known them (to) and help them (to)

Yesterday, The Syntactician was asking me questions about semantic terminology in relation to particular uses of the verb know, as one does. And so, as one does, I looked for know in the indices of various books about verbs that I have, hoping to find a term that would suit her particular purposes. In doing so, I came across something that was completely new to me in F. R. Palmer's A linguistic study of the English verb (1965):

In case you can't read the photo, it says that you can 'help someone do something' or you can 'help someone to do something'.  So far, so familiar to me.

But then it goes on to say that know has the same pattern with  
(1)  Have you ever known them come on time?
(2)  Have you ever known them to come on time?

Now, if I have ever seen sentences of type (1) in the wild, I must have assumed them to have typos, because if I want to know someone/thing + verb, I must have the the to-infinitive form of the verb. Yes to (2), no to (1). Absolutely, no question.

So, I turned to the (English) Syntactician, who said that yes, (1) is good in her BrE, "but old-fashioned". I then went onto Twitter to proclaim my ignorance/learning/disbelief, and many English people (many of whom are probably not terribly old-fashioned) replied to say "Yes, that's fine. I can say that."  No US people replied to say they could say it, and now that I look in Algeo's British or American English?, I see that he records this as a British form.

Palmer hasn't mentioned the big restriction on this, however. Algeo does, but I learned the restriction  the hard way: by tweeting "Can you really know someone do something?" The answer there is 'no'--British English speakers can only use the to-less version in the perfect aspect (the 'have/had verbed' forms). So:
  • General (BrE or AmE) perfect: I have known them to frequent dark alleys.
  • BrE-only perfect:   I have known them frequent dark alleys.
  • General English present:  I know them to frequent dark alleys.
  • Nobody's English present:  *I know them frequent dark alleys.
(Overly academic side point. Skip this unless can name at least two theories of grammar!
I'm wondering how you get a [say, Chomskyan] theory of grammar to account for a complementation structure that is particular to a certain aspect of a certain verb. Maybe all theories are now so lexical that it's  possible--though you'd have to treat known and know as different lexical items, I guess. Would be easier to account for in a Construction Grammar, but still seems like a very heavy--or at least fiddly--cognitive load for a language to bear. If you know about such things, let me know in the comments, please!)

I should also say a bit about that help (to). As I said above, both of these are fine in AmE and BrE:

(3)   I helped them escape.

(4)  I helped them to escape.
 ...but what's interesting for us is that AmE prefers (3) [in 75% of the cases in the Brown corpus] and BrE prefers (4) [73% of the cases in the LOB corpus] (both figures from Algeo, p. 228).

And that, my friends, is how you write a blog post of less than 1000 words. When was the last time you had known me do that?  :)


  1. Did you really have to omit the subject of a subordinate clause in order to get your word count down? (Hint: it's in a sub-heading.)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Lynne: with respect to Have you ever known them come on time?, do you think you've never actually heard a Briton say such a thing ... or do you think historically you merely inserted the to mentally whenever you did hear a Briton say it? (Though this possibility seems unlikely, since I'd imagine you've constantly got your antennae up for just such differences. Grist for the mill and all that.)

    As an American anglophone I'm totally on your side about this peculiar construction, but the more I repeat Have you ever known them come on time? to myself the less odd it sounds to me. Still, virtually certain I'd never say it out loud in conversation.

  4. For me, both constructions need the to infinitive in the passive, though:

    They were helped to escape NOT They were helped escape

    They have been known to come on time NOT They have been known come on time.

  5. I think I would always use 'to' with both 'helped' and 'known', but then I'm inclined to be pedantic.

    Kate (UK)

  6. In speech, I'm sure I would occasionally say "I've known them come on time"; and I have a vague feeling that if you put on an exaggerated Mummershire yokel accent you might just get away with "I know them come on time" (though that may be assuming a dialect variation of "I know they [will/have/usually] come on time").

    In conversation, the "to" might stand on its own as a substitute for a previously expressed concept, as in
    "Will they come on time?"
    "Have you ever known them not to?"

    Is the "come/to come" there actually the infinitive, or a contraction of something else?

  7. Hi! This is from Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (2nd Ed. 1995):

    277.2 Infinitives without TO (after LET, MAKE, HEAR etc)

    Certain verbs are followed by object + infinitive without TO. They include LET, MAKE, SEE, HEAR, FEEL, WATCH and NOTICE.
    -She lets her children stay up very late.
    -I didn’t see you come in.

    This structure is also possible in certain cases with HAVE and KNOW.
    -Have Mrs Hansen come in, please. (Mainly AmE)
    -I’ve never known him (to) pay for a drink. (perfect tenses of KNOW only)

    In passive versions of these structures (with MAKE, SEE, HEAR, HELP and KNOW) the infinitive with TO is used.

  8. Dick: If I've heard it, I've either assumed it was a speech error or I've not noticed it. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it hasn't come up in conversation.
    Looking at 'known him verb' in the British National Corpus, there are six examples, versus 8 'known him to verb'. That's 25 years old. In the more current GloWBE there are 4 without 'to' and 14 with 'to'. It's definitely the less-common variant. I don't know if there are regional/lectal preferences--no one has mentioned that in the sources I've read.

  9. It may be less common now but seems perfectly natural BrE to me (without to) in present perfect. But I think BrE is moving closer to AmE - at least in journalistic / media use - see the Guardian, for example, with its US-dominated readership. I know this goes against the spirit of Separated but... And, btw, a lot of data quoted by linguists ( eg Google NGram ) stops at 2000, or doesn't cover the last, say ten years, when change has been quickest.

  10. I've certainly known a lot of people say it, whereas 'known people to say it' sounds strange to me. It is, perhaps, another DifferenceWhichWas, or DifferenceWhichIsLessening.

  11. Your example "I've never known them come on time" sounds a bit strained to me, I want a to in there. But the example in the comments "I've never known him pay for a drink" or "I've never known her miss a round" both sound fine. So does "I've never known them be late."

    So clearly I don't need a to after the known all the time. I have a suspicion it's the sound of it, quite literally. "I've never known her come on time" sounds ok. But the transition from her to come is easier to say than from them to come I think. Slipping that to in there, to pad it out. Him pay, her pay, him miss, her miss are all... whatever the "easy to say" equivalent of euphonious is.

