The Art of Using 'Savoir' and 'Connaître': A Guide to French Knowledge Verbs

May 13th, 2023 - Vera

Mastering a language involves understanding the subtle nuances and intricacies that make it unique. In French, one such nuance is the distinction between the verbs ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître,’ both of which translate to ‘to know’ in English. However, their usage varies based on the context. This guide will explore these two key verbs, helping you grasp when and how to use each one effectively.

Understanding ‘Savoir’

‘Savoir’ is used to express knowledge or skill that one has acquired. It often refers to knowing information, how to do something, or whether something is or is not the case. Let’s look at its basic conjugation in the present tense:

The past participle of ‘savoir’ is ‘su.’ Like many French verbs, it forms compound tenses with the auxiliary ‘avoir.’ For example, in the passé composé, you would say ‘j’ai su’ (I knew).

‘Savoir’ is used in contexts where you know a fact or information, or you know how to do something. For example:

Understanding ‘Connaître’

‘Connaître,’ on the other hand, is used to express familiarity or acquaintance with someone or something. It could refer to knowing a person, a place, or being familiar with a subject matter. Here’s how it’s conjugated in the present tense:

The past participle of ‘connaître’ is ‘connu.’ It’s used with ‘avoir’ to form compound tenses, such as ‘j’ai connu’ (I knew) in the passé composé.

‘Connaître’ is used when you know or are familiar with a person, a place, or a thing. For example:

The Subtle Differences Between ‘Savoir’ and ‘Connaître’

Understanding the subtleties between ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ can significantly enhance your French language proficiency. While both verbs mean ‘to know,’ the type of knowledge each one refers to is the key difference. ‘Savoir’ is about knowing facts or how to do things, whereas ‘connaître’ is about being familiar with people, places, or things.

For instance, consider the sentence ‘I know French.’ If you’re talking about knowing how to speak the language, you would say ‘Je sais le français.’ However, if you’re talking about being familiar with French culture, literature, or a similar concept, you would say ‘Je connais le français.’

Idiomatic Uses of ‘Savoir’ and ‘Connaître’

Both ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ are also used in various idiomatic expressions. For example:

In the case of ‘connaître,’ we have:

‘Savoir’ and ‘Connaître’ in Other Tenses

Like most French verbs, ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ change forms in different tenses. In the future simple, ‘savoir’ becomes ‘saur-‘ (je saurai, tu sauras, etc.), while ‘connaître’ becomes ‘connaîtr-‘ (je connaîtrai, tu connaîtras, etc.).

In the conditional tense, ‘savoir’ becomes ‘saur-‘ (je saurais, tu saurais, etc.), while ‘connaître’ changes to ‘connaîtr-‘ (je connaîtrais, tu connaîtrais, etc.).

Both verbs also have their subjunctive forms, used to express doubts, wishes, or uncertainties. The subjunctive of ‘savoir’ is ‘sache’ (que je sache, que tu saches, etc.), and for ‘connaître,’ it’s ‘connaisse’ (que je connaisse, que tu connaisses, etc.).

Mastering the Use of ‘Savoir’ and ‘Connaître’

Understanding when to use ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ is a vital aspect of mastering French. Here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Practice in Context: The best way to understand the difference is by using these verbs in context. Try to make sentences using both verbs and practice them. Reading French literature, watching French films, or listening to French podcasts can also give you a better sense of their usage.

  2. Use Mnemonics: Since ‘savoir’ is about factual knowledge or skills, think of it as ‘knowing information.’ On the other hand, associate ‘connaître’ with ‘knowing a person’ or ‘knowing a place.’

  3. Remember the Exceptions: Like any rule, there are exceptions. For example, when talking about knowing a language, both ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ can be used, but the meaning changes slightly, as explained earlier.

The ability to use ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ appropriately is an essential part of fluency in French. While it might seem tricky at first, with practice and immersion, you’ll be able to use these verbs with ease and confidence.

In conclusion, ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ are two crucial verbs in the French language that both translate as ‘to know.’ However, their usage differs based on the context. ‘Savoir’ is used to refer to skills or factual knowledge, while ‘connaître’ is used to express familiarity with people, places, or things. Mastering these verbs is key to expressing knowledge and familiarity in French. With regular practice, contextual usage, and an understanding of their nuances, you can master the art of using ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ effectively. Embrace the challenge and the journey of learning French and appreciate the nuances that make this language so fascinating and rich.

Tips for Continued Practice

As with any language skill, repetition, exposure, and practice are key in fully understanding and accurately using ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître.’ Here are some suggestions for continued practice:

Engage in Conversation: If you have the opportunity to converse with native French speakers, try to use ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ in your discussions. Pay attention to how they use these verbs and in what contexts.

Consume French Media: Listening to French radio, watching French films or series, and reading French books or newspapers can provide context for how these verbs are used in real-life situations.

Practice Writing: Try writing essays, letters, or journal entries in French, making sure to incorporate ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître.’ This practice will not only help reinforce your understanding but also improve your overall French writing skills.

Use Language Apps: Several language learning apps offer exercises and quizzes to practice specific language skills, including verb usage.

Get Feedback: If possible, have a French teacher or a knowledgeable friend provide feedback on your use of ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître.’ They can correct any mistakes and provide helpful tips.


Mastering the use of ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ is more than just understanding the difference between two verbs. It’s about grasping the subtleties of the French language that allow for rich, nuanced expression. It’s part of the larger journey of learning French, a journey full of challenges, discoveries, and rewards. So continue to explore, practice, and immerse yourself in the language, and remember to appreciate the beauty and richness of French and the unique perspective it offers into its culture and its people. In doing so, you’ll not only learn how to use ‘savoir’ and ‘connaître’ effectively, but you’ll also cultivate a deeper, more profound connection with the French language.

Achieve fluency with ListLang—it's free!

ListLang Logo
Start learning in under a minute.
Download ListLang iPhone AppDownload ListLang Android App