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Saber and Conhecer: in Portuguese, Is There Any Difference?

saber and conhecer in portuguese which to use

Isn’t it frustrating when you have two words in Portuguese for one single verb in English? You think too long and when you finally make up your mind you forget what you meant.

That’s what Saber and Conhecer in Portuguese do to you.

They seem to be different — after all, even twins are different — but sometimes you can use one, sometimes you can use the other, and sometimes you can use both.

And after reading this short article, you’ll learn how to use them simply, quickly, and effortlessly.

Saber in Portuguese — Facts and Information

I just learned a good friend is getting married.

Felix and Janice don’t know where they left their baby.

And Martha can’t help her boyfriend — she doesn’t know where his favorite doohickey is sold.

The common thread in those three situations is the piece of information they know, learn, or hear about.

And in that situation, in Portuguese we use saber.

Examples.

  1. Você sabe qual é a capital do Brasil? Do you know what the capital of Brazil is?
  2. Me desculpe. Eu realmente não sei onde fica essa loja. I’m sorry. I really don’t know where this shop is.
  3. Onde você soube disso? Where did you learn that? [That piece of news, information]

This third example can also be expressed with the highly useful verb “ficar” + sabendo (gerund).

Onde você ficou sabendo disso?

5 + 1 Uses of the Verb Ficar

Practical Knowledge

Chopin could play the piano at seven years of age.

At thirty-two, I can’t even play drums.

And Roberto, Maria’s son, is a child genius — he can assemble and disassemble a radio set.

When we’re talking about practical knowledge — things you can either do with your hands, with your mind, or with anything — you need saber.

  • Acho que sei fazer esta receita. I think I can manage to do this recipe.
  • Você sabe consertar este rádio? Can you fix this radio?
  • Me desculpe, não sei falar alemão. I’m sorry, I can’t speak German.

Sometimes, in English you also use the verb “manage” as in “I can manage this.” That’s what in the first example.

But if you want to say something like, “how did you manage to put up with him?” You need the verb “conseguir”.

  • Como você conseguiu tolerá-lo? How did you manage to put up with him?

Difference Between Poder (Can) and Conseguir (Can, too)

Conhecer — Making Acquaintance, Meeting “People and Places”

“Mark and Jemima have never met each other.”

“I’ve been to New York and I remain unimpressed.”

“I’ve never heard this song. What is it about?”

Those three situations involve some degree of “getting acquainted” with something or someone.

If you have heard a song before, it means you have some familiarity or acquaintanceship.

The same goes for places you’ve been to or haven’t been to.

And, of course, when you have the knowledge of the existence of someone because you met this person, you’re acquainted with him or her.

In this kind of situation, you must use conhecer.

Examples.

  • Você conhece fulano? Do you know John Doe?
  • Ainda não conheço Nova Iorque. É uma cidade muito bonita? I don’t know New York yet. Is it a very beautiful city?

“But Eli, I heard friends saying “Sabe o fulano?” before and they used “sabe”, not “conhece”! Why is that?

That’s a good point.

When Saber and Conhecer Can be Used in Portuguese “Interchangeably”

Do you remember that we talked about knowing a piece of information and having some acquaintanceship with someone?

Let’s take the following examples and the contexts they imply.

  • Você sabe o Mário? Ganhou na loteria! Do you remember Mario? He won the lottery!
  • Você conhece o Mário? Ele é meu primo. Have you met Mario? He’s my cousin.

In the first situation, what I am asking you about is the piece of information (Mario’s winning the lottery). We use that to start a gossip, usually.

In the second situation, I’m asking whether you have met him because I want you to know he’s my cousin.

Well, I don’t know about you, but if I had only that scanty evidence about the meanings of these verbs, I would be scratching my head.

And it would be no good if you had to read a treatise on the differences between saber and conhecer in Portuguese.

So, my best advice for you is — pay attention to how Brazilians use them.

You want to give your brain enough evidence of use. It’s the only way you can wrap your mind around it and say it naturally when you least expect it.

“Do You Know of Any Good Medicine?”

There is one more usage of these verbs that you need to be aware of — when you ask whether somebody knows of something.

  • Você conhece um bom remédio para dor nas costas? Do you know of any good medicine for back pain?
  • Você sabe de um bom remédio para dor nas costas? Do you know of any good medicine for back pain?

I might be wrong, but when I hear the structure “to know of something” I think it emphasizes that I know others, too.

Using the example above as a starting point, I know some medicines but there is one in particular I know of which is very good.

Bonuses — to Be in The Know…

This expression doesn’t use any of the verbs discussed in this article. But it’s a great expression to know of.

  • Você pode me contar mais sobre esse evento? Não estou por dentro dele. Can you tell me more about this event? I’m not in the know.

And “to be in the know of sth” is “estar por dentro de algo”.

And another expression for the road — o sabichão, a sabichona (“know-it-all).

  • Não gosto de falar com o John. Ele é um sabichão. I don’t like talking to John. He is a know it all.

Takeaways

Now I know that:

  • Brazilians make a distinction between knowing a piece of information (saber) and having acquaintanceship with someone or something (conhecer).
  • The verb “saber” is also used when talking about having a practical knowledge that can be applied.
  • There is a ubiquitous expression that means “to learn [the news]” — ficar sabendo de algo. I’ll hear that whenever someone starts a gossip, which happens at least once a day in Brazil in any social circle.

And now it’s your turn — complete the following sentence:

Hoje eu fiquei sabendo de…

I will help you correct any mistakes and suggest any good vocabulary I think you could use 🙂

And if you know you want to practice conversation in an easy and effortless way all the while improving your Portuguese quickly and efficiently — guaranteed — you might qualify for a no-cost, no-obligation, fifteen-minute discovery session.

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