  12. Lynne,
    Interestingly, after lingering on the 'know to' / 'known to' idea a while, this sentence in your overly-academic side point gave me pause:

    If you know about such things, let me know in the comments, please!

    The 'about' seems out of place to my New England sensabilities. I would probably say 'if you know such things' in normal conversation.

  13. Not sure whether you're aware of this, but I tried tweeting a link to your blog and it came up as spam and said I couldn't post it! I tried altering the language, but the only way I could get it to post was to change your link to a one. It was this post: just letting you know. :)

  14. I'm with Clydesdale Jefferson: it sounds perfectly unremarkable with "to" to me. What is odd, though, as it strikes me as a subjunctive, and we British English speakers are usually said to use subjunctives less than Americans.

  15. Damn. I got the essential word wrong: I'm with Clydesdale Jefferson: it sounds perfectly unremarkable without "to" to me. What is odd, though, as it strikes me as a subjunctive, and we British English speakers are usually said to use subjunctives less than Americans.

  16. Nessa: Yes, Twitter is being very mean to me at the moment. If anyone has trouble like this and wants to help me out, please go to the Twitter Help Center (AmE) and fill out a report, clicking on 'I can't tweet a link because Twitter thinks it's spam.' Many thanks to anyone who does so.

    Tobias: There are nearly 16K hits for 'know about' in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, including some of the exact combination 'if you know about'. They come from Southwestern Review, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, NPR... So it's not looking terribly odd or terribly regional to me. It means much the same as 'if you know something about', but there are only 9 of those to the 26 'if you know about's in COCA.

  17. Here's what Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik say in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language

    [I'd better explain in advance that
    [P] means that the passive is possible, normally with a to-infinitive
    [P?] means that the passive is of doubtful or limited acceptability.]

    Object + bare infinitive complementation
    This pattern occurs with a relatively small number of verbs
    (i) have
    ... let

    (ii) feel
    ....notice [P?]
    ....overhear [P?]
    ....see [P]

    (iii) help [P?]
    .....know [P]

    Type (i) consists of verbs of coercive meaning;
    Type (ii) has perceptual verbs of seeing and hearing;
    and Type (iii) is a residual class of two verbs which are optionally follow by a to-infinitive.
    (i) You shouldn't let your family interfere with our plane.
    ....We must make the public take notice of us.
    ...... (~ The public must be made to take notice of us.)

    (ii) Did you notice anyone leave the house?
    .....The crowd saw Gray score two magnificent goals.
    ..........(~ Gray was seen to score two magnificent goals.

    (iii) Sarah helped us (to) edit the script.
    .....I have known John (to) give better speeches than that.
    .......... (~ John has been known to give better speeches than that.)

    Know followed by the bare infinitive is confined mainly to BrE, and to the perfective aspect: have known.

    [The rest of the section deals with some particularities of the Type (i) verbs let, make, have. I'll copy it if anybody ask.]

  18. C Collins COBUILD Grammar Patterns 1:Verbs has a section which closely resembles the Quirk et al treatment. They label the pattern (where inf indicates a bare infinitive).

    They too recognise three groups of verbs with this pattern


    The one major difference with Quirk et al (aka CGCE) is that they don't include know in the HELP group.

    The reason for this, I presume, is that the COBUILD material is all based on statistics and data banks. So I imagine that sentences of the patter I have known him refuse etc are too rare in the databases to allow for inclusion.

  19. Yes, thanks Athel and others. I think in BrE it is and long has been a matter of euphony. Do more US tweeters and correspondents than British seem concerned with correctness?

  20. I know him to be honest (always)
    I have known him avoid paying his bus fare
    I have seen him avoid paying his bus fare
    I have helped him to pay... I have helped him pay his fare

    I have known him come on time, I have never known him be late/ to be late.

    All sound fine to this Brit!

  21. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language is a more recent treatment. Here's the start of the relevant section:

    The minor form-types: bare infinitivals and past-participials

    [The term catenative means, more of less, a verb that's followed by some form of another verb.
    Infinitival denotes a construction, whereas infinitive denotes a word (two if to is included).
    Similar, a participle is a word and a participial a construction.]

    ◼︎ Bare infinitivals
    Only a relatively small number of catenatives take bare infinitivals: the auxiliary verbs in Class 1A (the modals and supportive do), the sensory perception verbs (3Bii) and have, let and make among the causatives. In addition, a few are found either with or without to: ought, dare, know and help.

    Know takes a bare infinitival only in the perfect and with a special sense:

    i I'd never known him (to) lose his temper before.
    ii I know him to be thoroughly reliable

    In [i] it's a matter of knwledge based on more or less direct experience of his losing his temper. The bare infinitive is characteristic of of BrE: AmE requires to in [i] as well as [ii].

    To this they add a footnote

    Some speakers of BrE also allow a bare infinitival with find in a sense like "see" or "notice".
    Outside you will find Wren create new green dimensions with sensitive landscaping that creates acommunityand not just a row of houses.

  22. The most up-to-date of the big grammars, and the most generous with statistical information For BrE and AmE and for four broad 'registers' of CONVERSATION, FICTION, NEWS and ACADEMIC is the Longman Grammar of spoken and Written English Unfortunately, they don't seem to consider know but they do discuss dare and help with bare infinitive and to-infinitive. The treatment of help is especially extensive.

    Of relevance to this discussion is the finding that AmE is extremely fond of the construction help + NP + bare infinitive — a remarkable contrast to who you eschew have known + NP + bare infinitive. They illustrate the construction as follows

    His proposals include tax vouchers and deductions to [help] millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans buy private medical coverage. (AmE NEWS)

    Brenner [helps] the individual understand his problems. (AmE NEWS)

    He [helped] her achieve success. (AmE NEWS)

    There are some interesting tables and discussions, but unfortunately the breakdowns by dialect and register don't differentiate between, say, help finish and help him finish.

  23. Lynne, it isn't a theoretical syntactic device, but the COBUILD allows cross-reference between lexical sub-categories and verb patterns.

