Saturday, September 25, 2010

Conocer vs Saber

After a few months on vacation, here is Preguntolandia again.

Conocer vs Saber

Conocer and saber mean to know in English. In Spanish, conocer gives the idea of “being familiar with something or somebody,” while “saber” refers more to knowing facts, data, specific knowledge that you need to study, practice, or memorize.

Conocer + a + persona, conocer + lugar or other noun

Why is “conocer” and not “saber” used to imply that I know a person or a place? 

First, it is impossible to know everything about a person. I don't know everything about myself; my doctor may know a lot about me, and I don't have a clue. In the same way, it's almost impossible to know 100% of the information related to a place. There is history, environment, etc., that I may not have a clue about. Second, conocer comes from cognoscĕre” in Latin, which has to do more with perception, seeing, cognition, being informed about something. Even if you see the way a math problem is solved, you still have to memorize information. We know a person or a place because we see them, listen to them, smell them, etc. You get the point.

Why does conocer need the preposition “a” when we want to express that we know a person? The answer is in the question. If I can remember that in English I say, “I know a person,” the it's easier to remember that in Spanish the rule is “conocer + a + persona.” The reason is simple. If we say,

Karina knows Patricia and Héctor.

Karina is the subject (sujeto) of the sentence, the person who does something, in this case “to know.” Since what she knows is people, then we say,

Karina conoce

Now, Patricia and Héctor are not the subjects of the sentence. Sure they may know Karina as well, but the focus of the sentence is Karina, not them. Patricia and Héctor are what or who is known by Karina [ notice the passive voice here].

Karina conoce a Patricia y a Héctor.

Note that the second a, “y a Héctor,” is for more emphasis. In spoken everyday Spanish, if you forget it, it's alright. Nobody will laugh at you.

We need to connect Patricia and Héctor to the sentence with the preposition a, otherwise the sentence will sound fragmented. How? Well it will sound kind of like this,

Karina knows. Patricia and Héctor.

It makes no sense!

Think also, that conocer is more like “knowing about” or “having information about.” You cannot say in English,

She has information them.

For places we don't need the preposition “a.” We only for people or institutions, since the latter function and are treated like people. Remember that domestic animals are also treated like people, specially when the cat or dog has a name. Example:

Mi gato se llama Van Helsing. Mis amigos conocen a Van Helsing.

Saber + a = to taste like

Don't ever use saber + a + person, unless you're talking in metaphorical way. “Saber” also means to taste like or to have the flavor of. If you want to say, “My mother knows President Obama [or the president of your choice],” you need to say,

Mi madre conoce al presidente Obama. [remember that a + el = al]

Be careful, never say or write,

Mi madre sabe al presidente Obama.

Because the translation for this sentence is,

My mother tastes like president Obama.

Other examples with conocer:

Mi hermana conoce a Luis Carlos. [ My sister knows Luis Carlos.]
Tu amigo no conoce a Ester. [Your friend doesn't know Ester.]
Ellos conocen Madrid. [They know Madrid.]
Elisa y yo conocemos la tienda de Lola. [Elisa and I know Lola's store.]
Tú no conoces el disco nuevo de Luis Miguel. [You don't know Luis Miguel's new CD.]
Mi abuela conoció a mi perrito ayer. [My grandmother met my little dog yesterday.]

Conocer + a + person in the preterite tense [pretérito] means to meet somebody for the first time. In the last example, my grandmother met my dog, means that she saw the dog for the first time in her life.

Saber comes from the latin “sapĕre,” and it refers more to being an expert on something, to have the facts, to acquire the knowledge of X. “Sapere” is from the same family of words of “sapiens” as in the term “homo sapiens.”

Here are a few examples of saber:

Ellas saben mi número de teléfono. [They know my phone number.]
Gerardo no sabe mi correo electrónico. [Gerardo doesn't know my email.]
Mi abuelo sabe hablar alemán. [My grandfather knows how to speak German.]
Mi profesor sabe latín. [My professor knows Latin.]
Mi padre sabe mucho de agricultura. [My father knows a lot about agriculture.]
Tú sabes muchas canciones de amor. [You know a lot of love songs.]
¿Sabes la canción “Qué viva España”? [Do you know the song “Qué viva España”?

Saber + verb
In order to say “to know how to do something” we need to use saber + an infinitive verb. A few examples:

Usted sabe cantar muy bien. [You know how to sing very well.]
Mi tío sabe tocar el piano. [ My uncle knows how to play the piano.]
Ofelia no sabía cocinar chorizo. [ Ofelia didn't know how to cook chorizo.]

Saber que + oración completa
Other common phrases that use saber are phrases with “Saber que.” Phrases like, “Do you know what...?” or “Did you know that...?” need “que” because these are actually two sentences. Example:

Did you know that Salvador Dalí made a movie with Luis Buñuel?
¿Sabías que Salvador Dalí hizo una película con Luis Buñuel?

Did you know” is the question, and “you” is the subject of the question. “Salvador Dalí made a movie with Luis Buñuel” is the second sentence, in which Salvador Dalí is the subject. The two sentences are linked in English with the relative pronoun “that,” which in this case means “que” in Spanish.

¿Sabes qué? Te amo.
Do you know what? I love you.

¿Saber or conocer?

Sometimes the use of saber and conocer depend on the context. For example, I am familiar with the song “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga. I heard it on the radio, TV and the Internet a couple of times. I know the title. I recognize the song, but I don't know the lyrics. So, I can say the following,

Yo conozco a Lady Gaga. No la conozco en persona pero conozco sus canciones.
[I know Lady Gaga. I don't know her in person, but I know her songs]

Conozco la canción “Alejandro” de Lady Gaga.
[I know the song “Alejandro” by LG, I'm familiar with it.]

Sé el título de la canción.
[ I know the title of the song, I had to memorize it.]

No sé la canción “Alejandro”.
[I don't know the song.]

Solamente sé el coro: “Alejandro, Alejandro”.
[I only know the chorus, “Alejandro, Alejandro.”]

I hope it helps. If it does, great!

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