Sapere o conoscere?

Choosing between Sapere and Conoscere can be kind of tricky. But no worries, in today's article you will finally understand which one to use and why!

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Sapere and conoscere always get my students confused, especially English-speaking students. This is because these two verbs are apparently very similar, however they are used in completely different situations. I have to admit that sometimes, their difference is not that obvious, but let's try to understand how they work!

Let's start off by saying that both of these verbs mean "to know"... kind of! They do have other meanings, but for sure this is the most common one, and probably the one you know/have been taught! Let's start with sapere:


This verb is irregular, so before we look at its uses, let's conjugate it together in the present:

Io so

Tu sai

Lui/Lei sa

Noi sappiamo

Voi sapete

Loro sanno

This verb is used for two things:

  • To describe someone's ability to do something

  • Knowledge or knowing a fact

Let's look at a few examples for each of these categories:

  • Io so nuotare → I can swim. In this case, I could translate "so" with "can" or "I am able to", "I know how to". I am using "sapere" because I am talking about a skill, an ability, and most importantely something I have learned.

  • Sai suonare uno strumento? → Do you know how to/Can you play an instrument?

  • Sai a che ora abbiamo prenotato in pizzeria stasera? → Do you know what time we have the reservation at the pizzeria tonight?

  • Sai quando è nato Dante Alighieri? → Do you know when Dante Alighieri was born?

  • Sapete a che ora è andata via mia sorella? → Do you know what time my sister left?

  • Ho saputo che tu e Matteo vi siete lasciati. Mi dispiace molto. → I heard that you and Matteo broke up. I am very sorry.

  • Non sapevamo che saresti venuto anche tu! Avremmo cucinato più pasta. → We didn't know you were coming too. We would have cooked more pasta.

As you can see here we use the verb sapere as we are talking or asking about facts. We tend to use the verb sapere in these cases because the knowledge of these facts do not usually require previous studying. We call it passive knowledge, as you didn't really have to do much to know these things. Conoscere, as we will see in a second, is used when we have something called practical knowledge.


This verb is regular, however let’s conjugate it anyway in the present, just to make sure!

Io conosco

Tu conosci

Lui/Lei conosce

Noi conosciamo

Voi conoscete

Loro conoscono

The verb conoscere is used when:

  • We meet someone for the first time

  • We know a PLACE or a PERSON

  • We know something we have studied for

Let's look at a few examples:

  • Posso conoscere i tuoi genitori? → Here I am asking if I can meet your parents (for the first time) as I haven't met them before. This use of conoscere cannot be confused with sapere.

  • Conosci Luca? → Do you know Luca? Here I am asking you if you know a person, therefore we use conoscere.

  • Conosci Roma? Sì, molto bene perché ci abito da tre anni! → Do you know Rome? Yes, very well because I've been living there for three years. We use conoscere, because we are talking about knowing a place.

  • Conosci bene la grammatica italiana? → Do you know Italian grammar well? In order to know well Italian grammar, you have to study. Therefore, we are talking about a practical knowledge, rather than a passive knowledge. The use of conoscere in this case is recommended.

  • Mia madre conosce bene l'inglese perché ha vissuto due anni in Australia → my mom knows English well because she has lived for two years in Australia.

To wrap it up, the use of conoscere and sapere when it comes to ability (sapere), people and places (conoscere) and meeting someone for the first time (conoscere) is pretty straightforward. When we are talking about facts or knowledge the line becomes blurred. I have to admit that the passive/practical knowledge thing does not always work perfectly. For example:

  • Sai le regole del gioco? → Do you know the rules of the game?

  • Conosci le regole del gioco? → Do you know the rules of the game?

Honestly, both of them works for me. Maybe it's more passive because you've played this game before and just learned the rules without actually studying them, so sapere seems like a good fit. At the same time, conoscere looks good too, because maybe you've read the instructions. So, in this case, using one or the other is pretty much the same!

If you have any questions about this topic, don't hesitate to send me a message in the contact section of my website.

A presto,

Teacher Stefano

Do you want to take your Italian to the next level? Check out my Online Italian course for beginners "Be Italiano" and start learning today to become a real Italiano, like me!