The French Verbs "To Know"

Overview

Savoir and connaître both mean "to know." But they mean "to know" in very different ways: savoir relates more to things and connaître relates more to people, although there is an overlap with both verbs.

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Savoir and Connaître

The verbs savoir and connaître both mean “to know” in French. As we’ve learned in several other modules, we learn to conjugate irregular verbs that share similar conjugation patterns. In this case, we are learning how to conjugate these two verbs to learn in what contexts we use them being that they have the same meaning. Below are the conjugation charts of both savoir and connaître.

Subject PronounConnaître
Jeconnais
Tuconnais
*Il/Elle/Onconnaît
Nousconnaissons
Vousconnaissez
Ils/Ellesconnaissent
Past Participleconnu
Future Stemconnaîtr-
Subject PronounSavoir
Jesais
Tusais
Il/Elle/Onsait
Noussavons
Voussavez
Ils/Ellessavent
Past Participlesu
*Future Stemsaur-

*The asterisk indicates unpredictable changes with spelling. In the conjugation chart of savoir the future tense stem is unique and does not follow the traditional, regular verb pattern of having its infinitive as the stem. In the conjugation chart for connaître, notice the circumflex accent (^) that is present in its infinitive and the third person singular conjugation.

When to Use Each Verb

As we know, both verbs mean “to know.” However, they are not interchangeable.

Use Savoir When:

  • You know a fact, piece of information, or data.

Je sais la vérité.                                              I know the truth.

Nous ne savons pas son nom.                         We don’t know his name.

  • You know how to do something (savoir + verb infinitive)

On sait parler français.                                   We know how to speak French.

Vous ne savez pas conduire.                           You don’t know how to drive.  

Use Connaître When:

  • You want to express familiarity of people, places, or work

            Connais-tu Michelle ?                                    Do you know Michelle ?

Je connais la route.                                         I am familiar with the route.

Elles connaissent bien les boîtes de nuit.        They know the nightclubs well.

Savoir and Connaître in the Passé Composé.

When used in the past tense, these verbs do not mean “knew.” The past tense of savoir means “found out” and the past tense of connaître means “met (someone for the first time).”

The past participle of savoir is su.      →         Jai su le sens du mot.

                                                                        I found out the meaning of the word.

The past participle of connaître is connu. Ils ont connu leur voisin aujourd’hui.

They met their neighbor today.

Additional Examples:

Elle a connu un nouvel ami.  

She met a new friend.                                                

Je saurai le verdict demain matin.

I will know the verdict tomorrow morning.

Quand je regarderai une carte, je connaîtrai la bonne route.

When I look at a map, I will know the right route.

Nous avons su la date du concert.

We found out the date of the concert.

Sais-tu réparer lordinateur ?

Do you know how to repair the computer?

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.