I was always taught to use sapere to say that I know something and conoscere to say that I know someone. However, I get the feeling that this is just a heuristic for new speakers, and I'm wondering if there's a more correct/thorough rule for when to use conoscere instead of sapere. I'm specifically wondering about instances other than references to people, such as, "Yes, I know Janet."
Though they both translate “to know” in English “sapere” and “conoscere” are not always interchangeable. See the following extract for details:
Sapere and conoscere are a couple of Italian verbs that are often missed or interchanged. Many think they can be used indifferently, but it is not the case.
Yes, in English and some other languages there is just one verb which happens to be to know.
Instead, in Italian sapere and conoscere are used with different meanings and describe a different idea, thus, it goes without saying that they are not interchangeable.
Conoscere is used with people, places or things and its meaning is to be familiar or acquainted with a person, a place, a thing, a situation or an event. In short, it is possible to say that conoscere is followed just by nouns. You will never see conoscere faith another verb (which instead, is likely to happen with sapere).
- Conosco la geografia italiana molto bene. (I know very well Italian geography)
- Conosci il nuovo ragazzo francese al corso di italiano? (Do you know the new French guy at the Italian course)
- Conosciamo molto bene la città di Lucca, è incantevole! (We know Lucca very well …)
Sapere means to be aware of something, and especially in the questions is often used to ask for a piece of information.
- Non lo so (I don’t know)
- Scusi, sa dove si trova la stazione? (Excuse me, do you know where is the station?)
- Sappiamo che è stato trovato un gatto nel vostro giardino (We know that a cat was found in your garden)
To put it in another way, sapere is used when we find out something by our mental faculties, while conoscere is used when we find out something or someone by our physical faculties.
SAPERE AS A MODAL VERB:
SAPERE is also used as a modal verb when it is accompanied by an infinitive verb. In this case, it is used to say that you know HOW to do something, that you have an ability or a skill.
- So parlare molto bene italiano, ma non so cucinare per niente!
- Sai suonare la chitarra?