WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “SAPERE” AND “CONOSCERE”?
If you came across this page, it’s because you have been confused by using the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere. Fair enough!
English (and other languages) use only one verb, the verb to know, to cover knowledge’s meaning in all possible forms.
Italian uses two different verbs: sapere and conoscere.
Sapere and conoscere are rarely interchangeable and they express a different form of knowledge.
Let’s see now how to use the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere and what the difference is between the two of them.
WHEN TO USE “CONOSCERE”
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 having good knowledge of something or someone because if you have previously experienced it.
If you are still not sure whether to use sapere or conoscere, try this:
Nouns always follow CONOSCERE
You will never see conoscere used with another verb (which instead, is likely to happen with sapere)
- Conosco la geografia italiana molto bene – I know Italian geography (topic/subject) very well.
- Conosci Luciana? – Do you know Luciana? (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.
WHEN TO USE “SAPERE”
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.
The clause che almost always follows sapere.
- Ho saputo che Marco si è trasferito – I learned Marco moved away
- 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 an infinitive verb accompanies it. 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 also covers other meanings in Italian colloquial expressions.
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 practice this topic
- Drills about the difference between sapere and conoscere.
- A Youtube video explanation in Italian with Lucrezia Oddone
- Exercises from the Italian Departement of the University of Kentucky
- Extra drills in Italian