Saber vs Saberse: To know and To know something by heart

When you start learning Spanish, it doesn’t take long before you’re taught the verb saber.   The problem is you aren’t fully taught all of it’s uses, so you only develop what I describe as a passing acquaintance with the verb.   It has a lot more meanings and uses than you think, and today we’re going to get into some of those meanings.

Saber, the basics

You most likely know that the verb saber means “to know” something, like facts and learned skills.   Let’s look at some examples.

Sé hablar español
I know how to speak Spanish

Mi hermana no sabe cocinar
My sister doesn’t know how to cook

¿Sabes si Juanita está casada?
Do you know if Juanita is married?

¿Sabes dónde hay un buen restaurante?
Do you know where a good restaurant is?

Lo sé
I know

No lo sé
I don’t know

Easy enough, right?

But what if you wanted to say you memorized something?

Using saber de memoria

To say you’ve committed something to memory (like those pesky verb conjugation charts) combine saber with the words de memoria.

Lo sé de memoria
I have it memorized

Borré su número, pero lo sé de memoria
I deleted his number, but I have it memorized

Mi hijo sabe el abecedario de memoria
My son memorized the alphabet

Awesome.  But what if you wanted to say you know something really, really well?

Using saberse de memoria

You can use saberse to talk about just how well you or someone else knows something.

Let’s look at one of the examples I used above.

Lo sé de memoria

Using saberse, this now becomes:

Lo me sé de memoria
I know it by heart

The addition of the pronoun (in this case, me) emphasizes you know something very well, inside and out, or as we might say, by heart.

Let’s look at a few other examples.

Mi novia se sabe la carta de su restaurante favorito de memoria
My girlfriend knows the menu of her favorite restaurant by heart

Me sé mi canción favorita de memoria
I know my favorite song by heart

Me sé muchos números de teléfono de memoria
I know a lot of phone numbers by heart

Me sé mi discurso de memoria. Lo repasé una y otra vez hasta que lo supe de memoria
I know my speech by heart.   I reviewed it over and over until I knew from memory

This brings us to what is likely your next question.

When do I use saber and when do I use saberse?

Generally speaking, sentences that use saber or saberse are seen to have the same meaning, or at least not enough of a difference to significantly change the meaning.  Notice that in these examples, we’ve dropped the phrase de memoria.

Yo sé la lección
Yo me sé la lección

I know the lesson

Juan Carlos sabe las tablas de multiplicar
Juan Carlos se sabe las tablas de multiplicar

Juan Carlos knows the multiplication tables

You could say that the me sé and the se sabe indicate that you know something really well as opposed to just knowing it, but on a practical level the meaning is the same.   As for which usage is more common, it depends on who you ask, but both ways are widely used.

And that’s it for today.

If you have any questions or something you’d like to add , leave a comment below.

But before I let you go, I recommend you listen to my podcast on  saber, I think you’ll find it quite informative.

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