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What is the difference between the Spanish verbs ‘saber’ vs ‘conocer(se),’ and ‘acordarse’ vs ‘recordar’?

People at a dinner table enjoying food.

Spanish has two verbs that are equivalent to “to know,” saber and conocer; and two verbs that are equivalent to “to remember,” acordarse and recordar. This of course can cause confusion, but in this post we will show you how to use these Spanish verbs correctly. As a little gift for you, we have also included printables for other challenging pairs that are a must know in Spanish!

I can’t wait for you to master all these! Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

For review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

‘Saber’ (to know) vs ‘conocer’ (to know, to meet)

Generally speaking, saber and conocer both translate as “to know,” but they are not interchangeable.

Use saber (to know) to talk about the following:

  • Facts or information (or lack of them!): whether as part of a statement or a question. For example:

¿Sabes el número de teléfono de Sonia?
Do you know Sonia’s phone number?
*Fact/info we are discussing is the phone number.
Tú sabes que mi cumpleaños no es hoy, sino mañana.
You know my birthday isn’t today, but tomorrow.
*The piece of information/fact being the birth date.

⤷TIP When paired with a reflexive pronoun, saber (to know) means “to know by heart.”
Me sé todas las canciones de Hamilton porque es mi musical favorito.
I know all the songs from Hamilton by heart, because it’s my favorite musical.

  • How to do something: it is normally going to address your ability (or inability) to do something or practice a skill. It will always be followed by a verb in its infinitive form (-ar, -er, -ir). For example:

Yo no sé tejer, pero sé bordar.
I don’t know how to knit, but I know how to embroider.
Elías sabía leer música y por eso pudo tomar el lugar de José en el concierto.
Elías knew how to read music and that’s why he could take José’s place in the concert.

Conocer (to know, to meet) is used:

  • To express familiarity (or lack of!) with a place. For example:
    Sí, conozco Valencia pero me muero por visitar Alicante.
    Yes, I am familiar with Valencia but I am dying to visit Alicante.
  • To express familiarity (or lack of!) with a person. It can be used for meeting someone for the first time, getting to know someone, or knowing them. For example:
    ¿Conociste a mi tío cuando nos visitó hace unos meses?
    Did you meet/become acquainted with my uncle when he visited a few months ago?
    No conozco a ninguna persona que se llame José María.
    I don’t know anyone named José María.
IMPORTANT

When using conocer (to know, to meet) with people, you must use the Spanish personal a after the verb, because the direct object is a person!

Conocer can also be used with a reflexive pronoun, conocerse, to talk about people meeting each other for the first time or knowing each other. For example:

Sabrina y yo nos conocemos desde hace muchísimo tiempo. 
Sabrina and I have known each other for a really long time. 

Mis padres se conocieron en la universidad. Tomaron la misma clase de historia del arte. 
My parents met in college. They took the same art history class.

  • To express familiarity (or lack of!) with a thing. For example:

Conozco las calles del Casco Viejo. Son un poco peligrosas en la noche.
I am familiar with the Casco Viejo streets. They are a little dangerous at night.

But hold on! We have another verb that can also be used for “to meet.” Let’s check it out next!

Encontrarse con (to meet) is used:

  • To talk about getting together with people, meeting up with people. For example:

Marta y yo vamos a encontrarnos con Rafael en el café de la esquina. ¿Quieres ir?
Marta and I are going to meet up with Rafael at the coffee shop in the corner. Do you want to go?

  • To talk about running into people. For example:

No me lo vas a creer, pero ayer me encontré con mi maestra de primaria.
You are not going to believe it, but yesterday I ran into my elementary school teacher.

  • To talk about coming across something. For example:

Limpiando el sofá mi hermano se encontró con los quince dólares que había perdido hace unos días.
While cleaning the couch, my brother came across the fifteen dollars he had lost a few days ago.

IMPORTANT

Encontrarse con (to meet) is always accompanied by a reflexive pronoun! Without the reflexive pronoun the meaning of the verb is “to find.”
No encuentro las llaves.
I can’t find the keys.

‘Acordarse’ (to remember) vs ‘recordar’ (to remember)

Both acordarse and recordar are translated as “to remember.” The main difference between these two verbs is their grammatical construction. Each is built a little differently.
No me acuerdo de tu nombre
vs
No recuerdo tu nombre.
I can’t remember your name.

First, let’s take a look at acordarse:

  • As you can see from its infinitive, it requires the use of reflexive pronouns for its construction. For example:

La niña siempre se acuerda de trancar la puerta antes de irse de casa.
The girl always remembers to lock the door before she leaves her home.

