I nostri antenati conoscevano come leggere le stelle.

English Translation

Our ancestors knew how to read the stars.

Funny, I was expecting “sapevano” here for some reason.


Sì sì, I would have thought so too. Un piccolo oversight;-)


True, but maybe it is the missing context once more.
Let’s say you are tallking about Stonehenge.
Our ancestors knew for the first time / were getting to know / just learned …

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I would use “sapevano” here as well. You can also use “sapevano leggere le stelle”, without any big change of meaning.

I couldn’t point out exactly why “conoscevano” does not feel right here, but it does not feel natural.

It can be rephrased, for example like “…conoscevano l’arte (o il metodo) di leggere…” and then it feels natural again. That is, with a name as the direct object of “conoscere”, it sounds right.

On the other hand you cannot use “sapere” with a person, you have to use “conoscere”.

In some cases you can use either.