Is there any difference in meaning between "saberse" and "saber de memoria"? Which one is more usual? Example:

  • Sé la tabla de multiplicar de memoria.
  • Me sé la tabla de multiplicar.

I'm aware that "me sé" is an example of the aspectual dative and means "to know by heart", same meaning of "saber de memoria". This question focuses on the nuances of meaning between the 2 constructions.

  • Possible duplicate of All about datives, or: What's that funny "le" or "me" doing in there? -- which is canonical. There is also one other question that is specifically about saberse -- but the canonical q-a I chose is phenomenal. Dec 1 '19 at 6:34
  • I have created this question right after reading the linked question, therefore it does not answer my question. The linked question has a general description of the aspectual dative, but specific verbs and examples may present specific nuances, as it is the case here. Dec 1 '19 at 21:52
  • Alan, if a question gets closed, no one, including the author, can vote to reopen unless the question gets edited. You can certainly go ahead and edit the question to make it clearer to people how it is different from the proposed duplicate. You don't need to wait until closure (which, I should clarify, is not necessarily in the cards for this question). // What's your strongest language? If it's not English I'll be more careful with my use of unusual idioms. Dec 1 '19 at 21:56
  • The tone (or maybe I mean register?) of "Me sé la tabla etc." fits more with the child speaker who is learning the times tables. The expression suggests that the child feels she is solid. It's like this English sentence: I know my times tables my heart. That's what a child would say when she feels she's really got them down. Their hers now. Dec 1 '19 at 21:59


1) Sé la tabla de multiplicar de memoria.

2) Me sé la tabla de multiplicar.

are usual and mean approximately the same thing.

There is, however, a slight difference in register: (2) is a little more informal. Besides, the use of the "dativo ético" suggests a sense of pride that is not present in (1).


As for what you are asking, in this case (quite frequently used) they imply the same thing. The fact that somebody knows the multiplication tables

[Que alguien] sepa las tablas de multiplicación de memoria

is equivalent as the fact, that such person

Se sepa las tablas de multiplicación

But you should not generalize as to say that this Spanish construction of saber[se] has a memorizing meaning, though. It implies that sense in these cases of the multiplication tables, —since it's a practical, almost mechanical technique to recall them quickly—, but it may carry other meanings (such as self-awareness), in the same way that knowing implies but exceeds memorizing.

El hombre se sabía rodeado y decidió actuar arremetiendo contra ambos sin dudarlo

[The man realized he was surrounded and decided to act, charging against both]

  • An off-topic: why is there an "a" at the beginning of "A las tablas de multiplicación se las sabe"? Is it because the direct object is before the verb? Also, why the redundant "las"? Couldn't I just say "Se sabe las tablas de multiplicación" ? Nov 28 '19 at 15:21
  • @AlanEvangelista That "a" is wrong.
    – Gustavson
    Nov 28 '19 at 15:28
  • You are right, Ihere's no need to invert the sentence for the passive form —for which "a" was used— [a las tablas se las sabe] I corrected to simplify
    – ipp
    Nov 28 '19 at 15:30

This answer refers to the north of Spain. The usage in other areas might differ slightly.

Saber(se) algo de memoria has a stronger meaning, as in knowing something by heart. You would say

Me sé la lección de historia

meaning that you have learned the history lesson and you are ready for the exam. But if you say

(Me) sé la lección de historia de memoria

you mean that you know the lesson "by heart". This means in the strict sense that you could repeat the lesson verbatim from your memory, although it is also used figuratively to mean that you know it really well.

Note that it is not uncommon to also use me with de memoria.

  • So you're saying that "saberse" does not mean "to learn by heart", but rather "to learn"? That goes against wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=saber. If that is true, what is the difference between "sé la lección de historia" and "me sé la lección de historia" ? Nov 28 '19 at 15:32
  • @Alan what I have written is the usage in my area, it might vary in other areas... In any case, it is a small nuance, and in the example you give (multiplication tables) both have the same meaning. I tried to give an example in which I do notice a difference. I have to say that "sé la lección de historia" (without me) is quite uncommon in my area, but for me it has almost the same meaning as with me. Maybe the me version has that very slight proud tone mentioned in the other answer.
    – wimi
    Nov 28 '19 at 22:22
  • Thanks for making it clear. It'd be nice to add to your answer where you are from and that the meaning "to learn" of saberse that you mentioned may be a regional usage. Nov 28 '19 at 23:43

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