  • Acordarse is always followed by the preposition de (of, about, from). For example:

Mis abuelitos siempre se acuerdan de mi cumpleaños y me envían flores cada año.
My grandparents always remember my birthday and send me flowers each year.

IMPORTANT
The verb acordarse can only mean “to remember” when it is paired with a reflexive pronoun. If you build it without it, it changes meaning to “to agree,” but this verb is rarely used in Spanish!
Acordamos llegar al mismo tiempo.
We agreed to arrive at the same time.
It’s from this verb, acordar (to agree), that the expression “de acuerdo” (agreed) comes from!

Now let’s check out recordar (to remember):

  • Recordar does not require any prepositions to go after it, unlike acordarse, but it always needs a direct object. For example:

Recuerdo los nombres de todos y cada uno de mis alumnos.
I remember the names of each and every one of my students.

  • Recordar can also be paired with direct object pronouns. For example:

¿Recuerdas el nombre de tu profesor favorito cuando eras pequeño?
Sí, lo recuerdo. Era la maestra Raquel.
Do you remember the name of your favorite teacher as a child?
Yes, I remember it. It was Miss Raquel.

  • The verb recordar can also mean “to remind.” In this instance, it might require the use of indirect object pronouns.

El olor de los arándanos me recuerda a mi abuelita.
The smell of blueberries reminds me of my grandma.

IMPORTANT

When using recordar in an affirmative command, attach the pronoun to the verb:
Recuérdame que tengo que ir al súper por pan, por favor.
Remind me that I have to go to the store to get bread, please.

⤷TIP How do you say “I don’t remember”? You can say either: “No me acuerdo” or “No recuerdo,” but never no me recuerdo!

Other challenging pairs

There are other challenging pairs that tend to create confusion among learners because some of these have a false friend — a word that looks very similar to the word in English, but has a different meaning. For example, librería means “bookstore,” not library! In the printable below you will find the following pairs of verbs:

To sum it up

Before we wrap things up, let’s review the most important aspects of the verbs in this post:

  • We use saber (to know) to talk about knowing facts or information, knowing something by heart or knowing how to do something (followed by a verb in infinitive form).
  • Conocer (to know, to meet) is used to express familiarity with a place or person (meeting a person for the first time or getting to know them). Conocerse (to know, to meet) is used to talk about people meeting each other for the first time or knowing each other.
  • Encontrarse con (to meet) is used to talk about getting together with people, meeting up with people, running into people or to talk about coming across something.
  • Acordarse (to remember) and recordar (to remember) both translate into “to remember,” but their main difference is their construction. Acordarse (to remember) needs reflexive pronouns and it has to be followed by the preposition de (of, about).
  • Recordar (to remember) does not need any prepositions but it can take direct and indirect object pronouns. Oh, and don’t forget that recordar (to remember) can also mean “to remind”!

As you can see, the challenging pairs we have covered have different levels of difficulty. Sometimes, it’s a completely different meaning between two verbs. Sometimes, the grammatical construction is very different. Finally, the difference could be tied to the existence of a false friend. Don’t lose your patience, keep practicing and you will soon master them!

Want to learn about other challenging pairs of verbs in Spanish? Why not read about the difference between ir (to go) vs venir (to come) and llevar (to take) vs traer (to bring)? And when you’re done, we have some activities to get you practicing all these challenging verbs in Spanish!

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

The direct object of a sentence is what receives the action.
He ate an apple.
An infinitive is a verb in its basic form. For example: “to run,” “to eat,” “to be.”

Prepositions are words that come before nouns or pronouns that indicate how the noun or pronoun relates to another part of the clause (for example, expressing place or time).
John is in the house.
Mary left her book on the table.

Reflexive Pronoun: are words like “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “itself,” “ourselves,” “yourselves,” and “themselves” and they are used with verbs in which the action is done and received by the same subject. In Spanish they are: me, te, se, nos, os.

Reflexive verbs are verbs in which the action is done and received by the same subject.

I shave myself.

The verb is “shave” and “I” (the subject) perform an action on me. A reflexive structure contains words like “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “itself,” “ourselves,” “yourselves,” and “themselves.”

Meet The Author:
Author-Britt Marie Solis
Brittmarie Solís
Spanish Teacher
Brittmarie is an experienced Spanish Teacher with an MA in Foreign Language Teaching.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Challenging verbs FAQ

Activities:

Challenging verb pairs activity

Activities:

Challenging verb pairs activity

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