To Know in French – Savoir vs Connaître

One of the first major difficulties that French learners encounter is the difference between the verbs savoir and connaître. The main difficulty between them is that in English they can both be translated as to know. At first glance it’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two because of course there is a little bit of overlap between when and where to use them. The goal of this article is to demystify these two verbs so that you can use them confidently in context. Let’s start off by looking at when and where to use savoir. USING SAVOIR TO KNOW HOW TO DO SOMETHING The first definition of the verb savoir that we are going to go over is how to do something. You’ll be happy to hear that using savoir in this context is actually a bit easier than English. In order to say that you know how to do something all you have to do is use savoir + whatever you know how to do. So for example to say that you know how to drive all you have to do is say Je sais conduire. The reason why this is easier than in English is because we don’t have to add the word how (comment) to the mix, you just have to use the verb to know (savoir) and then the verb that you know how to do. Easy, right? Let’s look at some other examples

One of the first major difficulties that French learners encounter is the difference between the verbs savoir and connaître. The main difficulty between them is that in English they can both be translated as “to know”.

At first glance it’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two because of course there is a little bit of overlap between when and where to use them. The goal of this article is to demystify these two verbs so that you can use them confidently in context.  

Let’s start off by looking at when and where to use savoir.





 

Using savoir to know how to do something

The first definition of the verb savoir that we are going to go over is “how to do something”. You’ll be happy to hear that using savoir in this context is actually a bit easier than in English.

In order to say that you know “how to do something” all you have to do is use “savoir + whatever you know how to do”. So for example to say that “I know how to drive” all you have to do is say Je sais conduire. The reason why this is easier than in English is because we don’t have to add the word “how” (comment) to the mix, you just have to use the verb “to know” (savoir) and then the verb that you know how to do. Easy, right? Let’s look at some other examples.

Je sais jouer de la guitare – I know how to play guitar

Il sait crocheter une serrure – He knows how to pick a lock

 

Using savoir to know information

This one is a little more general than the previous method we went over however it’s just as easy to master. Savoir can also be used if you know any sort of information. This can be facts such as where someone is, what something is or even who someone is.

Il sait où j’habite – He knows where I live

Je sais qui a volé la bague – I know who stole the ring

Some Important Phrases using connaître

Let’s now switch gears and look at how to use the verb connaître and how it differs from its counterpart savoir.

Using connaître to know someone or something

The verb connaître although also translated as “to know” in English takes on a meaning closer to “to be familiar with” or “to know personally”. This often takes the form of a person, but can be also used for places or things.

Je connais Paul – I know Paul

Tu connais mieux la ville que moi – You know the city better than me





 

Some important phrases using Savoir

Now that we have a better idea of how to use both savoir and connaître let’s look at some expressions that use both. Don’t try to overthink these and just take them as they are. The best way to learn them is to simply memorize them.

Je ne sais pas - I don't know

Je ne sais pas is a very easy phrase to remember. It can be thought of as the French equivalent to “I don’t know”. Don’t forget the rules of savoir however. You only use je ne sais pas when you don’t know some sort of information. As you may or may not already know, French speakers love dropping the ne from negated sentences so it’s very common for you to hear people simply say je sais pas.

Où habite-t-il ? – Where does he live?

Je ne sais pas – I don’t know

Son ami s’appelle comment ? – What is his friend’s name?

Je ne sais pas – I don’t know

 

J'en sais rien - I have no idea

J’en sais rien is similar to je ne sais pas (I don’t know) except that it’s a little stronger. Je ne sais pas is commonly known as the French equivalent to “I don’t know” whereas j’en sais rien is closer to “I have no idea”. You won’t want to use this one in formal situations, but if you are among friends or family you can use it without issue.

Est-ce que tu sais combien d’argent il gagne ? – Do you know how much money he makes?

J’en sais rien – I have no idea

Ton ami vient d’où ? – Where is your friend from?

J’en sais rien – I have no idea

 

Je ne sais quoi - A certain something

This is actually one that’s occasionally used in English, but if you aren’t familiar with it don’t worry. Je ne sais quoi is usually used to describe someone (or something) that has a certain something that you can’t quite put your finger on. 

Il avait un certain je ne sais quoi m’a fait vouloir l’embaucher – He had a certain something that made me want to hire him

Elle a un je ne sais quoi qui la rend unique – She has a certain something that makes her unique





 

On ne sait jamais - You never know

Here’s another easy one for you. On ne sait jamais means “you never know” as in the sentence “you never know who you will run into in public”. The word on technically means “one” (one never knows) but it tends to be translated by “you” in English.

Prends un parapluie, on ne sait jamais – Bring an umbrella, you never know

On ne sait jamais ce qui peut arriver – You never know what will happen

 

Connaître quelque chose par cœur

This expression should be an easy one because it matches perfectly with the English expression “to know something by heart” and can be used in the same sort of situations.

Je connais cette chanson par cœur – I know that song by heart

Je te connais par cœur – I know you by heart

 

Connaître la musique - To know how it works

Literally translated as to know the music connaître la musique means that “you know the routine” or “you know how it works”.

Tu connais la musique, dis-moi tout – You know how it works, tell me everything

When you actually break it down the differences between savoir and connaître are actually pretty easy. Just remember the rules we went over in this article and you’ll be ready to use them both in conversation in no time. If you’d like to learn more French vocabulary then head on over to the French vocabulary page.