To know in Italian (sapere vs conoscere): Italian grammar lesson 20


Get ready to level up your Italian by mastering the two ways to say “to know”! Dive into the nuances of conoscere and sapere, and learn when to use each verb like a native speaker. 🇮🇹✨

  • Conoscere vs. Sapere: Don’t mix ’em up! Use conoscere when you’re talking about being familiar with people or places. Save sapere for when you’re dropping knowledge about facts or skills. 🧠
  • Getting Personal: If you’re chatting about your pals or that cute barista, always go with conoscere. Saying “so” when you mean “conosco” is a no-go in Italian. 😬
  • Show Off Skills: Flaunt what you can do by using sapere plus an infinitive. Tell ’em “so cucinare” to boast about your killer pasta game. 🍝
  • Conjugation is Key: Remember, sapere is the irregular rebel, while conoscere plays it cool with regular conjugation. Get these down to avoid awkward tense moments. 😎
  • Keep it Casual: When you don’t know something, ditch the formality. A simple “Boh” will do. It’s the Italian shrug in word form. 🤷‍♂️
  • First Encounters: When you’re talking about meeting someone for the first time, conoscere is your go-to. It’s like saying, “We’ve just been introduced.” 🤝

My thoughts

How to say “to know” in Italian?

Did you know in Italian, there are two ways to say “to know”?

This might sound confusing, but once you understand when we use one or the other, it’ll be much easier for you.

Before we tell you what these two verbs are, let’s first focus on the meaning of “to know” in English.

In common English usage, the verb “to know” covers the concept of “knowing” in all its forms:

  • To know a person;
  • To know a trivial fact;
  • To know about something in-depth;
  • To be aware of to have a perception of something.

As you can see, the verb “to know” in English has different meanings that could be separated.

You can understand now why there might be two different verbs in Italian that mean “to know”.

In Italian, we can either say conoscere or sapere.

There’s a difference between them, like there’s a difference between the different meanings of the English verb “to know”.

Both sapere and conoscere mean to know

Why is there just one verb in English when there are two verbs in Italian to say “to know”?

This is for historical reasons: the Old English knowen came to dominate over the Latin sapere or cognoscere. That’s why we now just say “to know”.

However, some English words derive from those Latin words. Think of the words “cognition”, “sage,” and “sapient.”.

In Italy, those Latin counterparts prevailed and defined the world of knowledge in two main ways. We now say conoscere and sapere.

Even though conoscere and sapere share meanings and are also sometimes interchangeable, they took on different uses that are important to know.

So, what’s the difference between sapere and conoscere?

Let’s find out!

What’s the difference between sapere and conoscere?

Both Italian verbs sapere and conoscere can be translated into English with the verb “to know”, but their meaning of “knowing” has different implications.

Sapere means to know something, whereas conoscere means to know someone.

Let’s get into more detail!

Sapere: to know

Sapere (which is an irregular verb), means “to know” in the sense of:

  • Knowing about a fact or a situation
  • Being able to do something (sapere + infinitive)

While in English, we can just say “I know” without specifying what we know, in Italian, we have to express what we know, and therefore, we might say “lo so” (“I know it”).

This is why, unlike the English verb “to know”, the Italian verb sapere is always used with a direct object (like lo in the previous sentence).

A direct object could also be introduced by the word che. This is when we want to introduce a whole new sentence.

In English, we sometimes use “that”, as in “so che mi vuoi bene” (“I know that you love me.”)

Conoscere: to know

Conoscere (which is a regular verb), on the other hand, means “to know” in the sense of:

  • Knowing (being acquainted with) someone
  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • Knowing (being familiar with) an area, town, restaurant, etc.

Just so you know, in Italian, you cannot use sapere if you’re referring to a person!

Have a look at a sentence with both verbs where in English, you would use the same verb (“to know”):

Luca sa tutto e conosce tutti.

Luca knows everything and knows everyone.

To put it short, sapere is used to express knowledge, while conoscere is used to express familiarity.

Sapere vs conoscere: Italian conjugation

Let’s now look at the conjugation of the Italian verbs sapere and conoscere.