    Thus the V + n + inf pattern
    is seen in three GROUPS of verbs THE 'SEE' GROUP, THE 'LET GROUP, THE 'HELP' GROUP
    The members of the GROUPS are cross-referenced to the COBUILD Dictionary senses

    Thus SEE
    feel 7,8
    hear 1,2,3
    notice 1
    observe 1
    see 1,9
    watch 1,1

    The number refer to numbered sense in COBUILD Dictionary. I don't have the latest edition of the dictionary, but this online version seems to have to right corresponding numbers.

    So, taking feel as an example. Each sense can be used in different patterns.

    7. verb
    If you feel something happening, you become aware of it because of the effect it has on your body. ⇒ [V n v-ing] She felt something being pressed into her hands. ⇒ [V n inf] He felt something move beside him. (my emphasis) ⇒ [V pron-refl -ed] She felt herself lifted from her feet. ⇒ [be V-ed] Tremors were felt 250 miles away.

    8. verb
    If you feel yourself doing something or being in a particular state, you are aware that something is happening to you which you are unable to control. ⇒ [V pron-refl inf] I felt myself blush. ⇒ [V pron-refl v-ing] If at any point you feel yourself becoming tense, make a conscious effort to relax. ⇒ [V n inf] I actually felt my heart quicken. [Also V n v-ing]

    bid 2.2
    have 3.6,7
    let 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13
    make 2.1,2,4

    Fortunately, the list for let can be somewhat filtered:

    In the case of let 1, the noun group is often reflective pronoun. This pattern is V pron-refl inf

    Even during his electoral campaign, he was careful not to let himself recommitted to any definite promises of freedomM

    In the case of let 4,5,6,7,8,9,13 the noun group is always me or us. The pattern is V me/us inf. The verb is imperative.

    Let us look more closely at what else beside gender comes to us inherently at birth.

    Here's the entire third section


    This group consists of three senses of the verb help

    Knowledgeable, friendly staff can help you make your choice from the hundreds of different rings available.

    help 1,2,3

    This cross-references to

    1. verb
    If you help someone, you make it easier for them to do something, for example by doing part of the work for them or by giving them advice or money. ⇒ [V to-inf/ ] He has helped to raise a lot of money. ⇒ [V] You can of course help by giving them a donation directly. ⇒ [V n] If you're not willing to help me, I'll find somebody who will.

    [For completeness I'd like it to include something like
    ⇒ [V to-inf/inf (my emphasis) ] He has themhelped to raise a lot of money.]

    2. verb
    If you say that something helps, you mean that it makes something easier to do or get, or that it improves a situation to some extent. ⇒ [V to-inf/] The right style of swimsuit can help to hide, minimise or emphasise what you want it to. ⇒ [V n] Building more motorways and by-passes will help the environment by reducing pollution and traffic jams in towns and cities. ⇒ [V n to-inf/inf (my emphasis)] Understanding these rare molecules will help chemists to find out what is achievable. ⇒ [V] I could cook your supper, though, if that would help.

    3. verb
    If you help someone go somewhere or move in some way, you give them support so that they can move more easily. ⇒ [V n prep/adv] Martin helped Tanya over the rail. ⇒ [V n (my emphasis)/to-inf] She helped her sit up in bed so she could hold her baby. (my emphasis

    Neither theoretical nor syntactic, but it would seem to do the trick.

  24. Oh dear!

    Even during his electoral campaign, he was careful not to let himself recommitted to any definite promises of freedomM

    As well as the gratuitous M, I managed to omit the bare infinitive altogether. The example should read:

    Even during his electoral campaign, he was careful not to let himself be committed to any definite promises of freedom.

  25. "I helped him learn to read"
    "I helped him read his book"
    "I have never known him read for pleasure"
    "I have never seen him reading for pleasure"

    All those work for me.... I am not sure about the third, but it seems more natural to omit the "to" than to use it (BrE speaker, Southern England)

  26. What the dictionaries and guide books do is *describe* the phenomenon. That is all well and good, but it's not explaining how a human brain acquires, represents, or produces it.

    It's not at all surprising that we have to-ful and to-less variants with a single lexical verb. There are many such alternations in the language, as we've seen with 'help' and others. What I find odd from an explanatory perspective is how a variant that *only* varies perfect is maintained with that restriction. The fact that other verbs have to-ful/to-less alternation without the perfect restriction makes it all the weirder. Brains like patterns. There is a pattern. But 'know' doesn't follow the pattern because the other verbs allow for the alternation with the range of morphological forms (and tenses and aspects) for the verb. In most generative approaches, I'd think that perfect aspect would be being generated at a different level of structure/processing than complementation patterns. I tend to work with construction grammars now, which would explain it just as coming from 'usage'. But that doesn't really explain what's keeping people from generalising from 'I've known him come' to 'I know him come'.

    I think in this case we have to say that 'know' just *looks* like it's in the same of pattern as 'help'. It isn't. If it were, it would work in the simple present form.

    That is, instead of saying 'know a verb that takes particular complements', I think we have to say "have known [someone] [base verb]' is an idiom that is flexible in the filling of its noun and verb parts. (That's basically a summary of how a construction grammar would handle it. Everything's an idiom in construction grammar.)

    Sorry, really abstract points. This blog is generally about describing language--but my day job is about explaining it. :)

  27. To be less sloppy: please replace 'brain' in the previous comment with 'mind'. :)

  28. Lynne, I don't see why you want to remove the explanation from semantics to syntax.

    The last time I was a student of Linguistics (many moons ago) the focus was on Applied Linguistics. A key theoretical concept was Communicative Competence — just as much a property of the mind as Linguistic Competence, but incorporating rules of use which could disallow well-formed sentences which had no validity as communicative utterances

    I can't help thinking that that's what we have here. I know him come could be legitimately generated by the mind's syntactic rules, only to be dismissed by the mind as an acceptable utterance — on the grounds that it points to a meaning that nobody wants to express.

