“To know” in French: “savoir” vs “connaître”

There are two verbs in French that can be used to translate the English “to know”: savoir and connaître.

Sometimes the difference is explained in terms of meaning, for example, that savoir means “to know how to do something”, whereas connaître means “to be familiar with someone or something”.

In some cases, either can be used, for example:
Tu connais/Tu sais la nouvelle?Do you know the news?
Pas que je sache/pas à ma connaissanceNot that I know (of).

Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to distinguish the two verbs by what can come after them: savoir is usually followed by a question or clause, an infinitive, or nothing, whereas connaître is usually followed by a noun.

Savoir + question or clause

Savez-vous quand il vient?Do you know when he’s coming?
Je ne savais quoi faireI didn’t know what to do.
Il ne sait pas ce qu’il veutHe doesn’t know what he wants.

Unlike in English, where the word ‘that’ can be omitted, que can never be omitted:

Je savais qu’il était malade
I knew that he was ill.

Savoir + infinitive

Elle sait lire et écrireshe knows how to read and write. (‘How to’ is not translated).
Il sait parler aux enfantsHe knows how to talk to children.
Il faut savoir attendreYou have to learn to be patient.

Savoir on its own:

Je (le) saisI know.
Qui sait? Who knows?
On ne sait jamaisYou never know.
Je te le ferai savoirI’ll let you know.

Connaître + noun

Tu connais Luc?Do you know Luc?
Vous connaissez New York?Are you familiar with New York? (usually meaning ‘Have you personally been to New York?’)
Apprendre à/Chercher à connaître quelqu’unTo get to know/ to try to get to know someone.
Je l’ai connu enfantI have known him since he was a child.
Tu le connais malYou are underestimating/misjudging him.
Elle connaît son métierShe really knows her job.
Elle s’y connaît en antiquitésShe knows about antiques.
Il ne connaît pas sa forceHe doesn’t know his own strength.
Ils ont connu des temps meilleursThey’ve known better days.
Je ne le connais ni d’Ève ni d’AdamI don’t know him from Adam.
Nous connaissons de tristes heuresWe are going through sad times.

I hope this helps you to know how to translate “to know”!


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