The Swedish Teacher: Känna, veta, kunna… what’s the difference?

The Swedish Teacher: Känna, veta, kunna... what's the difference?
Känner du till Sveriges kung? Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
I know that I know nothing, said Socrates. That's how we feel about the fact that Swedish has several different words for "to know". Thankfully, Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg is here to help us out.

Att känna – känner – kände – har känt

To know like in know somebody, be friends or acquainted with.

Känner du Lasse? Javisst, vi jobbade tillsammans på Ericsson.

Do you know Lasse? Sure, we worked together at Ericsson.

Att veta – vet – visste – har vetat

To have information, facts about something.

Vet du när bussen går? Ja, den går kl 18:30.

Do you know when the bus leaves? Yes, it leaves at 6.30pm.

Vet du om man kan parkera här?

Do you know if we can park here?

Vet du hur mycket klockan är?

Do you know what time it is?

Vet du var Hötorget ligger?

Do you know where Hötorget is?

Att kunna – kan – kunde – har kunnat

To know how, have skills. It can also be used for “can” as in “It is possible”. Sometimes vet and kan can be used the same way.

Vet du hur man gör köttbullar?

Kan du göra köttbullar?

The first example could be understood as you know in theory how meatballs are made, you know the ingredients and you have seen someone else making them. Kan in this case means that you actually know how to, not only do you have the information about how to make meatballs, you also have the skills. These two examples can be used interchangeably, more or less.

Kan du cykla?

Do you know how to ride a bike?

Kan du komma klockan åtta?

Can you come at 8 o'clock?

Att känna till – känner till – kände till – har känt till

This is a particle verb, which means to know about, heard about, you are familiar with. The following examples show the difference between känner and känner till:

Känner du Sveriges kung? Är du och kungen vänner/bekanta/kollegor?

Do you know the King of Sweden personally? Are you and the King friends/acquainted/colleagues?

Känner du till Sveriges kung? Har du hört talas om Sveriges kung?

Do you know of the King of Sweden? Have you heard of the King of Sweden?

Often used for places or phenomena. Känner du till NY? You should not say “Vet du New York?”

Sara Hörberg runs an online language school and began teaching Swedish as a second language in 2001. Ask her anything about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation: Sara the Swedish Teacher.

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