Riuscire vs Potere vs Sapere vs Conoscere

Let’s learn together the meaning and the use of these 4 Italian verbs that often create confusion becaouse of their smilarity:  potere e riuscire, sapere e conoscere!


The verbs “potere” and “riuscire” both indicate the skill, the ability to do something. But…

POTERE indicates tha the ability to do something depends by other people’s will or  external circumstances.


Oggi possiamo andare al mare perché c’è il sole (→ external circumstance) (Today we can go to the sea because there’s sun)

Stasera non posso uscire perché i miei genitori non vogliono (→ other people’s will) (I can’t go out today because my parents won’t let me)

RIUSCIRE indicates that the ability depends by ourselves, by our physical and mental skills.


Non riesco a capire Hans quando parla tedesco velocemente (→ mental skills) (I can’t understand Hans when he speaks German fast)

Riesco a fare il salto in lungo (→ physical skills) (I can do the long jump)


POTERE + infinitive → “potere” is always followed by the infinitive form

RIUSCIRE + A + infinitive → “riuscire” is not immediately followed by the verb in the infinitive form, but between the two of them there s the preposition “a”

How does the verb BISOGNARE work? Let’s find out! 


The verbs “sapere” and “conoscere” have two different meanings:

SAPERE indicates something we have learned to do (because we have taken a course or thanks to practice).


Non sa ballare il tango  (→ he hasn’t learned, because he hasn’t taken a course) (He can’t tango)

So nuotare (→ because I’ve learned it after going every summer to the sea to make practice or with a swimming course) (I can swim)

USE: SAPERE + infinitive

CONOSCERE indicates a person we have met, seen or we have a relationship with (friendship, professional…).


L’altra sera abbiamo conosciuto il fidanzato di Sara (→ we met him and we introduced ourselves ) (Last night we met Sara’s boyfriend)

Conosco Carla da qualche mese (→ I have a friendship with that person) (I’ve known Carla for a few month)

Non conosco ancora il nuovo impiegato (→ I haven’t met him yet, I haven’t yet a professional relationship with him) (I haven’t met the new employee yet)

USE: CONOSCERE + noun (proper or common) of person


SAPERE and CONOSCERE also have another use that can be confusing: they can both refer to a “knowledge”. So, when should you use one and when the other? Here’s the secret!

SAPERE indicates a superficial knowledge, something we discover by chance, without any thorough study or research.


So a che ora passa il pullman per Milano ( I know it because one day, by chance, while I was walking, I saw the bus to Milan leaving at that time) (I know what time the bus for Milan leaves)

Ormai tutti sanno la verità ( they haven’t done any research! Perhaps someone unveiled it unintentionally) (Everyone knows the truth by now)

CONOSCERE indicates a deep knowledge, something we know because we studied and researched a lot.


Conosco tutte le opere di Dante Alighieri ( because I studied them well. You can’t certainly know those works by chance!) (I know all Dante Alighieri’s works)

Conosce tutte le canzoni di Laura Pausini ( because s/he follows her, goes to her concerts, buys the CDs and knows her songs’ lyrics) (S/He knows all the songs of Laura Pausini)

Now that you know these verbs, also discover the differences between FERMARE and SMETTERE!

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

2 thoughts to “Riuscire vs Potere vs Sapere vs Conoscere”

  1. If conoscere is used in connection with something we have studied a lot vs gained knowledge of by chance, why is the answer to the last question sanno?

    1. My trick: If you could choose the phrase “know how to…” in English, then choose “sapere” in Italian. (How many languages do they *know how to* speak? Or “know how to dance/ know how to swim” in the video examples.)

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