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In English, "to know somebody" may have two different meanings:

Do you know my neighbor Felix? (acquainted with)

Do you know Angela Merkel? (have knowledge of)

The first meaning is translated as "kennen".

Kennst du meinen Nachbarn Felix?

For the second meaning, it seems that the closest translation is "to recognize": erkennen

Erkennst du Angela Merkel?

Is this correct? Also, if I say

Kennst du Angela Merkel?

does it give the wrong meaning?

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The closest translation–according to the dictionary–is "wissen" or "kennen". You ask for "have knowledge of" and Pons suggest "know (have information/knowledge): wissen, kennen". If you scroll down to the "recognize"-part and look at the examples, you'd see that they have nothing in common with your examples here. That is, "erkennen" is clearly wrong here. It's still valid for a different context. "Do you recognize her on this picture?" -> "Erkennst du sie auf diesem Bild?" – Em1 May 19 '14 at 15:13
up vote 10 down vote accepted


Kennst Du Angela Merkel?

is ambiguous, but so is the english version.

Erkennst du Angela Merkel?

depends on something that can be seen (or heard, felt...) at the moment.

To remove the ambiguity, use

Weißt Du wer Angela Merkel ist?

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I would understand "Erkennst du Angela Merkel?" as in: Do you recognize her. – konkret May 19 '14 at 16:06
Yes, and the original poster mentioned it as a translation of "recognize". I tried to point out the difference to "kennst du". – Twinkles May 19 '14 at 17:31
Note that "Kennst du X?" is used despite its ambiguity. "Kennst du schon das neue Spiel X?" For a more general inquiry you can also use "Hast du schon (mal) von/über X gehört/gelesen?" but that's farther away. – Raphael May 19 '14 at 18:34
Another possibility du distinguish is persönlich kennen: "Kennst du Angela Merkel persönlich?". This is only used for acquantainces. – Toscho May 20 '14 at 4:51
Weißt means to "know about." Everyone "knows about" Angela Merkel, only a few people actually KNOW her. – Tom Au Jun 17 '14 at 23:46

You are spot on.

Erkennen means to recognize, thus "Erkennst Du..." always means "Do you recognize".

Kennen means knowing / to know in the sense of being acquainted with (in terms of people) and to know in the sense of being familiar with situations/locations etc.

"Kennst du Angela Merkel?" clearly means "Do you now A.M." – and has no other meaning and will never be mistaken for anything else.

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