Verbs – Savoir vs. Connaître

Verbs – Savoir vs. Connaître

The verbs savoir and connaître both mean to know. Both verbs are irregular in the present tense.

Savoir

Je sais

Tu sais

Il/Elle/On sait

Nous savons

Vous savez

Ils/Elles savent

Connaître

Je connais

Tu connais

Il/Elle/On connaît

Nous connaissons

Vous connaissez

Ils/Elles connaissent

Although savoir and connaître both mean to know, they are not interchangeable. Savoir means to know facts, to know something that you can state or repeat. It is used in case of learned knowledge.

  • Tu sais l’heure. – Do you know what time it is?
  • Elle sait l’anglais. – She knows English.
  • Il sait son rôle par cœur. – He knows his part by heart.

Savoir, not connaître, is used before subordinate clauses and indirect questions.

  • Je ne sais pas si j’ai envie de sortir ce soir. – I don’t know if I feel like going out tonight.
  • Vous savez quand ils partent ? – Do you know when they are leaving?
  • Tu sais où elle habite ? – Do you know where she lives?

Connaître means to be familiar with a person or place. It is used before direct object nouns referring to both people and things.

  • Tu connais son nom ? – Do you know his name?
  • Oui, et je connais son adresse. – Yes, and I know his address.

Sometimes the choice between savoir and connaître seems arbitrary to English speakers. In the following examples, the English verb is to know, but the French verb is connaître in one and savoir in the other.

  • Je connais son address. – I know his address.

But

  • Je sais l’heure. – I know the time.

When the object is a person or a place, connaître must be used because the idea is familiarity, not knowledge acquired by learning. Savoir cannot be used in the examples below.

  • Nous connaissons un bon restaurant dans le quartier ? – We know a good restaurant in the neighbourhood.
  • Est-ce que vous connaissez le propriétaire du restaurant ? – Do you know the owner of the restaurant?

Connaître is frequently used before geographical names to express familiarity or acquaintance with the place. Savoir cannot be used in such cases.

  • Elle connaît la Belgique ? – Has she been to Belgium?
  • Elle connaît Bruxelles, c’est tout. – She knows Brussels, that’s all.

Connaître designates knowledge acquired through experience, as opposed to study.

  • Ces gens connaissent la misère. – These people know poverty.
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