Connaître v Savoir – Battle of the French verbs
So language learning can be pretty straight forward when you feel like you’ve got into your groove and you know enough vocabulary to get by. But sometimes (often) there just isn’t a direct translation. I remember in the early days, getting the difference between the French verbs Savoir and Connaître was a nightmare. Both translate to the English infinitive form to know. I asked various French people and they found it very difficult to answer and it left me more confused. Now some years later, I’ve cracked it and use both with ease because actually it’s quite easy.
I’m sure you’ve read other resources about how to differentiate between the two French verbs. So you are still looking for another way to make it clear. This method works for me.
I find it easier to explain Connaître first (see conjugations here). When your confused about whether to use it or savoir, try thinking about it like this: connaître means to be familiar with; you personally know somewhere or your friends are talking to you about someone. If you know them, you are familiar with them. So: Je le/la connais. The same goes for a bar or restaurant. I use it all. the. time.
- Tu connais ce bar là-bas ? – Do you know (are you familiar with) that bar over there?
- Non, je ne le connais pas, pourquoi ? – No, I don’t know (I’m not familiar with) it, why?
- Paul l’aime parce qu’il connaît le propriétaire et il lui donne des verres gratuits – Paul likes it because he knows (he’s familiar with) the owner and he gives him free drinks.
In English, to be familiar with suggests that you’ve heard of something/someone but you don’t really know it/them in detail/closely. When you’re at the stage in French when you’re trying to decipher which verb to use, I found this a really good way of doing it. If to be familiar with does not work then you probably need savoir of the two French verbs.
Savoir (see conjugations here) is the one of the French verbs that is used to talk about knowledge you have, concrete facts, dates, certainties.
- Est-ce que tu savais qu’on a eu des devoirs ? – Did you know that we had homework?
- Oui, je sais qu’il y en a eu pour les maths et le français. – Yes I know we had some for maths and french.
- Alors, je sais que le prof ne va pas être content avec moi. – Well, I know that the teacher is not going to be happy with me.
If the sentence doesn’t work with to be familiar with, then you probably need savoir.
Here’s a quick list of examples in English that you’re likely to translate in your head in the early days of speaking French along with the French verb you should choose:
- I know him/her/that place. Connaître.
- I don’t know (the answer, why I did it, what you’re thinking, what your favourite colour is). Savoir.
- I don’t know (the bar, the café). Connaître.
- I know it/the café/the bar/the restaurant. Connaître.
- I know when your birthday is (fixed date). Savoir.
- I know what 1 + 1 equals (fact). Savoir.
- I know that Thierry Henry is Arsenal’s record goalscorer (fact as of 2016). Savoir.
- I know Thierry Henry. I know of Thierry Henry. Connaître.