    Know is both like and unlike the group of 'perception' verbs see, hear, feel etc. It's alike in being used in (at least) two senses
    • referring simply to a present state
    • referring to an [single or repeated] experience co-incident with a witnessed event

    I know that he came ~ I've known him come
    I see that he came ~ I've seen him come
    I hear that the orchestra played ~ I've heard the orchestra play
    I feel that he went on too long ~ I've felt him go on too long

    The difference lies in the detail of that second sense

    know in that second sense is not only co-incident but co-terminous: your knowledge lasts as long as and no longer than the duration of the event; whatever you know after the event can only be expressed by entirely different constructions, e.g. I knew that he'd come

    see, hear and the other 'perceptive' in that use are not necessarily co-terminous because they are used in the sense of 'come into a mental state':
    I see him come = 'He comes [presently or repeatedly] and I simultaneously begin to see it'.
    I see him come = 'He came [once or repeatedly] and I simultaneously began to see it'.
    I hear the orchestra play 'The orchestra [presently or repeatedly] plays and I simultaneously begin to hear it'.
    I heard the orchestra play 'The orchestra [once or repeatedly] played and I simultaneously began to hear it'.
    and so on.

    Because of this 'inceptive' meaning, the pattern makes sense in Present or Past Tense and in Perfect or Non-perfect Aspect.

    By contrast know is not inceptive — for that sense we use a different verb such as realise. That leaves it with unfortunate significances such as

    I know him come = 'He comes [presently or repeatedly] and for the duration of his coming I know it'.
    I knew him come = 'He came [once or repeatedly] and for the duration of his coming I knew it'.

    These are utterances which fail to communicate — however well-formed they may be as generated sentences.

    The problem is that the clause him come is used to refer to an event of no perceived duration. The objection disappears with an NP object referring to something with duration.

    They knew poverty = 'They [once or repeatedly] experienced poverty and for the duration their poverty they knew it.'

    Help and the group of 'force' verbs (bid, let, have etc) refer to events with Agent subject rather than states with Experiencer subject. So there's no mental objection to combining them with reference to events without perceived duration, which is acceptable in Present or Past Tense, in Perfect or Non-perfect Aspect. For example

    I helped him go = 'He went [once or repeatedly] and I simultaneously helped him'.

    If you don't like the theoretical framework of Communicative Competence, couldn't you allow I know him come etc as syntactically kosher, but then reject them on pragmatic grounds?

  29. Linguistically unqualified, but experienced in literature (BrE).
    I wonder if it has to do with the non-consonantal ending. (I need to make a reference to non-consonantal coming here to prove I'm British).

    You omit "to" with see. Could it be possible that the English sound "knew to" has too much assonance and resemblance to "saw to" - which really sounds wrong?

  30. David: I don't actually want to explain syntactically rather than semantically, but (a) I don't see any semantic explanation here, since I see no semantic difference between the base form and the to-infinitive. I.e. if you can do 'know him to come' why not 'know him come'? "I know him to come" doesn't mean he comes presently, it means I know presently that he comes as a matter of habit. That's a legitimate thing to want to say, and we can say it with a 'to'. It seems to be a form restriction, not a meaning restriction.

    And (b) it's really just an intellectual question. How would a certain type of theory (that I don't happen to subscribe to) deal with this problem? That's the type of thing I'd like to have someone who does subscribe to the theory explain to me. I don't think those people are reading this blog though. Oh, well. It was worth a try!

    As for phonological/euphony explanations, it's pretty easy to find counterexamples to the claims. For example, the problem isn't that 'know' ends with a vowel, since we can say 'see him come', where 'see' ends with a vowel. The syllable structure doesn't make a difference, since 'help' has the same syllable structure and it can be used in both patterns. *Occasionally* euphony might explain patterns, but usually when people say 'it just sounds better' it means either 'it's what I'm used to' or 'it's said by people whose English I think is better than mine'.

  31. I enjoy the comments section as much as the post. Thanks to all of you.

  32. *Saying that 'help has the same syllable structure' was sloppy. What I meant was: the phrases with 'help' have the same number of syllables in the same prosodic pattern as those with 'know'.

    Anonymous: the commenters on this blog are the best! :)

  33. Lynne, I think I do see a semantic difference between the bare infinitive and the toinfinitive — under certain conditions.

    After the perception verbs there's a semantic distinction between, for example, I saw him climb the mountain and I saw him climbing the mountain. The two forms correspond to the aspectual distinction of aspect in an equivalent finite verb. This pair with illustrations by Quentin Blake featured in teaching material that I used more then forty years ago.

    There's no formal aspectual distinction between continuous states and punctual events, but I do see that distinction reflected in I've known him to be a liar and I've known him tell a lie.

    The feeling I struggled to express is that aspectual feature in the 'higher' finite clause can be compatible or incompatible with a semantic feature in the embedded non-finite clause.

    Shortly after first teaching I saw him climb/climbing the mountain I became a student again and came to sort-of understand Chomskyan syntax as it was them. Trying to understand what it has become since the is — that word again — a struggle. But let me tentatively suggest how it might deal with what i feel to be the facts.

    If I understand rightly, Chomskyans recognise features in Universal Grammar which map onto more restricted sets of features in a language like English. So at the level of Asp the aspectual features are taken up and combined with sister VP to comprise Asp', which is one of the daughters of AspP.

    Right now, I'm looking at a Chomskyan treatment of Spanish syntax which places VP twice int the tree: as a sister of INFL (in I' under IP) and as a sister of Asp (in Asp' under AsP). Assuming that there's and AsP level of structure in both I saw and him clim/climbing the mountain, I see nothing against selection rules of compatibility being part of the lexical item SEE along with the selection rules of compatibility of Direct Object structure.

    The selection rules of Object structure for know would allow

    I've known him to be a liar.
    I've known him to tell a lie.
    I known him tell a lie.
    with the extra restriction of BrE only
    I know him to be a liar.
    I know him to tell a lie.
    I know him tell a lie
    which also would be BrE only — if it were allowed by other selection rules.

    [By contrast the selection rules of Object structure of see would allow
    I see/I've seen him climb the mountain
    I see/I've seen him climbing the mountain

    but not
    *I see/I've seen him to climb the mountain]

    But, assuming that they could be formulated, section rules of aspect compatibility would disallow the last two sentences in the know list. The rules would somehow formulate incompatibility between the aspectual features of I know as a state and (to) tell a lie as a single or repeated event.

