Both “saber” and “conocer” mean “to know.” But before we look at the difference, let’s look at the conjugation of these two verbs, since both are irregular in the first person singular. If I ask you how to say, “I know,” you might not know. But if I ask you how to say, “I don’t know,” you probably remember that from high school (if you had Spanish): No sé.
Here’s the conjugation of saber: sésabemos sabessabéis sabesaben And here’s the conjugation of conocer: conozcoconocemos conocesconocéis conoceconocen Note that only the first person singular form is irregular.
Saber and conocer aren’t nearly as hard as ser and estar. “Conocer” means to know a person. Conozco a tus padres. – I know your parents. Conozco a Juan. – I know Juan. Lo conozco. – I know him. Conozco al médico. – I know the doctor. What’s that pesky little “a” doing in there? We’ll get to that in a minute.
“Conocer” also means to be familiar with a place: Conozco Atlanta. -- I’m familiar with Atlanta. I know Atlanta. Conozco el país. – I’m familiar with the country. I know the country. Conozco los jardines botánicos.– I’m familiar with the botanical gardens. I know the botanical gardens.
“Saber” means to know information. Sé la fecha. – I know the date. Sé tu número de teléfono.– I know your phone number. No sé si vienen. – I don’t know if they’re coming. Sé que estudias mucho. – I know you study a lot. Sé dónde vives. – I know where you live. Sé quién es el presidente. -- I know who the president is.
Warning, warning, warning!!!!!!!!! Students tend to confuse “I know who he is” – Sé quién es. with “I know him.” – Lo conozco. There’s a big difference between “I know who the U.S. president is” and “I know the U.S. president.” One is information; the other is actually knowing the person.
In summary: “Conocer” means to know a person or be familiar with a place. “Saber” means to know information or to know how to do something.
Remember that “a” that appeared with “conocer” sometimes? Conozco a tus padres. – I know your parents. Conozco a Juan. – I know Juan. Conozco al médico. – I know the doctor. Note that there’s no “a” in these sentences: Conozco Atlanta. -- I’m familiar with Atlanta. Conozco el país. – I’m familiar with the country. Conozco los jardines botánicos.– I’m familiar with the botanical gardens. Whenever the direct object is a person, you get “a” in front of it. If it’s a thing rather than a person, there’s no “a.” This happens not just with “conocer” but with ANY verb, with the exception of “tener”: Ves a tu hermano. Ayudo a mis amigos. Necesita a su madre. Tengo una hermana.