Lesson #178: Different Forms of the Verb ‘To Know’ in Charles Dickens’ ‘Our Mutual Friend’

๐Ÿ“— He knew his power over her. He knew that she would not insist upon his leaving her. He knew that, her fears for him being aroused, she would be uneasy if he were out of her sight. For all his seeming levity and carelessness, he knew whatever he chose to know of the thoughts of her heart.

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1865)  

One of the very first verbs you have probably learnt in English is ‘to know’, usually described as meaning ‘to be aware of’, ‘to understand’, ‘to gain information about’, ‘to be on longterm friendly relations with’, etc. 

In our Lesson today we are going to look at the following three aspects of the verb, ‘to know’:

  • the main forms of the verb (present simple tense, past simple tense, present participle, past participle, present perfect tense) 
  • some other words – adjectives, adverbs, and phrases – that are derived from (that come from) it, and
  • how ‘to know’ is different from the verb ‘to meet’, with which it is often confused

What better literary resource than Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1865), which has so many characters either with secrets themselves or who are ‘in the know’ (aware of hidden information) when it comes to other people’s secrets …

๐Ÿ“ # THE MAIN FORMS OF THE VERB ‘TO KNOW’

I will list the main forms below, together with quotations from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend that illustrate them nicely in context. It may be a good revision exercise for you, even if you are already familiar with these forms. 

..

โœ๏ธ PRESENT SIMPLE – know, knows

๐Ÿ“— He appeared before the dollsโ€™ dressmaker, sitting alone at her work. โ€˜Oho!โ€™ thought that sharp young personage, โ€˜itโ€™s you, is it? I know your tricks and your manners, my friend!โ€™

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)ย 

๐Ÿ“— ‘She knows he has failings, but she thinks they have grown up through his being like one cast away, for the want of something to trust in, and care for, and think well of.’

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

โ€‹๐Ÿ“— โ€˜I donโ€™t know whether you happen to have read many books of African Travel, Mr Rokesmith?โ€™ said R. W.

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

..

โœ๏ธ PAST SIMPLE – knew

๐Ÿ“— He knew his power over her. He knew that she would not insist upon his leaving her. He knew that, her fears for him being aroused, she would be uneasy if he were out of her sight. For all his seeming levity and carelessness, he knew whatever he chose to know of the thoughts of her heart.

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

..

โœ๏ธ PRESENT PARTICIPLE /ย GERUNDย – knowing

๐Ÿ“— ‘He got from me, through my not knowing where to strike, in the whirling round of the room, and the flashing of flames of fire between us.’

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine) 

..  

โœ๏ธ PAST PARTICIPLE – known 

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜For never have I known Sophronia (who is not apt to take sudden likings) so attracted and so captivated as she is byโ€” shall I once more?โ€” Georgiana.โ€™

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“— ‘And my name first became known to Radfoot, through another clerk within a day or two, and while the ship was yet in port, coming up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and beginning, โ€œI beg your pardon, Mr Harmonโ€”.โ€’

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“— ‘Itโ€™s as well known to me as he was himself.’

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine) 

..

โœ๏ธ PRESENT PERFECT TENSE – have known

๐Ÿ“— ‘I have known as many as three copper-plate engravers exchanging the most exquisite sallies and retorts there, at one time.โ€™

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)ย  ย 

๐Ÿ“— ‘I should leave off prizing the remembrance that he has done me nothing but good since I have known him, and that he has made a change within me, likeโ€” like the change in the grain of these hands, which were coarse, and cracked, and hard, and brown when I rowed on the river with father, and are softened and made supple by this new work as you see them now.โ€™

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)ย  ย 

 …

๐Ÿ“ #2 ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS, AND PHRASES DERIVED FROM ‘TO KNOW’

โœ๏ธ ADJECTIVE – knowing

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜Hereโ€™s a perfectly disinterested person, Lizzie dear,โ€™ said the knowing Miss Wren, โ€˜come to talk with you, for your own sake and your brotherโ€™s. Think of that.

