difference between saber and conocer
The main difference between saber and conocer is that saber is having knowledge about something while conocer is expressing familiarity with a person or place. How do you teach that concretely to your students?
When I was a Spanish I student, verbs like saber and conocer used to confuse me SO much. If you’re in the same boat, don’t fret. I’m breaking down the details below, but before we dig into the differences I’m providing you with some words of wisdom; don’t force it! Whether you’re a teacher looking for the best way to instruct your students or you’re a student trying to figure it out, I’ve got the low down on saber vs conocer.
Keep in mind that when learning a new language we often want a logical answer for grammar, idioms, and sentence structure, but there isn’t always a logical answer. Focus on commitment to learning, memorize the facts, practice as often as possible, and bear in mind that the more exposure you get to the language the easier you comprehend the nuances of verbs like saber and conocer. Now let’s get into the details.
When I teach the verb saber (or any verb for that matter) I incorporate conjugation and sentence practice. If you aren’t incorporating sentence practice, get on that, now! That’s what gives a verb or any vocabulary word context. I can tell you that we use the verb saber to talk about what you know or know how to do. For example,
- I know how to dance. Yo sé bailar.
- Do you know if we have a test tomorrow? ¿Sabes si tenemos un examen mañana?
- She knows the answer. Ella sabe la respuesta.
Rather than just explaining that the verb saber is for possessing knowledge or skills, expressing certainty, or having knowledge about facts, I show what using the verb saber looks like.
Use the verbo conocer to talk about acquaintances and what you’re familiar with. Again, I can just tell you when to use conocer, but it’s going to be meaningful and comprehensible if I show you example sentence.s.
- I’m familiar with Chicago. Conozco Chicago.
- Do you know my friend? ¿Conoces a mi amigo(a)?
- He knows (of) a good restaurant here. Conoce un buen restaurante aquí.
If you’re reading the sentences and you (or your students) still don’t understand, remember the advice I mentioned above. Don’t force it! It takes time to wrap your brain around these nuances and that’s okay! Memorize the facts, practice sentences, and keep in mind that over time you will learn the differences by seeing the verbs used in reading or through listening to Spanish speakers. Context is EVERYTHING!
The saber conjugation is irregular in the yo form. Sometimes people make the mistake of saying “yo sabo”, which is understandable, but “yo sé” is the correct conjugation. All other forms of saber are normal.
The conocer conjugation is also irregular in the yo form. You have to add a “z” because the pronunciation makes more sense with zco rather than a co. Think about the sound of conoco versus conozco. All other forms of conocer are normal.
sentences using saber and conocer
I am all about sentences! Students don’t write them enough! When I was learning Spanish I wrote to my exchange family and other friends all the time. I grabbed my Spanish-English/English-Spanish dictionary and looked up every darn word I needed. It didn’t matter to me whether or not it was correct. All I cared about was communicating and learning the language. Of course we want our students to learn correct grammar, but sometimes focusing on perfection squashes people’s passion for learning. Failure and making mistakes is what helps us learn! If we really want to foster bilingualism or multilingualism then we need to ignite that passion! Let students explore the language.
A non-threatening way to explore is to have students look at a sentence in English first and decide whether or not they think it’s saber or conocer. Then they have to justify their response. It’s a great stepping stone into translating sentences. Don’t be afraid to let students use a dictionary for words they don’t know. That exploration is part of the fun! I recommend a hand-held dictionary. Get them out of their comfort zones and off of their phones.
The best way to practice saber examples is to start with English sentences and then practice translating. This provides students with a good foundation of the differences between saber and conocer.
I provide students with whole class instruction. First we go through several sentences together and decide why the sentences is saber or conocer. Once we finish the first 6 sentences, students do 10 sentences on their own.
Saber and conocer practice
I help students differentiate between the two verbs by comparing them side-by-side. I remind them that there are slight differences they should memorize to help them learn.
saber vs conocer powerpoint
PowerPoints are essential as a language teacher. Students need visuals. These days, with so many schools being one-to-one, a lot of people use Google Slides or Notability. I have options for both. If you want a saber vs conocer PowerPoint, click here and if you’d like to use something on Notability I recommend this option (click here).
A saber vs conocer powerpoint should include conjugations, whole group practice, and individual practice. It provides students with visuals, modeling, and independent work. You can get a peek at my lesson below.
saber vs conocer quiz
A great way to quiz students is to create a cloze paragraph where students can see the verbs being used in context of a situation rather than isolated sentences that are all about different topics.
Another option for a quiz is to do a sort. Have students read sentences and sort the words under saber or conocer.
I also like doing listening quizzes where students either have to fill in the correct form of the verb or write down a complete sentence using a dictation style.
saber vs conocer games
My favorite game to play as a language teacher doesn’t have an official game. I learned it from my high school Spanish teacher and she just called it the “Koosh (ball) game”. If you grew up in the 90s you know what a koosh ball is. 😂You don’t need to use a koosh ball, it just has to be a ball that students can throw in doors, but is soft enough that no one would get hurt with it.
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Choose two students to stand in front of the class. Each student gets a koosh ball. At the beginning of the game have the whole class stand up. The two students in the front each choose one person in the class to throw the ball to. Then the teacher asks a question and whichever student answers the fastest stays in the game. The point of the game is to be the last person standing. For the students who get out you can have them work on a project, worksheet, or write the questions and answers that the teacher is asking during the game. That way the ones who are out aren’t sitting their the whole time and they don’t try to get out on purpose in order to relax.
I also do sorting activities and partner turn and talk (pictured below). You could turn anything into a game by making it a race or competition. You could split the class up into teams for a sorting race. Board races are also fun and a great way to have students practice writing simple sentences.