    There's no such incompatibility between I know as a state and to be a liar as a state.

    Nor is there incompatibility between I've known as a single or repeated event and him tell a lie as a single or repeated event.

    Any better?

  34. David: I'm not really sure I'm following what you're saying about 'have known'. Are you saying that you can only have a to-less complement if the lower verb is not stative? (It's not on your list so are you saying that 'I know him be a liar' is no good?) If that's the case, wouldn't this example from the BNC be prevented?

    • I'd never known him believe in anything before (BNC)

    Could you try it with other statives? (If this is indeed the claim you're making?)

    • I'd never known her think he's a fool.
    • I'd never known her be jealous.
    • I'd never known her resemble her sister.

    Are the 'to' versions for you (as for me) ambiguous between a habitual and a one-off reading? (I've known him to lie. =I've known him to lie once. =I've known him to lie all the time')

    The present-tense ones ("I know her to lie") are generally habitual for me. For a one-off reading, I'd say "I know that she's lying" or "I know that she's lied before".

    Re the Chomskyan thing, what you're describing to me sounds more like a constraint-based grammar rather than a generative one. I'm ready to call the whole thing off on that one, because I don't really feel like teaching myself the current Chomskyan theory in order to figure out the answer. My idle speculation wants to stay idle. :)

  35. Perhaps rhythm / scansion / prosody also comes into it (and would not be included under euphony)? I think David Crosbie and others have made good points about it being not just a question of syntax but also of semantics - the shades of meaning of know, see etc?

  36. And doesn't usage override theory and ideas of native speaker competence, performance and so on? Otherwise how can we explain the ruse of the double copula (eg "The problem is, is that"), not just as a redundancy in informal speech, but now in formal writing also?

  37. Rise not ruse, I meant, of course, in last comment!

  38. Mrs Redboots:
    I reread you list and as an AmE speaker I just couldn't get anybody saying item 3. But then I imagined Miss Marple questioning Mrs Peacock on whether Colonel Mustard knew that Miss Scarlett had carried a candlestick into the conservatory, and I could totally hear it in my mind.:)

  39. Lynne, while I'm thinking about the rest of your post, there's a question I can answer right away

    • I'd never known her think he's a fool.
    • I'd never known her be jealous.
    • I'd never known her resemble her sister.

    I couldn't possible say the third. The first two sound very peculiar. I'd guess that's because I have to interpret them as rather un-statelike states:

    'I'd never known an occasion on which she concluded that he was a fool.'

    'I'd never known an occasion on which she became jealous.'

  40. Alternatively

    • I'd never known her be jealous.

    'I'd never known an occasion on which she was being jealous'.

  41. Lynne, here's another question that I can answer easily:

    It's not on your list so are you saying that 'I know him be a liar' is no good?

    Yes I missed that one out. Sorry! If I had included it I would have said that it's no good whatsoever. It's not just me, all the descriptive grammars would disallow it.

    I'm not so dead set against I've known him be a liar, but I find it odd —in the same way as I'd never known her jealous.

    Be a liar would have to be synonymous with lie.

  42. On possible semantic elements: are there shades of meaning with "know" eg the perfect aspect often reflects the repeated or long experience of the speaker? I've never known him do it v I know him to do it. (?) And possibly adding "to" slows the phrase down and makes us think of (is more often used for suggesting) specific instances eg "I've known him to do it"(now and again)? Just thinking aloud and only about BrE. Only standard BrE of England, come to that - I haven't got round to possible Scottish differences.

  43. This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. I hope I am not straying too far from the topic to introduce a Scottish usage :
    Where I (English) would say 'X needs to be done/ fixed' the Scottish term is 'X needs done' or 'X needs fixed'.
    On the other hand, I could easily say 'I want it done' or 'I want it fixed'.

    I received an appeal today from the British Red Cross - 'Help us be there in a crisis'

  45. My Northern Irish husband would say "X needs done", too; before my marriage, I would have said "x needs doing". For instance "The windows need washing", but he said "The windows need washed". So do I, these days, but that is over 37 years proximity!

  46. Mrs Redboots said:

    For instance "The windows need washing", but he said "The windows need washed".

    Not sure why, but either of these sound fine to my AmE ears. On the other hand, "The cake needs baked" or "The essay needs written" don't sound right at all. So I guess there are limits.

  47. Lynne, I'll abandon the attempt to write about syntax. Here instead is what i think is really happening: an interaction between the semiotics of know and the semantics of the English Presentt Perfect — and, by extension the Past Perfect.

    I've thought long and hard and often about the Present Perfect. It's extremely difficult for foreign learners to grasp in full. I've always thought that the better I could explain grammar to myself, the easier it would be to devise teaching strategies. I posted a lot on the present perfect thread so i won't go over my framework again. I'll just concentrate on how it accounts for have known.

    Let's start with the way that I see Present Perfect as locating situations within time. Mentally, I suggest, it constitutes a PERIOD — more specifically a sub-period or PHASE within the larger PERIOD of PRESENT. It starts in the PAST and extends UP TO NOW.

    As a visual metaphor, I think of these periods as vistas of time. In some instances we can choose to view a situation as if in a different VISTAS.

    When one speaker uses Present Perfect to describe a situation and another speaker uses Past Simple, it a matter of looking at different vistas — each of which takes in that situation, but but with it's own different wider view .

    English grammar reflects three possible ways to view a vista: a wide view through a WINDOW; a restricted view through a KEYHOLE; and a succession of views though a STRING OF KEYHOLES. (The keyhole-view metaphor often corresponds to the use of Progressive Aspect.)

    Having chosen the PRESENT PERFECT VISTA, the three possibility are:

    THROUGH A WINDOW we may be looking at

    unbroken states e.g. I've lived here for three years

    unbroken activities/processes e.g. It's been raining for an hour
    The unbroken situations fill the whole of the relevant windows — a three year window or an hour window.

    time-limited limited states that lasted for a while, but not to the extent of filling the window. e.g. Are you married? Well, I've been married

    [This is an actual exchange which flabbergasted the Leningrad University Department of English — it didn't square with Soviet-era grammars of English.]

    acts/events perceived as relevant to the present e.g. BrE Have you had breakfast?