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)ย  ย 

Have you ever heard the adjective ‘knowing’ before? It means a person who knows a lot of information about a particular thing, especially in a sly or cunning way. Here Miss Wren is described as ‘knowing’ because she is clever and often learns other people’s secrets through overhearing their conversations.

..

โœ๏ธ ADVERB – knowingly

๐Ÿ“— The man not wincing, and merely shaking his forefinger half knowingly, half menacingly, the piece of honesty thought better of it and sat down again, putting the glass down too.

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)ย  ย 

Like ‘knowing’, ‘knowingly’ means that someone did something in a way that shows that they know more about a situation than they are saying. Here the man shakes his forefinger in a way that shows that he is aware of something that he doesn’t exactly want to talk about.

..

โœ๏ธ COLLOQUIAL PHRASES – ‘I know’; ‘you know’, etc.

โœ๏ธ If you’ve been speaking English for a while, you’ll be familiar with the short affirmative phrase, ‘I know’, that is thrown into many sentences as a way of agreeing with the listener or affirming something with certainty. Notice how Dickens uses ‘I know’:

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜It would be far more satisfactory to your kind heart, I know,โ€™ he said, โ€˜to provide for her, but it may be a duty to respect this independent spirit.โ€™ (agreeing with the listener)

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)    

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜Who?โ€™ said Lightwood. 

โ€˜Your friend, you know.โ€™ 

‘I know,โ€™ he replied, again with dignity. (showing acknowledgement)

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

โœ๏ธ Similarly, English speakers often thrown in the short fixed phrase ‘you know’, when they want to emphasise something, have their listener’s special attention, or just as a ‘silence filler’ expression. 

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜Alfred, โ€‹โ€‹you know,โ€™ hinted Mrs Lammle, playfully shaking her head.โ€‹ (for emphasis)โ€‹

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜Well, you know, thereโ€™s usually a King George, or a King Boy, or a King Sambo, or a King Bill, or Bull, or Rum, or Junk, or whatever name the sailors may have happened to give him.โ€™  (to emphasise a point, or secure the listener’s attention)

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜Why, you playโ€” if you canโ€” the Concertina, you know,โ€™ replied Fledgeby, meditating very slowly.  (as a phrase that fills in an awkward pause or silence)

  – Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“ #3 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HOW WE USE ‘TO KNOW’ AND ‘TO MEET’ TO DESCRIBE RELATIONSHIPS

When you are introduced to a new person, you may wonder whether you should answer with the verb ‘to know’ or ‘to meet’ in the following phrase: ‘Nice to know/meet you!’ 

Which one is correct? 

‘Nice to meet you’ is the correct answer when first getting to know someone.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Think of ‘know’ as a verb that speaks of knowing someone for a duration of time; there is a kind of history to the relationship. For example, you might ask a boyfriend and girlfriend couple, ‘how long have you known each other?’ 

โœ๏ธ On the other hand, ‘meet’ describes an event in time when you are meeting someone for the first time.

๐Ÿ“— โ€˜I did hope,โ€™ Veneering goes on, โ€˜to have had Lady Tippins to meet you; but she is always in request, and is unfortunately engaged.โ€™

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine)   

๐Ÿ“— ‘…We came on purpose to meet you.โ€™

– Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (emphasis mine) โ€‹โ€‹  

(There are other phrases that use ‘meet’ in the context of possibly longer relationships, such as when you schedule to [formally] ‘meet with’ your boss, or when you look forward to [informally] ‘meet up with’ your friends on the weekend. But as we are focusing here on ‘to know’, we’ll cover these other sentences with ‘to meet’ in another lesson!)

๐Ÿ’ก Bear these time differences (duration or event) in mind when you’re next wondering which verb to use in describing a relationship!

That brings us to the end of this lesson. I hope it has clearly shown some of the different words, phrases, and contexts associated with ‘to know’ – a common but crucial verb in English!

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by Joyce E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2021)