Wissen vs. Kennen… To Know in German



The difference between Wissen (to know) and Kennen (to know) is one chapter in German grammar where a lot of students have a hard time grasping the use.

Both of the verbs mean “to know” but when do you use “wissen” and when do use “kennen”?

1) Kennen  should be used when we want to express that we are familiar with a person or a place.

A good hint is:

The answer should be either a noun or a pronoun:

Here are some examples:

Kennst du den neuen Nachbarn? (Do you know the new neighbor?)

-> Ja, ich kenne ihn. (Yes, I know him)

Ich kenne meinen Nachbar nicht. (I do not know the neighbor.)

Kennt er die Stadt Remscheid? (Does he know the city Remscheid?

-> Ja, er kennt ihn. (Yes, he knows it)

2) Wissen should be used when we want to express a fact, something that we have knowledge about.

A good guideline: The answer would requiere a phrase as opposed to a noun or pronoun and most of the time you would have a subordinate clause which starts with ” dass, wie, wann, wo, wer, warum …”.

  1. Weisst du, wie alt er ist? (Do you know how old he is?)
  2.  Ich weiss, dass er 12 Jahre alt ist. (I know that he is 12 years old)
  3. Weisst du, wann die Veranstaltung beginnt? (Do you know when the event begins)
  4.  Ich weiss nicht, wann sie beginnt? ( I do not know when the event begins.)
  5. Weiss er die Telefonummer? (Does he know her number. In English it would probably be “Does he have the number”)
  6. Er weiss, ihre Telefonnummer nicht. (He does not know her phone number.)

I know that for a lot of English speakers, it does not make sense to have two verbs for a simple verb that we all use a lot in every language and in our every day life.

What I don’t understand is, since knowledge can be classified in so many different categories (such as factional knowledge, assumptions, anticipation etc), how would you only have one verb for to know?