    [AmE speaker look through a different keyhole onto a different — though overlapping — vista and say Did you have had breakfast?]

    acts/events at some indefinite point seen as part of the UP TO NOW VISTA I've been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

    THROUGH A KEYHOLE we may be looking at

    activities/processes in progress e.g. It's been raining.

    states which may be temporary e.g. I've been feeling great

    THROUGH A STRING OF KEYHOLES we may be looking at

    repeated acts/events perceived as relevant to the present e.g. We've asked him time and time again

    [Through keyholes onto a differently conceived vista we might say of the same objective situations We asked him time and time again,]

    repeated activities/processes e.g. He's been seeing her lately.

    repeated time-limited states e.g. This has often been a problem

    I may well have missed some possibilities, but I think this is enough for the purpose of considering have known.


    NOT 'the semiotics of know'

    That's just my spellchecker being fancy.

    RATHER 'the semantics of know

    (Even now, the spellchecker wants me to write 'the seminar of know' !)

  49. Let's start with Noun Phrase Objects. And let's also consider the semantics of know. I think three senses are of relevance

    1 know = 'possess information which is true'
    2 know =' have someone as an acquaintance'
    3 know = 'experience'

    • THROUGH A WINDOW filled by an unbroken state
    information I've known the rule for most of my life
    acquaintance I've known him since he was a boy
    experience I've known poverty all my days

    The state of knowledge fills the window because the truth/acquaintanceship/experience fills the window.

    • THOUGH A KEYHOLE onto a time-limited state
    information I've only once known the answer
    acquaintance I've only once known the person in charge
    experienceHe has only once known hardship

    • THOUGH A STRING OF KEYHOLES onto time-limited states
    Much as above, e.g.
    I've often known the answer
    I've often known the person in charge
    He has often known hardship

    Turning back to choices

    With KEYHOLE views, the choice of PRESENT PERFECT VISTA is up to the speaker. Someone making a different choice could say of the same situations
    I only once/often knew the answer
    I only once/often knew the person in charge
    He has only one/often known hardship

    There's no such choice with WINDOW views
    —If the knower is still alive and the truth/acquaintanceship/ experience is still the case, the speaker must choose the PRESENT PERFECT VISTA
    —If the knower is dead or if the truth/acquaintanceship/ experience is no longer the case, the speaker must choose the PAST VISTA

    However, there speaker may be able to choose the PRESENT VISTA in two of the senses of know
    I know the rules
    I know him

    But not, I suggest, when know means 'experience'
    * I know poverty

  50. But none of this really addresses the question of why 'to-less' is allowed in perfect but not other aspects, does it? We need something about the semantics of 'to-lessness'.

    1. Lynne, to-lessness is not necessarily allowed in marked PERFECT aspect.

      Both I have often know and I have always known are PERFECT, but only the former allows to-lessmess. Thus

      I have often known him come first but NOT *I have always known him be a fool

      It's not the marked PERFECT aspect that distinguishes them. It's the semantic unmarked distinction between repeated event over time and the steady state over time.

      I stick to the analysis that there are two know verbs here — at least in my personal grammar.

      1 know = 'have knowledge'
      2 know = 'experience recognition'
      Plus a third and fourth
      3 know = 'have extensive knowledge concerning
      4 know = be acquainted with

      There are constraints on OBJECTS of the four
      If we say I know him, it usually means 'I'm acquainted with him' (sense 4) or 'I know all, about him' (sense 3(. Occasionally it may mean 'I recognise him' (sense 2). But sense (1) is inappropriate, as the male individual expressed as him is not a piece of information.

      The Dutch historical linguists I've been reading make a distinction between

      accusative and infinitive as seen in Latin (of course) and in Old English and cognate Modern German and Dutch

      Here the accusative form is the OBJECT of the verb in the 'higher' clause. Thus I saw him and I saw him go.

      • In Latin and in late Middle English carrying of to Modern English. A construction is possible in which accusative form is not the OBJECT in itself of the 'higher' clause.

      In I know him to be a fool the 'higher' clause is not I know (sense 1) him — which would necessarily have a different meaning. But in the non-finite clause him to be fool the accusative form himis uncalled for. The Dutch linguists call this construction Exceptional Case Marking or ECM.

      We can test this by substituting Donald Trump. One can be incapable of saying I know Donald Trump, but unhesitatingly say I know Donal Trump to be a fool.

      By contrast in I've heard him speak his mind the accusative him is justified by the possibility of a higher clause I've heard him. Similarly(at least in my grammar) I can say I've known him speak his mind with him justified by the possibility of 'higher' I've known him meaning 'I've recognised him'.

      OK, there remains a problem with PERFECT/NON PERFECT. By the analysis proposed, it should be possible to say

      As he gains confidence, I expect you'll know him speak his mind.
      I see him occasionally, and I often know him speak his mind.

      For me, these are things I could say but they are just too odd to be part of my repertoire. In Applied Linguistics we are taught to make a distinction between linguistic competence (as defined by Noam Chomsky) and communicative competence. In a definition taken from ethnographic sociolinguistics, communicative competence includes a 'knowledge' of what is
      • socially appropriate
      * feasible (e.g. not putting too much strain on immediate memory)
      • actually attested

      For me I expect you'll know him speak his mind has a place in my linguistic competence but not in my communicative competence on the grounds of not being attested.

      This is not primarily a syntactic effect or a semantic effect but a pragmatic effect. I only use know (sense 2) with accusative + infinitive in the pragmatic context of recollection.

  51. Re "The windows need washed" -- is this the past-tense form or the perfect participle form? The letter needs wrote or written? The carpet needs beat or beaten? The rubbish needs took out or taken out?

    Neither is grammatical in my grammar (I'm English) -- a verb's -ing form has uses as a noun (The windows need washing), but its past-tense and perfect participle forms don't.

  52. Rosie, I think the Sottish form arises by omission of 'to be' - the windows need (to be) washed, just as 'I want it (to be) done', which is more acceptable to the English. I also might say 'They need washing' , as you suggest above. I note that they are all in the passive voice too - we might need (to be) fed, but we always need to eat.

