French Grammar: The Verbs SAVOIR vs. CONNAÎTRE

French Grammar: The Verbs SAVOIR vs. CONNAÎTRE

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French Grammar: The Verbs SAVOIR vs. CONNAÎTRE
la grammaire française: les verbes SAVOIR vs. CONNAÎTRE

The verb SAVOIR expresses knowledge, but in a specific sense.  It means to either know information (facts, data) or know how to do something.

The verb CONNAÎTRE expresses knowledge, but in a specific sense.  It means to either know someone, someplace, or something – mostly in the sense of to be familiar with.  More specifically, CONNAÎTRE means to know someone in the sense of having already met them personally (e.g., “I know the French professor very well”), or to be familiar with a place or location (e.g., “I know Paris like the back of my hand”), or to be familiar with a body of work (e.g., “I know the novels of Victor Hugo”).

Study:

In English, we have the verb TO KNOW.  This can be used for a variety of purposes, including information and familiarity.  In French, however, knowing information requires a different verb than getting to know a person (familiarity) or knowing your way around a place. They are two completely different things!  It’s very important to learn how and when to use SAVOIR vs. CONNAÎTRE – these two verbs are NOT interchangeable!

The verb SAVOIR expresses knowledge, but in a specific sense.  It means to either know information (facts, data) or know how to do something.

SAVOIR : to know (information, facts, data)

Vous savez le nom du professeur de français?
Do you (formal) know the French professor’s name?

Tu sais quelle heure il est?
Do you (familiar) know what time it is?

SAVOIR : to know how (to do something)

When you use SAVOIR to mean to know how to do something, all you need is the conjugated form of the verb SAVOIR. (The French word “comment (‘how’)” is often mistakenly used in this context, but it is not correct.  The sense of “to know how” is all part of the meaning of SAVOIR.  This is why the French word “comment” is unnecessary.)

Je sais parler français.
I know how to speak French.

Elles savent nager très bien.
They (feminine) know how to swim very well.

You may already be familiar with the following French phrases involving SAVOIR that have been borrowed into English: 

savoir faire : know-how

“Do you think he’ll be able to get the job done?”
“Oh yes, he’s definitely got the savoir faire (i.e., the know-how).”

Je ne sais quoi. : literally, I don’t know what (This phrase is often used to convey a pleasant or desirable characteristic about someone or something that can’t be easily explained or described.)

“What do you think of this painting?”
“I like it.  It has a certain
je ne sais quoi.”

IMPORTANT NOTE:  When used in the Passé Composé (past tense), SAVOIR means found out.

The verb CONNAÎTRE expresses knowledge, but in a specific sense.  It means to either know someone, someplace, or something – mostly in the sense of to be familiar with.

More specifically, CONNAÎTRE means to know someone in the sense of having already met them personally (e.g., “I know the French professor very well”), or to be familiar with a place or location (e.g., “I know Paris like the back of my hand”), or to be familiar with a body of work (e.g., “I know the novels of Victor Hugo”).

CONNAÎTRE with knowing (i.e., being familiar with) people:

Tu connais ma soeur?
Do you (familiar) know (i.e., have you met) my sister?

Vous connaissez le professeur de français?
Do you (formal) know (i.e., have you met) the French professor?

Je la connais.
I know her.

CONNAÎTRE with knowing (i.e., being familiar with) places or locations:

Tu connais la ville de New York?
Do you (familiar) know (i.e., are you familiar with) New York City?

Vous connaissez l’université?
Do you (formal) know (i.e., are you familiar with) the university?

CONNAÎTRE with knowing (i.e., being familiar with) bodies of work:

Tu connais les romans de Victor Hugo?
Do you (familiar) know the novels of Victor Hugo?

Je connais très bien Les Misérables et Notre Dame de Paris.
I know
Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame very well.

NOTE:  Faire la connaissance de means to meet (or literally, to make the acquaintance of):

Ce soir, je vais faire la connaissance de la femme de mon chef.
This evening, I am going to meet my boss’ wife.

Elle n’a pas encore fait la connaissance des parents de son petit-ami.
She has not yet met her boyfriend’s parents.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  When used with people in the Passé Composé (past tense), CONNAÎTRE means met (for the very first time).

Adapt:

Tu sais la capitale de la France?
Do you (familiar) know what the capital of France is?

Oui, je sais que Paris est la capitale de la France.
Yes, I know that Paris is the capital of France.

Est-ce qu’il sait où nous sommes?
Does he know where we are?

Oui, il sait où nous sommes.
Yes, he knows where we are.

Elles savent faire la cuisine?
Do they (feminine) know how to cook?

Oui, elles savent faire très bien la cuisine .
Yes, they (feminine) know how to cook well.

Savez-vous parler anglais?
Do you all know how to speak English?

Bien sûr!  Nous savons parler anglais!
Of course!  We know how to speak English!

Vous connaissez mon frère?
Do you all know (i.e., have you met) my brother?

Oui, nous avons fait sa connaissance l’annèe dernière.
Yes, we met him last year.

Tu connais la bibliothèque de l’université?
Do you (familiar)  know (i.e., are you familiar with) the university library?

Non, je ne connais pas trop bien cette bibliothèque.  Je m’y perds toujours.
No, I am not very familiar with that library.  I always get lost there.

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