Savoir means “to know” in French.
Let’s explore all things savoir, starting with its conjugation.
Savoir is an irregular verb, which means you’ll have to memorize its conjugations.
A small consolation is that it’s conjugated with avoir in compound tenses, so you don’t have to agree the participle and the subject in a standard sentence. Bon à savoir ! (Good to know!)
Here’s how to conjugate savoir in the most common French verb tenses:
|Présent simple||Passé Composé||Imparfait|
|je sais||j’ai su||je savais|
|tu sais||tu as su||tu savais|
|il/elle/on sait||il/elle/on a su||il/elle/on savait|
|nous savons||nous avons su||nous savions|
|vous savez||vous avez su||vous saviez|
|ils/elles savent||ils/elles ont su||ils/elles savaient|
|je saurai||je saurais||que je sache|
|tu sauras||tu saurais||que tu saches|
|il/elle/on saura||il/elle/on saurait||qu’ il/elle/on sache|
|nous saurons||nous saurions||que nous sachions|
|vous saurez||vous sauriez||que vous sachiez|
|ils/elles sauront||ils/elles sauraient||qu’ils/elles sachent|
|Imperative (Like some irregular verbs, the imperative form of savoir is based on its present subjunctive conjugation.)|
How to conjugate less common tenses of savoir
These verb tenses aren’t used as frequently in everyday spoken or written French, but they are useful to know – and in many cases, to use:
|tu avais su|
|il/elle/on avait su|
|nous avions su|
|vous aviez su|
|ils/elles avaient su|
|Passé simple||Passé antérieur|
|je sus||j’eus su|
|tu sus||tu eus su|
|il/elle/on sut||il/elle/on eut su|
|nous sûmes||nous eûmes su|
|vous sûtes||vous eûtes su|
|ils/elles surent||ils/elles eurent su|
|Futur antérieur||Futur proche|
|j’aurai su||je vais savoir|
|tu auras su||tu vas savoir|
|il/elle/on aura su||il/elle/on va savoir|
|nous aurons su||nous allons savoir|
|vous aurez su||vous allez savoir|
|ils/elles auront su||ils/elles vont savoir|
|tu aurais su|
|il/elle/on aurait su|
|nous aurions su|
|vous auriez su|
|ils/elles auraient su|
|Passé du subjonctif||Imparfait du subjonctif||Plus-que-parfait du subjonctif|
|j’aie su||je susse||je eusse su|
|tu aies su||tu susses||tu eusses su|
|il/elle/on su||il/elle/on sût||il/elle/on eût su|
|nous ayons su||nous ayons sussions||nous eussions su|
|vous ayez su||vous ayez sussiez||vous eussiez su|
|ils/elles aient su||ils/elles sussent||ils/elles eussent su|
What does savoir mean?
Savoir means “to know” -but what you must know is that this doesn’t cover all knowledge. To be precise, savoir means to know facts/how to do something, or to be aware of something.
Je sais lire. (I know how to read.)
– Je t’aime. – Je sais. (“I love you.” “I know.”)
But savoir doesn’t cover everything you can know. That’s where connaître comes in.
The difference between savoir and connaître
As we’ve just seen, savoir means “to know” in the sense of something you’ve learned or a skill you have.
For instance: Nous savons parler français. (We know how to speak French.)
or Je sais ce que tu veux dire.(I know what you mean.)
Connaître, on the other hand, means “to be familiar with” or “to know someone”. This last one is the easiest difference to spot between the two French “to know” verbs; you can’t use savoir to say you know a person.
Here are some example sentences with connaître:
Elle connaît ma cousine. (She knows my cousin.)
Je connais ce poème, je le trouve magnifique. (I know (am familiar with) this poem, I think it’s magnificent.)
If you’ve never come across this difference before, or if you want to review it, I highly recommend this Cliffs Notes page.
The extra meaning of savoir in Belgian French
In addition to meaning “to know” and “to be aware of”, savoir for Belgian Francophones can also be a synonym of pouvoir (can).
This is apparently a notorious characteristic of Belgian French for other French-speakers, as you can see from articles like this one, written by a bemused French-Canadian.
As he specifies, and as other sources confirm, using savoir to mean “to be capable of” is mostly done in oral language. Here are some examples. The first two seem to be very common phrases, since I’ve also come across them in other sources, including this one:
Tu sais me passer le sel ? (Could you please pass the salt?)
Cet ordinateur ne sait plus démarrer. (This computer can’t/doesn’t start anymore.)
Elle ne sait plus lire quand la télé est allumée. (She can’t read when the TV is on.)
Again, keep in mind that this additional meaning of savoir is only found in Belgian French, and then mostly in oral language.
Remember, too, that savoir still means “to know”/”to be aware of” in Belgian French. In fact, the Canadian journalist I cited claims he’s even heard Belgians say On ne sait pas savoir le temps qu’il va faire (We can’t/aren’t able to know what the weather will be like.)
How to say “to know how to” in French
The easiest and most common way to say “to know how to” do something in French is with this structure: savoir + verb(s) (+ noun).
For instance, let’s look back to one of the example sentences I wrote in a previous section of this article: Nous savons parler français .
