French seems to have so many words for "knowledge" and I'm having trouble differentiating between them.

Can someone please explain to me the subtle distinctions between:

  • savoir
  • connaissance
  • savoir-faire?

If "connaissance" is something like personally internalized knowledge, then how does that differ from "savoir-faire" as know-how?

  • 4
    Savoir-faire and savoir-être (and you could add savoir-vivre) have distinctive meanings that can't be confused with just savoir. Consulting a dictionary will tell you what they are in English, they never translate as "knowledge" (usually as "know-how" and "social skills". I expect what you want to know is the difference between savoir and connaissance. As it stands your question is unclear or should be split. (Savoir and connaissance on the one side, and savoir-faire and savoir-être on the other, although for the latter a French-English dictionary should be sufficient.
    – None
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 13:35
  • 3
    The difference between savoir and connaissance (both translating as knowledge" in English) is prone to long philosophical debates. The article Savoir on Wikipedia tackles the subject, and as you can see this article does not exist in English (But in the article Theory of knowledge partly deals with the subject. The reason of this dichotomy is historical.
    – None
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 13:53
  • 1
    Explaining the difference between the nouns savoir and connaissance could lead to rather long and sometimes controversial answers. I like the way this article tackles the subject. This is simpler but using the word connaissance in two consecutive paragraphs with different meanings might be confusing to a non native.
    – None
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 14:29
  • 1
    Same difference between connaissance and savoir-faire as in English the difference between "knowledge" and "know-how", so not specific to French Language, just look up the words in a dictionary. "Know-how" is the knowledge and skill to be able to do something correctly, whereas knowledge is the fact of knowing about something. The question has been asked on English Language: Difference between "knowledge" and "know-how".
    – None
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 16:12
  • The main distinction is between applied and pure knowledge: Savoir and connaissance describe the mass of facts and ideas accumulated and/or inferred by someone or by a community, they are synonymous as far as I can tell and correspond to abstract knowledge. On the other hand savoir-faire, aptitude and competence are related to how this knowledge is relevant to successfully execute actual tasks in some closed domain. They are also synonymous and correspond to skills.
    – mins
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


Someone might argue that we should not provide an answer without being completely sure about the correctness of it, but truth is language cannot be discussed about as we talk about mathematics: the usage of a language is often a matter of intuition, of how something sounds weird or sounds correct. Therefore, what follows might not be completely objective.

As it often happens, the intuition behind the way we use words can be partially explained by their etymology.

"Savoir" comes from Latin "sapere", meaning mostly "to taste or savor" or "to have a taste or flavor", from where the meaning "to become well acquainted with" is derived. You know how bread tastes because you have probably eaten a lot of it during your life, not because you have read some organoleptic analysis of bread. In this sense, "le savoir", as the act of knowing ("savoir") is something that makes us wise rather than educated. Knowing how to walk is a "savoir", not a "connaissance", because it is something we learn through a long, natural, and non-intentional process. Often, "le savoir" concerns mental features, notions and skills acquired by practice and experience rather than ideas assimilated by studying or analyzing.

"Connaître" comes from "cognoscere", which meant "to become thoroughly acquainted with (by the senses or mentally), to learn by inquiring, to examine, investigate, perceive, see, understand, learn". When it comes to knowing things (not people), I'd say "la connaissance" (the act or consequence of "connaître") is something you acquire by active or at least conscious intention of learning. Therefore, "la connaissance" is more the consequence of an intentional action: you could have knowledge in the sense of "savoir" without knowing when or how you got that information or faculty, but the knowledge you have as "connaissance" is one that you can clearly characterize and separate from other knowledge, and probably even pin-point its origin. The "connaissances" that someone has on this or that subject is the result of rather concrete experiences or studies, and concern concrete aspects of the thing we know about. Someone with a lot of knowledge in the sense of "connaissance" is someone educated, and "la connaissance" deals mainly with ideas.

Finally, as others have commented, "savoir-faire" is simply "know-how", a purely practical knowledge, and the translation is probably perfect.

  • 1
    If you consult the guidelines of this SE site you might see that the reasons for asking the question to be closed is because it has been judged as "unclear" or as a "looking at a dictionary" question according to the site's rules. It is not as you say a matter of "correctness" (supposing I properly guess what you mean by "correct"). As the question stands now savoir & connaissance can easily be differentiated from savoir-faire which can be found in a dictionary.
    – None
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:19
  • Your answer deals mainly with the difference between the verbs savoir and connaître, and this already has numerous duplicates on French Language. The difference between the nouns savoir and connaissance is more subtle than simply inferring their meanings from the verbs from which they are derived. The crux of the matter - which probably induced the OP to ask the question, although they have difficulty perceiving it, is to understand why French has two words when English, and a few other languages, only have one.
    – None
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:19
  • @None, my answer has always dealt with the nouns, even though it heavily depended on the verbs they come from. Perhaps the edition I made makes its clearer.
    – Albert
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:32

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