Savoir vs Connaître (and Ignorer)

Savoir vs connaître - to know
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Knowing French Verbs

Do you know how to say "know" in French? There are two verbs with distinct meanings, and just to keep things interesting, there are also two overlapping meanings. Confused? After you read this lesson, you’ll know all you need to know.

Savoir vs Connaître

Savoir is used when there’s another verb involved. When that verb is an infinitive, the English equivalent is "to know how to."

Je sais faire du feu.   I know how to build a fire.
Il ne sait pas nager.   He doesn’t know how to swim.

  The word "how" is implicit in French and must not be translated; do not say Je sais comment faire du feu.

When the other verb is in a subordinate clause, savoir indicates knowledge of that fact or action.

Je sais qu’elle va être en retard.   I know she’s going to be late.
Il sait quand tu as trouvé le document.   He knows when you found the document.

The clause may be replaced by a pronoun or implied.

– Qui vient à la fête ?
– Je n’en sais rien.
  – Who’s coming to the party?
– I don’t know anything about that.
– Michel veut être avocat.
– Oui, je sais (qu’il veut être avocat).
  – Michel wants to be a lawyer.
– Yes, I know (that he wants to be a lawyer).

Connaître must be used with a direct object, which may be a person, place, or thing. While connaître can be translated by "to know," it may be helpful to think of it as "to be familiar with":

Est-ce que tu connais Hervé ?   Do you know Hervé?
Elle ne connaît pas Paris.   She doesn’t know / isn’t familiar with Paris.
Je connais bien le français.   I know a lot of French.
C’est un bon restaurant, nous le connaissons depuis un an.   It’s a good restaurant, we’ve known / been familiar with it for a year.

Savoir and Connaître

Two other meanings of "to know" can be translated by either verb.

1) To know a bit of information

Il sait toujours la date.
Il connaît toujours la date.
  He always knows the date.
Je ne sais pas son numéro de téléphone.
Je ne connais pas son numéro de téléphone.
  I don’t know his phone number.

2) To know by heart, to have something memorized

Je sais deux poèmes de Baudelaire par cœur.
Je connais deux poèmes de Baudelaire par cœur.
  I know two of Baudelaire’s poems by heart.
Nous ne savons pas les chiffres par cœur.
Nous ne connaissons pas les chiffres par cœur.
  We don’t know the figures by heart,
We don’t have the figures memorized.

  Savoir vs Connaître in the passé composé

Both verbs have different meanings in the passé composé.

Savoir = to learn, to find out:

J’ai su que tu avais menti.   I found out you’d lied.
Il n’a pas su son prénom avant de partir.   He didn’t learn her name before leaving.

Connaître = to meet, to make someone’s acquaintance:

J’ai connu un Parisien à l’université.   I met a Parisian in college.
Elle n’a jamais connu mes parents.   She never met my parents.

  Another good verb to know is the faux ami ignorer, which doesn’t mean "to ignore," but rather "to not know." It can be used with a clause or a direct object.

Elle ignore comment on va le faire.   She doesn’t know how we’re going to do it.
J’ignore son adresse.   I don’t know his address.
   
Quiz: Savoir vs Connaître

 Related lessons

Learn Spanish En español

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Savoir vs connaître
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