It’s not often that French is more concise than English, but this is one of those times. Instead of having to say “We know how to speak French”, you just need savoir and the verb.
Here are some examples:
Elle sait monter à cheval. (She knows how to ride horses.)
Attention ! Le chat sait ouvrir des portes. (Careful! The cat knows how to open doors.)
Il le sait déjà. (He already knows (it/that).)
This being said, you may see, hear, or use savoir comment (to know how…) in certain situations. Typically, this would be when the focus isn’t on what is known/what skill has been acquired, but on how that came to be.
A perfect example of this is one that I found while researching this article:
Je voudrais savoir comment elle est tombée enceinte ! (I want to know how she got pregnant!).
If a person were curious about pregnancy in general or dealing with fertility issues, Comment tomber enceinte is a perfectly fine phrase. But in this case, well, there was clearly some drama behind the issue….
Phrases and expressions with savoir
As with “know” in English, there are a lot of French phrases and expressions with savoir, including many that are used regularly. Here are some of the most common:
se savoir – 1. to become known 2. to know oneself to be a certain way.
Examples: Ça va se savoir ! (Everyone will find out!/All will be revealed!). Il se savait très intelligent. (He knew he was very smart.).
Keep in mind that because in this case savoir has taken on a reflexive pronoun, it has to be conjugated with être in compound tenses.
Fun fact : Ça va se savoir ! was the Franco-Belgian version of The Jerry Springer Show in the early to mid- 2000’s. You can find old episodes on YouTube if you want to watch some very, very trashy TV en français.
Comment savoir (si) – How to know (if)/How can you tell (if)
Va savoir ! – Who knows?
Va savoir pourquoi. – Who knows why?/Who can say?
à savoir – namely/to wit.
This is an old-fashioned and formal use of this phrase – for instance, if a list of possessions is being made for contractual or legal reasons.
Example: Ce petit musée compte plusieurs trésors dans sa collection permanente, à savoir un tableau de Picasso, une tapisserie du XVIe siècle, et une momie égyptienne. (This small museum has several treasures in its permanent collection, namely a painting by Picasso, a 16th-century tapestry, and an Egyptian mummy.
À savoir. – It/That remains to be seen./We’ll see.
Yes, this is the same phrase as the previous entry, but the context is so different, and this one is always a stand-alone statement, as opposed to the previous one (which is usually part of a sentence), so I made it its own entry.
Example : Vont-ils se marier ? À savoir. (Will they get married? It remains to be seen.)
faire savoir [qqchose] à [qqn] – to let someone know something/to tell someone something.
Example: Elle lui a fait savoir que son copain le trompait. (She told him that his boyfriend was cheating on him.)
en savoir long – to know a lot about something.
ne plus savoir où donner de la tête – to be overwhelmed/confused, to not know where to look/not know where to start.
There are many similar expressions in French; this is just the one I hear the most.
Reste à savoir – It remains to be seen.
You can also add Il and/or si to add details to this statement. Examples: Va-t-il déclarer sa flamme ? Reste à savoir. (Will he declare his love? It remains to be seen.) Il reste à savoir s’il déclarera sa flamme. (It remains to be seen if/whether he’ll declare his love.)
sans le savoir – without knowing (it)/unknowingly.
savoir tout sur tout – to know everything about everything; to be a knowledgeable person.
Le saviez-vous (que)…? – Did you know (that)…?
You can do an online search for this phrase and come upon all sorts of neat facts and resources in French.
savoir y faire (avec) – to have a knack (with).
savoir-être – to know how to behave in social situations/etiquette.
Literally “to know (how) to be” – that’s how important polite behavior is to the French.
savoir-vivre – politeness, manners. Similar to savoir-être.
Example : Il manque de savoir-vivre. (He has no manners.)
savoir-faire – knowhow, skills.
This word also exists and means the same thing in English.
Tout finit par se savoir – Everything comes out in the end.
In other words, there are no secrets.
C’est) bon à savoir – (That’s) good to know.
As with some other expressions on this list, if you do an online search for Bon à savoir, you’ll come across lots of websites and videos full of information and advice about lots of different topics. Give it a try!
tu sais ? – you know?
As in English, this phrase can be used at the beginning or end of a sentence.
Tu sais quoi ? – You know what?
Je sais faire – I know how to do it/I’m good at.
Although many adults might say this, it’s also something young French children commonly say when you offer to help them with a task like tying their shoes. They may add tout(e) seul(e) at the end: “I know how to do it all by myself.”
en savoir quelque chose – to know a thing or two about (that).
Example: La cuisine italienne, j’en sais quelque chose. (I know a thing or two about Italian cooking.)
Sache que – Know this
croire savoir – to believe or think one knows something.
Example: Je crois savoir où se trouvent les pièces d’or. (I believe I know where the gold coins are.)
Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle Je-sais-tout – Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss Know-It-All
savoir tout sur __ – to know everything about/all about ___.
Want to know more? You can find additional expressions and phrases with savoir on this list.
Tu sais quoi ? Maintenant tu sais tout sur savoir !
Let’s finish with a song about one of the most important things a person can know: Savoir aimer. (To know how to love).