There really are three German verbs that can be translated as "to know" in English! But German-speakers don't really have to worry about it, and you won't either after you've covered this lesson.
The two main German verbs that mean "to know" are kennen and wissen. A third verb, können, is a modal verb that usually means "to be able" or "can" - but in certain situations can also mean "to know." (Learn more about modals in Part 3 of this lesson.) Here are three different "know" examples, with three different German verbs, that translate into English "know" sentences.
Ich weiß Bescheid.
I know about it.
Wir kennen ihn nicht.
We don't know him.
Er kann Deutsch.
He knows German.
Each example above represents a different meaning of "know." In fact, in many other languages (including French, German, Italian and Spanish), unlike English, there are usually two different verbs used to express English "know." These other languages have one verb that means "to know a person" or "to be acquainted with" (a person or something), and another verb that means "to know a fact" or "to know about something."
The Differences Between Kennen, Wissen and Können
In German, kennen means "to know, be familiar with" and wissen means "to know a fact, know when/how." German-speakers always know (wissen) when to use which one. If they are talking about knowing a person or being familar with something, they will use kennen. If they are talking about knowing a fact or knowing when something will happen, they'll use wissen.
In most cases, German uses können (can) to express the idea of knowing how to do something. Often such sentences can also be translated using "can" or "is able to." The German ich kann Französisch equals "I can (speak, write, read, understand) French" or "I know French." Er kann schwimmen. = "He knows how to swim." or "He can swim."
Knowing How to Say Know
The Three German "Know" Verbs
|to know (someone)||kennen|
|to know (a fact)||wissen|
|to know (how)||können|
|Click on a verb to see its conjugation.|
Part Two - Sample Sentences/Exercises