Everything You Need to Know About the French Verb “Savoir”

Savoir means “to know” in French. Let’s explore all things savoir, starting with its conjugation.

Savoir 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 simplePassé ComposéImparfait
je saisj’ai suje savais
tu saistu as sutu savais
il/elle/on saitil/elle/on a suil/elle/on savait
nous savonsnous avons sunous savions
vous savezvous avez suvous saviez
ils/elles saventils/elles ont suils/elles savaient
FutureConditionalSubjunctive
je sauraije sauraisque je sache
tu saurastu sauraisque tu saches
il/elle/on saurail/elle/on sauraitqu’ il/elle/on sache
nous sauronsnous saurionsque nous sachions
vous saurezvous sauriezque vous sachiez
ils/elles saurontils/elles sauraientqu’ils/elles sachent
Imperative (Like some irregular verbs, the imperative form of savoir is based on its present subjunctive conjugation.)
Sache (tu)
Sachons (nous)
Sachez (vous)

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:

Plus-que-parfait
j’avais su
tu avais su
il/elle/on avait su
nous avions su
vous aviez su
ils/elles avaient su
Passé simplePassé antérieur
je susj’eus su
tu sustu eus su
il/elle/on sutil/elle/on eut su
nous sûmesnous eûmes su
vous sûtesvous eûtes su
ils/elles surentils/elles eurent su
Futur antérieurFutur proche
j’aurai suje vais savoir
tu auras sutu vas savoir
il/elle/on aura suil/elle/on va savoir
nous aurons sunous allons savoir
vous aurez suvous allez savoir
ils/elles auront suils/elles vont savoir
Conditionnel passé
j’aurais su
tu aurais su
il/elle/on aurait su
nous aurions su
vous auriez su
ils/elles auraient su
Passé du subjonctifImparfait du subjonctifPlus-que-parfait du subjonctif
j’aie suje susseje eusse su
tu aies sutu sussestu eusses su
il/elle/on suil/elle/on sûtil/elle/on eût su
nous ayons sunous ayons sussionsnous eussions su
vous ayez suvous ayez sussiezvous eussiez su
ils/elles aient suils/elles sussentils/elles eussent su

What does savoir mean?

A woman in a white shirt, jeans, and an orange-colored jacket sits reading a book by a houseplant. We can only see her body and her chest-length brown hair, but from her posture, she seems to be laughing or looking dreamily up from the pages.

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.

For instance:

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

A salt shaker sits on a table in what may be a restaurant. It is the only clear thing in the photo, everything else is blurred. A bit existential.

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 au 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

A young boy's hand is outstretched. In his open palm are two shiny gold coins. The ground below is paved with tile or brick.
Je crois savoir où se trouvent les pièces d’or.

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).

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

9 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About the French Verb “Savoir””

  1. Another usage I might add (I’m no French expert) is that I found out that the construction “dès que j’ai su…” means “as soon as I knew/found out/heard, etc.”

    Reply
  2. Je sais que vous vous spécialisez avec le français de France et je continue à approfondir ma richesse de la langue grâce à vous tous. Cette fois vous avez cité l’usage Franco-belge du verbe savoir. Intéressant comme toujours d’ailleurs. À propos, puis-je suggérer un commentaire / comparaison avec le français -québécois ? Bagnole = Char par exemple. Il n’y a pas de problème avec le français écrit cependant l’expression orale avec les gens ordinaires est tout autre chose.

    Reply
  3. I am SO disappointed and discouraged by the lesson on “savoir” you have presented to us. I understood this was exactly the old fashioned type of teaching you did NOT do! i.e. lots of grammar to learn by rote., most of which we will never need to use.You made a point of this, again and again.!Do we really need to learn all these tenses? I have done a lot of grammar over the years but have never come across most of them. I don’t know what they mean in English!
    I have never been able to speak French, so I thought your course sounded ideal. So far I have enjoyed it , although I’m only at lesson 15. I’m prepared to work hard, but I am daunted by these tenses!

    Reply
    • Bonjour Pat,

      I’m sorry to hear you found this lesson discouraging. It does include a lot of information and I absolutely agree that you don’t need to know all these tenses. In fact, I will make sure we better highlight which tenses are must-know and which aren’t in the future.

      The other thing is that the course and the blog serve different purposes. The course teaches you the essential French vocabulary and grammar you need for everyday life while the blog goes more in-depth. This means the lessons from the blog aren’t meant to be learned by heart. What I would recommend is only picking the information you feel you need right now. For this lesson, this could mean simply learning 2 or 3 expressions and skipping the rest.

      Reply
  4. What a very helpful article. Thank you. I occasionally come across a literary use of savoir where it appears to replace être, notably in the future tense.

    Reply
  5. Bon à savoir! Merci! I wonder if you could please provide me with a comprehensive link in French Together to the uses of the verb tenses, I think I need a refresher.

    Reply
  6. I found it very interesting. Especially, when these expressions come from someone in deep contact with french culture. Idioms are really tough to me to translate from either French into English or vice-versa. This is mainly due to my lack of being familiar with french culture.
    Thanks a bunch to let’s know all those expressions about “savoir”!
    I am a Language Facilitator from Mali, a French speaking country.

    Reply
  7. Somehow saying, “Va savoir!’ struck me as a bit arrogant, a subtle sense of
    saying “Hey, go find out!” ? no?
    (Thanks Alysa)

    Reply

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