Savoir Conjugation: How to Conjugate the French Verb?
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Savoir (“to know”) is one of the top 10 most common verbs in French. As with many of the most common verbs in French, savoir has an irregular conjugation. It’s so irregular that you just have to memorize the full conjugation since it doesn’t fall into a predictable pattern.
“Savoir” as an Irregular French “-ir” Verb
Savoir fits one pattern – it is an irregular French -ir verb. This French verb is conjugated like other idiosyncratic, common French -ir verbs, such as asseoir, ouvrir, devoir, falloir, mourir, pleuvoir, pouvoir, recevoir, hold, value, come, see, and speak.
In fact, there are actually two sets of irregular French -ir verbs that are conjugated similarly:
- The first group has dormir, mentir, partir, sentir, servir and sortir and all of their derivatives (such as repartir). These verbs all fall the last letter of the radical in the singular conjugations.
- The second group has couvrir, cueillir, découvrir, offrir, ouvrir, souffrir and their derivatives (such as recouvrir). These verbs are all conjugated as regular French -er verbs.
Meanings and Uses of “Savoir”
Generally, savoir means “to know,” much as the verb is utilized in English. It can mean to know:
- A fact
- By heart
- How (to do something)
In the passé composé, savoir means “to learn” or “to find out.” In the conditional, savoir is the formal equivalent of “to be able to.” And savoir is one of a handful of French verbs that can be rendered negative with just ne, rather than the full ne… pas negative.
“Savoir” vs. “Connaître”
Savoir and connaître both mean “to know.” But they mean “to know” in very different methods: savoir relates more to things and connaître relates more to people, although there is an overlap with both verbs. Here is a different comparison of their meanings.
- To know how to do something. Savoir is followed by an infinitive:
- Savez-vousconduire? > Do you know how to drive?
- Je ne sais pas nager. > I don’t know how to swim.
- To know, plus a subordinate clause:
- Je saisqu’ill’a fait. > I know he did it.
- Je saisoùil est. > I know where he is.
- To know a person
- Je connaisPierrette. > I know Pierrette.
- To be conversant with a person or thing
- Je connaisbien Toulouse. > I know/am familiar with Toulouse.
- Je connaiscette nouvelle. Je l’ailuel’annéedernière. > I know/am familiar with this short story. I read it last year.
To say that someone knows how to do something, we use a form of the verb savoir plus a second verb. Let’s look at some instances using savoir plus the verb nager (pronounced: nah-zhay) to swim:
Suppose that your French friend, Ariane, has come to visit. You like to go swimming, so you ask her, ‘Tusaisnager?’ meaning, ‘Do you know how to swim?’. She would answer ‘Je saisnager’ meaning ‘I know how to dive.’ Then, your friends Frank and Elizabeth arrive. You ask them ‘Voussaveznager?’ meaning ‘Do you (guys) know how to swim?’ They answer, ‘Nous savonsnager’ meaning ‘We know how to dive.’
Notice how the sentences use different forms of the verb savoir, but the word nager never varies.
Let’s look at some more examples:
- Je saisconduire (pronounced: zhuh say kon-dweer), meaning ‘I understand how to drive.’
- Elle saitconduire (pronounced: el say kon-dweer), which translates to ‘She knows how to drive.’
- Ilsaitdanser (pronounced: eel say dahn-say), which translates to ‘He knows how to dance.’
- Ilssaventdanser (pronounced: eel sahvdahn-say), indicating ‘They know how to dance.’
Expressions With “Savoir”
Some expressions using savoir include:
- À savoir > that is, namely, i.e.
- Savoir bien> to understand very well, be very aware of / that
- Savoir, c’estpouvoir. > Knowledge is power.
- Savoir écouter> to be a fine listener
- Ne savoir à quel saint se vouer> to not know which way to turn
- Ne savoir où donner de la tête > to not know whether one is coming or going
- Je ne saissi je devrais le faire. > I don’t know if I should do it.
- Je ne saurais le faire. > I wouldn’t know how to do it.
Pop Quiz: Choose the Correct French Verb
1) I know my sister very well. – Je (connais / sais) trèsbien ma soeur.
2) She knows what I am reading. – Elle (connaît / sait) ce que je lis.
3) We are aware that the sun is bigger than the earth. – Nous (conaissons / savons) que le soleilest plus grand que la terre.
4) They know their country well. – Ils (connaissent / savent) bienleurpatrie.
5) I know this is the right place. – Je (connais / sais) que c’est le bon endroit.
6) You know how to speak five languages. – Tu (connais / sais) parler cinq langues.
7) You know your school quite well. – Vous (connaissez / savez) trèsbienvotreécole.