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Episode 86: Saber vs. Conocer

Let's talk about the differences between the popular verbs, saber and conocer. They both translate into English as "to know", but be careful! Just like estar and ser are not the same (you can check out Episodes 77, 78, and 79 for more information on that!), saber and conocer also have very different meanings and cannot be used interchangeably. Hopefully today's episode will help you navigate when to use which one correctly! Plus, we'll finish up our Cultural Tip on the Dominican Republic with three fun and interesting traditions! Let's begin!


Quick Update

I'm so sorry - I got completely mixed up with the holiday last week, and then we had some internet issues (one of the few cons of country living), and so am producing this episode a week late! Well, a week and a day late. I will try to produce the next episode on time (a.k.a., next week), but we'll see. At least I was correct with the last episode - I'm making new mistakes instead of repeating old ones. Glass half-full, right? :D I did try to add extra information to the episode, to try to make up for the tardiness. Again, my sincere apologies!

History of Saber and Conocer

So why are there two verbs in Spanish that translate into English as the verb "to know"? Put simply, Spanish is a Romance language that evolved from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire (just as French and Italian did, hence why they have so many similarities!). And Latin had two different verbs. According to the Real Academia Española, or RAE, the verb saber comes from the Latin sapere and the verb conocer comes from the Latin cognoscere. Since I know very, very little about Latin, I looked both verbs up on and found that sapere means "taste of; understand; have sense", whereas cognoscere means "become acquainted with/aware of; recognize; learn, find to be; inquire/examine". (Random fun fact: according to, sapere aude is a Latin phrase that means "dare to know" and seems to have been made popular - at least according to my very quick Google search - by the well-known philosopher Immanual Kant in his "Answer to the Question, What is Enlightening". He translates this phrase as "Have courage to make use of thy own understanding!" Have I read a lot of his works? Nope. I'm sure my philosophy professor would be disappointed to hear that, although I doubt he'd be surprised :D. All the same, I have included a link to his work in the show notes to this writing, just in case you want to see this phrase in action as well ;). )

But in essence, the modern, Spanish versions of saber and conocer are quite similar to their ancient Latin roots. Let's take a closer look at them.


This verb is all about expressing knowledge regarding concrete information, such as facts or trivia, or how to do something, like playing the piano, writing out calculus, or woodcarving.

For example:


I know history.

Yang sabe hablar español, francés y chino.

Yang knows how to speak Spanish, French, and Chinese.

(Note how, in this case, the verb saber intrinsically means "knows how", so that you don't need to write out Yang sabe cómo hablar. It can be just sabe hablar." Although people will add the cómo. If you want to know the difference between como and cómo, you can check out one of my original episodes, Episode 2: The Importance of Accent Marks. Man, have things changed since that episode! It was one of my first episodes, so give it some grace. :D You can also see it on YouTube here, with the PPT. As this is where I used to post the episodes with the PPT if you wanted to read it; it is so old that there is no blog for it. It's on the bucket list of things to do, but let's be real; that might not happen.)

Ella sabe tocar el piano.

She knows how to play the piano.

Mi suegra sabe cocinar cocina sureña.

My mother-in-law knows how to cook Southern cuisine.

You can add the word cómo if you are trying to say that you know or don't know the manner in which something is done. It adds a bit of nuance to a sentence.

For example:

¡No sé cómo puedes comer esa cosa asquerosa! / No sabes comer.

I don't know how you can eat t hat disgusting thing! You don't know how to eat. (The first sentence implies that you don't know in what way, or how in the world, that person can eat something. But the second sentence implies that they literally don't know how to do the action of eating.)

Sé cómo hacerla reír.

I know how (or rather, I know the way) to make her laugh.

Other Meanings

Saber also has a few other meanings that you may or may not know about, although there isn't time to do an exhaustive list. So we'll just cover a few.

First is "to taste" or "to taste like", which now makes sense, having looked at the Latin root. :)

For example:

¡Esta pizza sabe muy bien!

This pizza tastes great!

¡Hombre! ¡Este arroz sabe a comino!

Man! This rice tastes like cumin!

(Note how you use saber + a + noun to express "tastes like". This can also be used figuratively, as saber a gloria means "to taste divine".)

