To be “in the know” about how the Italian language works, we must know how to use the verb sapere and be acquainted with the verb consoscere. As summer comes to a close and the new school season begins here in America, we had a request to spend a little time focusing on the verbs sapere and conscere in our Conversational Italian! group on Facebook.
Once we tap into the Italian way of thinking and learn a few simple examples, it becomes easy to express what we know in Italian! Read below to see how this works. The excerpt is adapted from our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books
Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar. To listen to these Italian verbs in action, go to the audio tab for Chapter 5 on our website LearnTravelItalian.com.
How many ways can you think of to use the verbs sapere and conoscere? Please reply. I’d love to hear! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.
This material and more on this topic are available in the
Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books,
Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar
Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.
The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.
Sapere vs. Conoscere
Sapere is an irregular verb that ends in -ere. It means to know. Think about how many times each day we say, “I know,” or, “you know,” or, “Do you know?” In Italy, these expressions are also used frequently. Since sapere is irregular, the root will be different from the infinitive verb for all forms except the voi form. Interestingly, the root for the noi form differs by only a single letter from the regular root – with the addition of a second letter p. As usual, try to remember the most commonly used io, tu and noi forms.
Sapere – to know (a fact)
|tu||sai||you (familiar) know|
|sa||you (polite) know
|voi||sapete||you all know|
Conoscere is a regular -ere verb. This verb also means to know, but is used differently, more along the lines of to become acquainted with a person or a place. The regular conjugation will be given here for completeness. Notice that the pronunciation of the ending changes, with a “hard c” sound for the io and loro forms due to the endings of –sco/–scono, and the “sh” sound for the forms that have the –sci and –sce combination.
Conoscere – to know (be acquainted with)
|tu||conosci||you (familiar) know|
|conosce||you (polite) know
|voi||conoscete||you all know|
As an aside: Later, in Chapter 7, we will learn how to conjugate the –ire verb capire, which means to understand (capisco, capisci, capisce, capiamo, capite, capiscono). Back in the 70’s, a common phrase among Italian-Americans in New York used between family members and friends was, “Capisci?” (“ka-peesh” in New Yorkese) meaning, “Do you get it?” Don’t confuse the different forms of capire with the conjugations of conoscere!
Technically, both sapere and conoscere can be translated as to know, although they are used in different situations. To follow are some examples of how each verb is used.
- Sapere is used to indicate knowledge of something, such as a fact. For instance, if we tell someone that we know a language very well we are stating a fact and use sapere. Notice how the definite article (the) (l’) is used after the verb sapere to describe the Italian language in this case.
|Io so l’italiano molto bene.|
|I know (the) Italian language very well.|
- Sapere is used to describe knowlege of something tangible that we can see or feel. In our dialogue for Chapter 5 of Conversational Italian for Travelers, Caterina and Susanna describe what they do (and do not) know about the corn that they can see growing in northern Italy using the verb sapere. In order to say specifically, “I know that,” in Italian, Caterina includes che, which means that, in her sentence. The word che cannot be omitted in these types of sentences, as we often do in English. Here are two examples that use sapere to describe something that we can see.
|“Ma ora so che anche voi avete il granturco in Italia.”|
|“But now (I) know that you all have (the) corn in Italy.”|
|Io so che il cielo è blu.|
|I know that the sky is blue.|
By the way, if you don’t know something, you must say,
“Non lo so.” = “I don’t know it.”
- Sapere is used to describe the ability to do something. Notice in the translations below that the English phrase “how to” is not necessary in Italian. Instead, and an infinitive verb follows directly after “io so.”
|Io so guidare la macchina.|
|I know (how to) drive a car.|
- Sapere is also used when asking questions. If asking directions from a stranger, it is customary to begin with, “Mi scusi,” or just, “Scusi,” for the polite (command) form of “Excuse me.” Then follow with the polite, “Lei sa…”.
|Mi scusi; Lei sa quando arriva il treno?|
|Excuse me; (do) (you pol.) know when arrives the train?|
|Do you know when the train arrives?|
|Mi scusi; Lei sa dov’è il binario tre?|
|Excuse me; (do) (you pol.) know where is (the) track three?|
|Do you know where track three is?|
- Conoscere means to know, as in to be acquainted with a person or a place. In our dialogue from Chapter 5 in Conversational Italian for Travelers, when Susanna asks Caterina if she knows any people other than her cousin in Italy, they both use the verb conoscere.
|Susanna: Tu conosci altre persone a Milano?
(Do) you know (any) other people in Milan?
|Caterina: Si, io conosco mio zio Salvatore e mia zia Rosa.|
|Yes, I know my Uncle Salvatore and my Aunt Rose.|
Here are some additional examples of when to use conoscere:
|Io conosco Julia, la nonna di Paolo.|
|I know Julia, Paul’s grandmother. (lit. the grandmother of Paul)|
|Io conosco Milano molto bene.|
|I know Milan very well.|
- Conoscere is also used in reference to meeting/getting to know someone for the first time.
|Caterina vuole conoscere suo cugino Pietro in Italia.|
|Kathy wants to meet/get to know her cousin Peter in Italy.|