To Know in French: Savoir or Connaître?

Unlike English, French has two verbs meaning “to know”: “savoir” and “connaître”. Connaissez-vous la différence entre les deux ? Do you know the difference between the two?

It’s actually easier than it seems, as you’ll discover in this lesson.

Savoir

To know how to do something

Je sais nager
I know (how to) swim

To say “I know how to do something” in French, you use “je sais + verb infinitive”. Unlike English, you don’t need to write “how to” since it’s already implied in the meaning of “savoir”.

To know who, what or where

Je sais qui il est
I know who he is

Je sais où elle est
I know where she is

Je sais où le musée se trouve
I know where the museum is located

Je ne sais pas quoi faire
I don’t know what to do

In this case, “savoir” is followed by an interrogative pronoun like “qui” (who), “où” (where), “quand” (when) or “quoi’ (what). These are the equivalent of WH question words in English.

Since “connaître” is never followed by an interrogative pronoun, you can be certain that you should use “savoir” every time you want to use “know” before an interrogative pronoun.

Connaître

Even though it’s often translated by “to know”, in most cases, the meaning of “connaître” is closer to “to be familiar with”. Thinking about it that way will save you lots of trouble.

“Connaître” is directly followed by a person, place or thing while “savoir” is followed by an interrogative pronoun or a verb.

To know someone or something personally

Tu connais ce restaurant ?
Are you familiar with this restaurant?

 

Est-ce que vous connaissez le prix du mètre carré à Paris ?

Do you know the price of a square meter in Paris?

Useful expressions with “savoir”

Qui sait

This is the equivalent of “who knows?”.

Il est peut-être déjà parti, qui sait ?

He may already have left, who knows?

Tu sais quoi?

This is an informal expression meaning “you know what?”.

Tu sais quoi ? J’en ai marre, j’me casse
You know what? I’m fed up with it, I’m out of here

Note: “se casser” can mean “to break”, but here it’s used as a slang term meaning “to take off”, “to be out of here”.

J’en sais rien

Literally “I know nothing about it”. You can use this expression to say “I’ve no idea”.

Note that this is a rather informal expression. Use it with people you know well.

 

Tu sais où j’ai mis mon téléphone ? Je le trouve pas

(Do) you know where I put my phone? I don’t find it

Je ne sais pas

With strangers, you can use “je ne sais pas” or “aucune idée” (no idea) instead of the informal “j’en sais rien”.

Est-ce que vous savez où est le métro le plus proche? Non, je (ne) sais pas désolé.

Do you know where the closest subway station is located? No I don’t know sorry.

Je ne sais quoi

Like in English, this expression is often used as a noun (un je ne sais quoi) to describe something or someone that has something special.

However, it’s also used literally to say “I don’t know what”.

Elle avait un certain je ne sais quoi qui m’a fait tomber fou amoureux

She had a certain je ne sais quoi that made me fall madly in love

 

Je ne sais pas quoi faire demain, une idée?

I don’t know what to do tomorrow, any idea?

Useful expressions with “connaître”

Connaître quelque chose sur le bout des doigts

When you “know something on the tip of your fingers”, it means you know it perfectly.

Tu es prêt pour ton examen ? Oui je connais le sujet sur le bout des doigts.

Are you ready (lit: you are ready) for your exam? Yes, I know the topic like the back of my hand.

Connaître la musique

This expression either means that you actually know a song, you’re familiar with it. But it can also mean that you are used to something, because you’ve already been through it.

Pas de téléphones pendant l’épreuve, vous connaissez la musique.
No phones during the exam, you know how it works.

Connaître quelque chose par coeur

Literally “to know something by heart”. This is used exactly like in English.

A force d’entendre cette chanson, je la connais par coeur.

I know this song by heart, because I heard it a lot.

Got a question about the difference between “savoir” and “connaître”? Post it in the comment section below this article!

Benjamin Houy
Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

3 thoughts on “To Know in French: Savoir or Connaître?”

  1. This is a fantastic post. I have been struggling with when to use connaître or savoir. I know connaître is used if followed by a noun, but for the rest I was in a fog. You have clarified the matter. Thanks, Benjamin

    Reply

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