Next is saberse. When you use saberse, which is the pronominal verb form (meaning the direct object and the subject of the sentence are the same, such as with reflexive or reciprocal verbs), then you are emphasizing your knowledge. Basically, this is how you would express that you know something by heart.

For example:

Sólo me sé cocinar cocina francesa.

I only know how to cook French cuisine. (It adds an emphasis to the meaning. You are very focused on knowing French cuisine.)

¡A mi hija le encanta esa película! Me sé todas las canciones de memoria.

My daughter loves that movie! I know all the songs by heart. (I'm sure many of you can relate! :D)

Mi esposo sabe mi número.

My husband knows my phone number. (He has memorized it.)

Some Fun Idioms

  • Ya lo sabía - I thought so

  • ¡Ve tú a saber! - Beats me!

  • ¡Yo qué sé! - How should I know?!

  • Nunca te acostarás sin saber una cosa más - You live and learn / You learn something new everyday (more literally, you will never go to bed without learning another thing)

  • Oír campanas y no saber dónde - To not know what you're talking about (more literally, to hear bells and not know where)

  • Saber a poco - to be over before you know it / to not be enough

  • Saber latín - to be on the ball / to be very sharp


This verb is used when you want to convey that you know someone or are familiar with a place or thing. It's definitely more about having a connection to someone or something, verses saber (which is mainly just about cold, u nemotional information :D). Really, the differences between these two verbs is that saber is head knowledge and conocer is heart knowledge.

For example:

Yo conozco a Anita. Ella es mi tía.

I know Anita. She is my Aunt. (Note: When talking about knowing a person, it is very important to include the personal a. Conocer a alguien.)

Él conoce a David

He knows David.

Ella conoce Colorado; ella creció allí.

She knows Colorado; she grew up there. (Because this is not about knowing or being familiar with a person, you don't need to use the personal a. It is only used with people.)

¿Conoces la calle principal?

Do you know Main Street? (When you use conocer, you are asking if someone has been to Main Street or if they are familiar with it.)

Other Meanings

Conocer also has a few other meanings that you may or may not know about, although again, there's not enough time to do an exhaustive list, so here are just a few.

First is "to recognize", although you may just use the verb reconocer.

For example:

¡No te conocí con esa máscara puesta!

I didn't recognize you with that mask on!

Ella conoció su número en su teléfono.

She recognized his number on her phone.

Second is conocerse. When you use it as a reciprocal verb, meaning two different people perform the same action on each other, conocer becomes conocerse, which means "to meet someone" or "to know each other".

For example:

Nos conocimos en la escuela.

We met each other at school.

Mi hermana y su amiga se conocen desde la guardería.

My sister and her friend have known each other since kindergarten.

If you use it as a reflexive verb, it means "to know oneself".

For example:

Ella dice que ya no se conoce a sí misma.

She claims she doesn't know herself anymore

Important Differences

Here are some examples that highlight the differences between these two verbs.

No conozco a tu papá, pero sí sé de él.

I do not know your dad (as in, I have never met him), but I do know of him. (Or just replace "papá" with "Brad Pitt" and you get the picture. In English, we make this differentiation between knowing things and knowing about them by saying "I know that place" vs. "I know of that place").)

No conozco París, pero sé de ella.

I have never been to Paris, but I know of it.

No conozco esa canción, ¡pero sí la letra de su canción más popular!

I do not know/am not familiar with that song, but I do know the words to her most popular song!

¿Sabes su número? No, pero conozco su casa.

Do you know/have you memorized his number? No, but I know/have been to his house.

More Fun Idioms

  • Conocer de vista - To know by sight

  • Conocer el paño - to be current / up on something

  • Más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer - Better the devil you know than the one you don't

And that wraps up our episode on Saber vs. Conocer! See you (hopefully) next week!

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!


Cultural Tip: Dominican Republic

Unique Traditions

This island has quite a lot of cool and unique traditions and customs, but today we'll focus on three really interesting Dominican traditions!

