something or someone because if you have previosuly experienced it.
If you are still not sure whether to use sapere or conoscere, try this: conoscere is always followed by nouns. You will never see conoscere used with another verb (which instead, is likely to happen with sapere).
In the following examples you will see a correct usgage of “conoscere” in context;
- Conosco la geografia italiana molto bene. – I know Italian geography (topic/subject) very well.
- Conosci Lucrezia? – Do you know Lucrezia? (person)
- Conosci un buon ristorante a Roma? – Do you know a good restaurant in Roma? (place)
- Conosciamo molto bene la città di Lucca, è incantevole!We know Lucca very well …(place)
- Conosci un buon dentista in città? Do you know a good dentist (place) in town?
- Lucia conosce la grammatica molto bene – Lucia knows grammar (topic) very well.
The counter part of conoscere, is sapere. Sapere means to be aware of something. In short, sapere means knowing a fact, an event or a piece of information.
Sapere is almost always followed by the clause che.
- Non lo so – I don’t know
- Sai che Maria si è sposata? – Do you know that Maria got married?
- Sai che Marco ha avuto un bambino? – Do you that Marco had a baby?
Sapere is also used in questions to ask for a specific piece of information:
- Sai che ore sono? – Do you know what time is it?
- Sai a che ora parte il treno? – Do you know at what time the train is leaving?
- Sapete dov’è Maria? – Do you (guys) know, where Maria is?
SAPERE AS A MODAL VERB
SAPERE is also used as a modal verb when it is accompanied by an infinitive verb. In this case, it is used to say that you know HOW to do something, that you have an ability or a skill.
- So parlare molto bene italiano, ma non so cucinare! – I can speak Italian, but I can’t cook!
- Sai suonare la chitarra? – Can you play the guitar?
OTHER MEANINGS OF SAPERE
Sapere covers also other meanings in Italian colloquial expressions.
In fact, you can use sapere to:
- tell the taste of something with the expression “SAPERE DI”
- tell an opinion with the expression “MI SA CHE…”
- Questo drink non sa di niente – This drink tastes like nothing
- Questo dolce sa di cannella – This cake tastes cinnamon
mi sa che…
- Mi sa che rimango a casa stasera – troppo freddo! – I think I stay home tonight – it’s too cold!
- Mi sa che non cucino oggi – sono troppo stanca – I think I won’t cook today – too tired!
Useful links to practise this topic
- Drills about the diffrence between sapere and conoscere.
- A Youtube video explation in Italian with Lucrezia Oddone
- Drills from the Italian Departement of the University of Kentuchy
- Extra drills in Italian
Serena is a proud polyglot, teacher and language expert. After learning 8+ foreign languages and working long hours a job she was not born for, she decided she urged a significant life change. She is now combining what she loves doing with what she is good at, helping people to learn Italian online. She has been sharing her love for Italy and the Bella Lingua across the world for the last four years. Her goal is helping enthusiastic humans to transform Italian Language Learning into a habit in their lives.