  53. Rosie: I'd say "The letter needs written" or "The rubbish needs taken out" - as Biochemist says, I think it is the omission of the verb "To be" that determines it. "That avocado wants (to be) eaten".

  54. To resume, Lynne...

    Let's looks at non-finite clause objects after have known in those three senses

    1 know = 'possess information which is true'
    2 know =' have someone as an acquaintance'
    3 know = 'experience'

    No other view is possible with a non-finite form.
    For WINDOW then `KEYHOLE, we need to use a finite verb
    I've always known that the rules are often broken

    Situations = unbroken state + unbroken state
    I've always known him to be a liar

    No other non-finite form is possible
    *I've always known him be a constant liar
    * I've always known him being a liar

    No view is possible onto a proposition expressed by a clause.
    Extra information must go into a modifying phrase or a new sentence.
    We've know her for many years as our boss.
    We've known her for many years. She's our boss

    Situation = time-limited state


    Set One
    Situations= time-limited state + act/event
    I've known them to leave early BrE & AmE
    I've known them leave early BrE only

    Set Two
    Situations= time-limited state + activity/process
    I've known them to play for hours BrE & AmE
    I've known them play for hours BrE only

    In other words, no matter whether the situation experienced is with or without perceived duration, there's a choice in BrE between bare infinitive and to-infinitive, while AmE allows only a to-infinitive.

    No other non-finite form is possible:
    * I've known them paying for hours/leaving early.

    Set Three
    For me this is the tricky one. Some examples work, but many don't.

    Situations= time-limited state + time-limited state
    I've often know the train to be half an hour lateBrE & AmE
    I've often know the train be half an hour lateBrE only

    This BrE example is only just acceptable to me. I don't think I'm likely to ever say it. I presume the instances that don't sound unnatural are those where the time limited state is very obviously of very limited duration.

    One example that doesn't sound too bad is your
    I'd never known him believe in anything before BrE

    [It's of no relevance that the keyholes or onto a PAST PERFECT VISTA. I'm equally open to I've never known him believe in anything before ]

    I think what makes it unusually natural and acceptable is that the final KEYHOLE shows an obviously sudden change of state — a state that's in danger of not lasting very long.

  55. Many thanks for all that thought and work, David! I'd be interested to know if others' BrE intuitions match your own for which work with which.

    (I assume in Set Three and first in Set Two it should be 'known' not 'know'.)

  56. Lynne, I don't think there's anything t be said about 'the semantic of to-ness'. The only contrast involving an infinitive is in non-finite clauses after a set of perception verbs between bare infinitive and -ing form

    I saw him climb the mountain cf He climbed the mountain
    I saw him climbing the mountain
    cf He was climbing the mountain

    Elsewhere there's an alternation — but not a contrast — between bare infinitive and to-infinitive.

    I didn't dare go = I didn't dare to go
    We'll help him finish it = We'll help him to finish it
    I've known him be late = I've known him to be late

  57. Here's the relevant section in the OED entry for know

    III. To (come to) apprehend, be or become conversant with or aware of; to learn.
    11. To be aware or apprised of (something, typically a fact expressed propositionally), esp. through observation, inquiry, or information. In early use sometimes: †to get to understand, to find out, learn (obs.).
    e. trans. With object and infinitive.
    (b) In perfect tenses: to have had perception or experience of as a contemporary fact. In later use also in the simple past tense, in negative contexts (chiefly with never).
    Frequently with bare infinitive in the active voice (I have known them fall). Cf. hear v. 3a.

    a1555 N. Ridley Certein Conf. Ridley & Latimer (1556) f. 33v, I haue knowen my contreiemen watche nighte and daie in their harnesse..and their speares in their hands.
    1595 L. Lewkenor Estate Eng. Fugitiues sig. G4v, The souldiers lingered in such sort, that I haue knowen them remaine three yeres together without one moneths paie.
    1603 P. Holland tr. Plutarch Morals 324 Some there be who have beene knowen to gather in their wombe a rude masse or lump..which some call a Mole.
    a1680 S. Butler Genuine Remains (1759) I. 90 Thy Works..never have been known to stand in need Of Stationer to sell, or Sot to read.
    1711 J. Addison Spectator No. 29. ¶11, I have sometimes known the no more in a Celebrated Song, than the Clerk of a Parish Church.
    1752 H. Fielding Amelia II. v. v. 123, I have known him do great Services to Gentlemen under a Cloud.
    1824 W. Irving Tales of Traveller II. 35, I..have known Hamlet to stalk solemnly on to deliver his soliloquy, with a dishclout pinned to his skirts.
    1850 J. McCosh Method Divine Govt. (1874) iii. ii. 397 Criminals have been jest even upon the scaffold.
    1884 Mrs. H. Ward Miss Bretherton vii. 86, I never knew anyone do so much in so short a time.
    1934 J. A. Thomson & E. J. Holmyard Biol. for Everyman II. 1160 The Indian Lotus has been known to germinate after having lain dormant for at least one century.
    1958 ‘N. Shute’ Rainbow & Rose 64, I never knew it [sc. the weather] to be so crook.
    1993 Garden Answers May 54/4, I have known people buy what they thought were named trees, which turned out to be worthless seedlings!

    I note that in the quotations

    • none of the 'contemporary facts' involve stative verbs — apart from
    to stand in need, where I think the bare infinitive would be impossible
    be so crook which reflects a passing state of the weather.

    • use of to-infinitive is almost as old as bare infinitive

    Two things that hadn't occurred to me

    • The construction is possible after Passive has/had been known — but not with bare infinitive

    • Yes, we do also say never knew — which actually feels like a Perfect — and it's followed by both infinitives:
    bare: I never knew anyone do so much in so short a time
    to- : I never knew it to be so crook

    1. use of to-infinitive is almost as old as bare infinitive

      When I wrote that, I'd failed to make the connection with

      The construction is possible after Passive has/had been known — but not with bare infinitive

      Put the two together, and it becomes clear that the to- infinitive construction after ACTIVE have known is not at all old, and not at all common over the brand historical sweep.