1. Weddings

Dominican weddings are similar to other Latin American weddings, so I'll try to focus on just the unique aspects here. For starters, the bridal party tends to be pretty small, with no bridesmaids and a few children - one to carry the rings, another to carry a white Bible, and a boy to carry the gold coins called arras. These are 13 coins, each worth 10 cents, that are carried in on a silver tray. The boy gives them to the priest, who in turn gives them to the groom, who then gives them to the bride. This symbolizes how the couple promise to provide for each other and to share their possessions equally. There are the godparents, the padrino and the madrina (usually the groom's mother and the bride's father), who act as witnesses for the event.

There is also the Ceremonia Cantada, the "sung ceremony", which sounds absolutely delightful! It begins with the groom giving a speech expressing his love for his bride, which then turns into a serenade via song or poem accompanied by a mariachi band and the wedding attendees. Can you just imagine everyone signing to you at your wedding? I'm sure for many Americans that sounds awful, but I think it could also be such a cool bonding moment! I bet that's really beautiful. :)

After this is the exchanging of the rings, or the Aros de Bodas, which are given to the couple by their parents or godparents.

A few other interesting things to note:

  • Most gifts are delivered to the bride's house before the wedding, not at the ceremony or reception.

  • They do not have the superstition that it's bad luck for the couple to see each other before the ceremony, so it's totally fine to get your photos done beforehand.

  • Dancing at the reception is, of course, common, and they even have la hora loca (the crazy hour) where guests are encouraged to dance like no one's watching. :D

  • The couple's first dance as husband and wife is often a merengue dance, which is the official dance of the island.

2. Funerals

Funerals are quite the event in the Dominican Republica. A wake will usually go all night, although the family may decide to take a break at midnight and come back early the next day. Unlike in an American funeral, where you try to contain your emotions, the family can weep without constraint. One thing I read that surprised me: if you have a nice coffin for the deceased, you might have it attacked with machetes to prevent someone trying to steal it.

What follows after the burial is really interesting. It is a period called Los nueves dias, or you might here it referred to as la vela or el novenario. Basically, you have a daily memorial mass for the following 9 days. The first 3 days are for grieving, the next are for silence, and the last 3 are for acceptance/saying goodbye. I kind of wonder if this process is better for letting go of a loved one; it's very specific, devotes a lot of time to processing the loss, and seems like it would provide a lot of communal comfort.

Interestingly enough, that duty we feel to attend a funeral - that obligation to show respect for the dead and their living loved ones - is called a cumplir in the Dominican Republic. And it is expected that you go to a funeral, or at the very least to a mass, but you don't have to go to every single mass. Although, if you're in the family, I'm assuming you do.

3. Foods

As you all know, I absolutely love international food! I have, once again, added to my repertoire of awesome food blogs from around the world while researching this episode! :) Here are three cool dishes from the Dominican Republic, with links to recipes from the blog Dominican Cooking by Tia Clara (and bonus! Each one has a Spanish version! I've included those in the Show Notes).

  • Tres Golpes This popular breakfast dish is super straightforward - it is made of 3 things (hence the name, Three Strikes): mangú (boiled and mashed plaintains), Dominican fried salami, or salami frito, and fried cheese, or queso frito, which uses their queso de freír.

  • Sancocho This island stew is served at most holiday meals, and a lot of Latin American countries have their own version of it. For the Dominican Republic, it is meat (usually beef, but the recipe I've included a link to is the ultra fancy one, de seite carnes, or 7 meats) and root vegetables, but especially yuca, plaintain, and a squash called auyama (a.k.a. West Indian Pumpkin). It is usually served with rice, beans, and a salad.

  • Bizcocho Dominicano This beautiful cake is supposed to be very light and fluffy, with a pineapple filling and meringue icing (they call it suspiro). It is challenging and time-consuming, but it looks delicious! I really, really want to make it!

And that wraps up our final bit on the Cultural Tips for the Dominican Republic. Truthfully, the dance style merengue should have made this list, as it is one of the cultural treasures of the Dominican Republic, but I really want to do another episode on dances. So when that finally happens, I will include it there (see Episode 54: Song Sampler #3 - Unique Dance Styles of Spanish Music).



Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr

Cultural Tip Transition Music edited from song by JuliusH from Pixabay

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