Sapere: conjugation

Here’s the conjugation of the Italian verb sapere:

  • io so
  • tu sai
  • lui sa
  • noi sappiamo
  • voi sapete
  • loro sanno

Conoscere: conjugation

Here’s the conjugation of the Italian verb conoscere:

  • io conosco
  • tu conosci
  • lui conosce
  • noi conosciamo
  • voi conoscete
  • loro conoscono

Let’s now look at examples of when to use sapere and when to use conoscere.

Examples with sapere

Remember saperemeans to be knowledgeable about something.

In other words, sapere is used to express knowledge about a fact or situation or awareness about a piece of information.

Let’s look at some sentences to see when it’s suitable to use the verb sapere:

Non so la risposta giusta.

I don’t know the right answer.

Mi scusi, sa dov’è la fermata dell’autobus?

Excuse me, do you know where the bus stop is? (Formal)

Oggi è un giorno importante! Sì, lo so.

Today is an important day! Yes, I know.

Sai che Luisa e Mattia sono sposati?

Do you know that Luisa and Mattia are married?

A: Sai che ore sono?
Non lo so.

A: Do you know what time is it?
B: I don’t know.

Sapere is also used to express ability (= to be able to do something or know how to do something).

In this case, the structure is the following: sapere + verb in the infinitive.

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Let’s have a look at some examples with that structure and use:

Lorenzo sa nuotare.

Lorenzo can swim.
Literally: Lorenzo knows how to swim.

Sai suonare il pianoforte?

Do you know how to play the piano?

Tutti gli italiani sanno cucinare la pizza?

Do all Italians know how to make pizza?

In an informal context, instead of answering with a full sentence:

Non lo so.

I don’t know.

You only need to say “Boh“!

Examples with conoscere

Conoscere means to be familiar or acquainted with someone or something.

In the following examples, we’re going to see when we use conoscere specifically to talk about knowing a person or meeting someone for the first time:

A: Conosci Marcella?
B: Certo che la
conosco, è la mia vicina di casa!

A: Do you know Marcella?
B: Of course, I know her; she is my neighbor.

Finalmente ho conosciuto tua sorella!

I finally met your sister!

We can also use conoscere to talk about a place we are familiar with, as in the sentences below:

Filippo conosce i migliori ristoranti della città!

Filippo knows the best restaurants in town!

Non conosco questa zona, quindi ho bisogno di consultare una mappa.

I’m not familiar with this area, so I need to use a map.

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

To know in Italian: sapere and conoscere

In Italian, two verbs mean “to know”: conoscere and sapere.

Conoscere is used to describe knowledge of people, places, and things, while sapere is used to describe knowledge of facts and information.

In English, the verb “to know” is used to describe many different types of knowledge, but in Italian, the two verbs are used to differentiate between the types of knowledge.

For example, if you want to say, “I know a person,” you would use conoscere, but if you want to say, “I know a fact,” you would use sapere.

Knowing the difference between these two verbs is essential when speaking Italian, and it is important to practice them to become fluent.

How do you use Conoscere in Italian?

Conoscere is a verb that can be used to refer to people, places, or objects and means to know well because of prior experience.

Is Sapere a modal verb in Italian?

When used to express the concept of ability, the verb sapere is also a modal verb. It means "to be able to" when an infinitive is used after it.

How do you conjugate to know in Italian?

Here's the conjugation of the Italian verb sapere: io so, tu sai, lui sa, noi sappiamo, voi sapete, loro sanno.

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9 Responses

    1. Ciao!

      The sentence Sai come guidare? is correct.

    1. Ciao Lori!

      I think both are correct. Maybe “non conosce la sua taglia” is less used in every day scenarios but you can still use it, be understood and it’s not a mistake.

    2. Ciao Lori!

      Conoscere means “to know” in the sense of:
      -Knowing and being acquainted with someone
      -Meeting someone for the first time
      -Knowing and being familiar with an area, town, restaurant, etc.

      So maybe that was what your teacher was referring to.

  1. I was watching and Italian tv show, “Don Matteo”, and Don Matteo ha detto, “non consosce la sua taglia.” My Italian teacher didn’t think this was correct, is it?

    1. Ciao Lori!

      Did your teacher explain why he taught it was not correct?

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