As with the verbs ser and estar, Spanish requires speakers to differentiate between different kinds of knowing or asking. Unlike ser and estar, however, these rules are much more clearly defined.
Getting To Know Saber and Conocer
These two verbs can be separated into two relatively distinct categories: to know and to be acquainted with. Saber, the former, is used to express measurable knowledge such as facts, figures, and locations.
I know where she works. Sé dónde trabaja ella.
I don’t know his name. No sé su nombre.
Likewise, it is used for skills, knowledge you’ve learned by heart, and disciplines that you either know a lot about or next to nothing:
Juan does not know how to drive. Juan no sabe conducir.
Flor knows the lyrics of the song (by heart). Flor sabe la letra de la canción or more common in spoken speech Flor se sabe la letra de la canción.
Isabela knows a lot about math. Isabela sabe mucho de matemáticas.
Jorge doesn’t know a word of French. Jorge no sabe nada de francés.
Conocer, on the other hand, is used for all those things with which you can be acquainted, but never fully know, such as people or cities:
I know Julietta. Conozco a Julietta.*
Alberto knows Medellín. Alberto conoce Medellín.
It can also be used for disciplines that you are familiar with, but do not have complete knowledge of:
Germán is familiar with French literature. Germán conoce la literatura francesa.
*Remember that when talking about knowing people you need to put an “a” in front of their name to distinguish them from inanimate objects.
Asking For What You Want with Pedir And Preguntar
Fortunately, the rules for pedir and preguntar are much simpler to learn. Pedir is like “to ask for” in English, and you use it when you’re requesting an object, service, or favour. This makes it a key verb for eating out in restaurants and buying things in shops.
I asked him for chocolates. Le pedí bombones.
Let’s order now (ask for food). Pidamos ahora.
Can I ask you a favour? ¿Puedo pedirte un favor?
On the other hand, preguntar is for when you want to ask a question or request information.
I asked the time. Pregunté la hora.
Ask him what time the shop opens. Pregúntale cuándo abre la tienda.
As always, pay attention to when and how native speakers use these four verbs, as this will help reinforce the rules you’ve memorised. As well, it’s a good idea to memorise a couple useful phrases that take one or the other, not only to be more comfortable using them in sentences, but also as a reference point for when you are unsure of which to choose.
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