      In fact, the earliest quoted use of ACTIVE + to infinitive instead of bare infinitive is the 1824 Irving I have known Hamlet to stalk solemnly. And the only other quoted example is the 1958 Neville Shute I never knew it to be so crook.

      I've just been reading an account of the history of English syntax which points out the more general condition that bare infinitive constructions like this are confined to the context of ACTIVE first verb. Thus

      I saw him weep but He was seen to weep.
      I made them finish but They were made to finish

      What I've gathered from reading about the topic this time is:

      • The construction the OED calls trans. With object and infinitive is a distinctive one, which may not be English in origin. There's a good case for the view that it was a literary innovation based on the Latin construction accusative and infinitive. Indeed, the writers I've been reading (mostly Dutch, for some reason) call it accusative and infinitive or AcI or even accusatives cum infinitivo (shortened to aci).

      • Another upstart (albeit a native English one) was the to infinitive — which developed out of a construction in Old English ironically termed gerund. [The irony lies in the fact that many grammar of Modern English use the term gerund for -ing forms when they contact with to-infinitives.]

      The consensus is that the to-infinitive didn't replace the bare infinitive. Rather its increase in use — largely at the expense of clauses with subjunctives — coincided with the decline of the bare infinitive.

      Where the bare infinitive held out was in what the OED calls contemporary facts.

      • With MODALS being able/necessary/possible is 'contemporary' with the thing you can/must/may do.

      In I can come either the ability and the coming are both seen as PRESENT at the time of speaking or the ability and the coming are both seen as FUTURE.

      By contrast in I want to come the wanting is PRESENT and the coming as FUTURE. The 'facts' are not 'contemporary'.

      • With PERCEPTION verbs with accusative_infinitive, perceiving is 'contemporary' with the action perceived.

      In I saw him weep I did actually see him and at the same time see the weeping. The two'facts' were 'contemporary'.

      By contrast in I want her to leave the wanting is PRESENt and the leaving FUTURE. The 'facts' are not 'contemporary'.

      • With the two CONTROL verbs make and let the controlling and the controlled action are 'contemporary.

      In They made us stay and They let us go there is no perceived delay between there act of control and our act of compliance.

      By contrast They ordered us to go allows for the possibility of a delay — or, indeed, the possibility of our not actually going. Similarly They permitted us to stay may cover simultaneous permission and staying, but can also mean granting permission at one time to stay at some subsequent time.

    2. Looking back at the OED quotes, I've just realised who W. Irving is. So the only quotes in the entry with ACTIVE PERFCT (or PERFECT-like) know + to-infinitive are from the American writer Washington Irving and the Australian writer 'Nevil Shute' (real name Nevil Shute Norway).

      OK, British English may be in the process of changing in that direction, but news didn't reach me — and apparently didn't reach the editors of the OED.

    3. You can't really call Nevil Shute an Australian writer - he was born in the UK and lived all his working life here; he only moved to Australia after he had retired. Yes, his later books are set in that country, but the majority are not.

    4. I'm sure you're right. But my linguistic point is still valid if (as I strongly suspect) the character saying the words is Australian.

    5. The OED conditions for bare infinitive after have known are that the verb represents a contemporary fact.

      I've talked about contemporary, but the word fact is also pertinent.

      In I made him go we understand that he actually went.
      In I ordered him to go we haven't enough information to know whether he went or not.

      OK, one might say he went because I ordered him to go, but this is clearly a subsequent fact (even though mentioned first), not a contemporary fact.

      In Old English, the distinction between facts and possibilities was often grammatically expressed by use of the SUBJUNCTIVE for the latter. In hyper-formal English we can still say I ordered him that he go, where go is a lingering vestige of a SUBJUNCTIVE.

      According to the Dutch historical linguists that I've been reading, one big change after Old English is the loss of clauses like that he go — replaced by to-infinitive phrases (aka non-finite clauses) like to go.

      With some verbs there was then a choice between bare infinitive for the contemporary fact the to-infinitive for the less contemporary and/or less factual.

      But then verbs with both options tended to substitute the more distinctive -ing form for the contemporary fact meaning.

      So what of the bare infinitives that survived into Modern English?

      • Modal verbs have a grammar of their own, not particularly susceptible to analogy with the grammar of 'normal' lexical verbs.

      • Perception verbs such as see and hear retained the bare infinitive to express an aspectual distinction between, for example I saw him climb the mountain and I saw him climbing the mountain.

      • In verbs like make and let, the sense of fact was too strong to admit the tentative connotations of the to-infinitive.

      This, I suggest, is partly true of help. I believe I'm more likely to say Help her solve it when thinking of success — in other words 'Ensure that she solves it with your help'. If I were to say Help her to solve it, I believe I'd be thinking less of success and more of the act of helping.

      • Colloquial — and often rude — expressions such as Go figure and Go screw yourself represent an invitation to perform facts which are almost contemporary. Go to figure would suggest to me a disjunction between leaving and coming to a conclusion. Go to screw yourself suggests leaving with a purpose.

      These expression are more usually (in my speech) expressed with and — not that I'm rude enough to go around saying Go and screw yourself.

      The last two points lead me to an unexpected link with another of my obsessions among the topics of this blog. When I say Try and finish it I'm thinking in terms of success. So, just as Help her solve it means 'Ensure that she solves it with your help', in a similar way Try and finish it means Finish it by means of trying.

  58. I (24, BrE, South West) wouldn't limit the to-less version to perfect aspects, for me it's also fine in the simple past. After reading this post I've been listening out to see if other people said it with the simple past as well and had a hit today with

    "He spent his whole life living by the sea, but I never knew him swim."

  59. I've just been reminded of the is thread by a chapter in David Crystal's new book on BE. The chapter is headed

    I've been with someone
    sexual be

    The point is that be with can take on the completely unrelated meaning of 'have sex with' when used in the PERFECT.

    Similarly, it seems to me, know when used in the PERFECT can take on the unrelated meaning of 'observe'. From this, it's a simple step to taking on the grammar of see:

    I've known him do it = I've seen [by observation] him do it.


The book!

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AmE = American English
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OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)