Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to say “I know” in Italian: Sapere vs. Conoscere

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2020?

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 conoscere.  

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases” with the verb sapere, we will be able to speak about what we know in Italian; and with the verb conoscere we will be able to to describe who are friends are. We will be on our way to building complex sentences and speaking more like we do in our native language!

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when we ask for what we need in Italian, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 35th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

start with “I know” 
and use the verbs

sapere and conoscere

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these verbs?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on 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.

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How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Sapere 

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 conoscere.  

Let’s start with sapere.

Sapere is an irregular verb that ends in -ere.  It means to know,” as in to know a fact.

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. The irregular conjugations are given in the table below in brown and the regular conjugation in green. The syllable to be accented in each conjugation has been underlined.

Sapereto know (a fact)

io so I know
tu sai you (familiar) know
Lei

lei/lui

sa you (polite) know

she/he knows

     
noi sappiamo we know
voi sapete you all know
loro sanno they know

 

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How do we use the verb sapere

Just remember: “so, sai, sa”!

The present tense form for “I know…” from sapere is “Io so…” but of course, we leave out the subject pronoun, so the word that Italians use in conversation is just, “So…”

For the question, “Do you know…?” use the conjugated verb,  (tu) “Sai…?” for someone you are familiar with. Or: “Lei sa…?” for someone you have just met (including the subject pronoun Lei) to be polite.

“Does she or he know?” is, (lei, lui) “Sa…?” In order to emphasize the masculine or feminine nature of the subject, the subject pronouns lei or lui can also be used, for: “Lei sa?”  or “Lui sa?”  Most times, though, the subject is known to  the speakers from earlier in the conversation and therefore left out of the sentence.

Remember, there is no need to use the word “do” when asking a question in Italian.  Just these three simple, short Italian words, “so,” “sai,” or “sa” will suffice.  Use these short words to tell someone what you know or to ask someone what they know!

“Lei sa dov’è…” means, “Do you (polite) know where is the…?” (Or, in correct English: where the… is?”) This is an important Italian phrase to know when traveling in order to ask for directions. When approaching a stranger, it is customary to precede this question with the polite phrase “Mi scusi” for “Excuse me.”

Here are some examples of  travel phrases we can make with the verb sapere:       

Mi scusi, Excuse me,
…Lei sa dov’è… …(do) you (pol.) know where is…

…(do) you know where the… is?

…l’albergo? …the hotel?
…il ristorante? …the restaurant?
…la metro/metropolitana? …the subway?
…la fermata dell’autobus? …the bus stop?
…la stazione dei treni? …the train station?
…la banca? …the bank?
…l’ufficio postale? …the post office?
…il museo? …the museum?

Note: If the answer to these questions involves a particular street, the answer you will hear will use the phrase in… via, for the English on… street.

La banca è in via Verde.           The bank is on Green Street.     

 

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Use a similar format to ask questions about schedules using sapere when traveling.

Mi scusi, Excuse me,
…Lei sa quando… …(do) you (pol.) know when…
…arriva il treno? …the train arrives (lit. arrives the train)?
…arriva l’autobus? …the bus arrives?
…parte il treno? …the train leaves (lit. leaves the train)?
…parte l’autobus? …the bus leaves?
…apre il museo? …the museum opens (lit. opens the museum)?
…chiude il museo? …the museum closes?

 

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Finally, here are some commonly used, everyday phrases that you can make with the verb sapere. The word “Chissà” is a popular adverb and interjection used in Italian conversation. It is a word that can be used d in many different situations. Chissà can be used alone or in phrases that end with perché, se, or che (why, if, or what). Try to complete the questions that start with “Chissà…” in the table below on your own, using the simple present tense. 

Note the use of the subjunctive mode with the conjugation sappia and the imperfetto conjugation sapevo in our last two examples. Commit these phrases to memory, even if you haven’t fully mastered their verb forms, as they will come up often in conversation.  Knowing these two verbs will also impress your Italian friends!

So (qualcosa) a memoria. I know (something) by heart.
Chissà?
Chissà perché…?
Chissà se…?
Chissà che…?
Non si sa mai!
Who knows?
Who knows why…?
Who knows if…?
Who knows what…?
One never knows!
Come ben sai. As you well know.
Si sa che… Everyone knows that…
Non ne sa niente. He/she knows nothing about it.
Lo so. I know (it).
Non lo so. I don’t know (it).
Che io sappia.
Che lei/lui sappia?
As far as I know.
What does she/he know?
Lo sapevo! I knew it!

 

How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Conoscere 

Conoscere is a regular -ere verb.  Conoscere also means to know,  with the connotation  to become acquainted with a person or a place.

The regular conjugation of conoscere is listed in the table below. Notice that the pronunciation of the ending of the io and loro forms will change once the regular endings are added on to the stem. There is a “hard c” sound with the endings of sco/–scono for the io and loro forms.  These verbs are listed in orange. The remaining forms retain the softer “sh” sound of the infinitive conoscere with their –sci and –sce combinations.

 The stressed syllable for each conjugation is underlined.

 

Conoscereto know (be acquainted with)

io conosco I know
tu conosci you (familiar) know
Lei

lei/lui

conosce you (polite) know

she/he knows

     
noi conosciamo we know
voi conoscete you all know
loro conoscono they know

 


 

How to Say “I know ” in Italian  

Sapere vs. Conoscere

As we have just described above, sapere and conoscere  are two Italian verbs that both mean, “to know.”  Think about how many times each day we say, “I know,” “you know,” or, “Do you know?”  In Italy, these expressions are also used frequently. But, there are differences in how each of these verbs that means “to know”  is used. If we learn which situations use the verb sapere and which use conoscere, we will be able to speak about what we know and who are friends are in Italian!

To follow are some specific examples of how each verb is used.

  1. 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.
  1. Sapere is used to describe knowledge of something tangible that we can see or feel. The word that links the description of what we know to the subject of these types of sentences is the conjunction che.  Che cannot be omitted, as we often do in English.  Below are two examples that use sapere to describe something that we can see.
Ora so che il primo romanzo scritto in italiano si chiama, “I Promessi Sposi.”
Now (I) know that the first novel written in Italian is called, “The Betrothed.”
 
(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).” 

 

  1. 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 “so.”
(Io) So guidare la macchina.
I know (how to) drive a car.
  1. Sapere is also used when asking questions, as noted in the first section in this blog. 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?                
  1. Conoscere means to know, as in to be acquainted with a person or a place.  
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.

 

  1. 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.
Remember how to use sapere and conoscere to describe
what and who you know in Italian.

 I guarantee
you will use these verbs every day!
"Just the Verbs" from Conversational Italian for Travelers books
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

 

Available on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

 

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