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What is the difference between aware and know?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

To know has a very general meaning of knowledge and has had this sense for several millenniums. It can be traced back through Proto Germanic *knoeanan to the Proto Indo European root *gno- which also means "to know". The root itself is common in other Indo European languages: (Gr. γνῶσις gnōsis, knowledge see gnostics; or Sanskrit gyan, knowledge).

In contrast, to be aware (from Old English wær "wary, cautious") is a later addition but initially means to be cautious. You will see remnants of that in beware (literally be-aware or be cautious) or wary of.

If you say

A known phishing site.

you mean that the characteristic of this site as a phishing site is not ignored.

Whereas if you say,

Phishing sites are a threat to be aware of.

you give a sense of warning (which of course implies knowledge).

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I'm not sure that this last example is a good one. It would more properly be "A fishing site to be WARY of" – BradC Apr 20 '11 at 14:44
I agree. It would seem that "be aware of" would more readily be "beware of", which is nearly synonymous with BradC's suggestion. – msanford Apr 20 '11 at 14:57
@BradC and @msanford, thx for your feedback. I changed the example in a more neutral way. Clearly as there is an explicit threat, wary can still be substituted to aware, but that's the whole point actually. – Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 20 '11 at 15:17

'Aware' is an adjective meaning either 'vigilant' or 'informed'. I assume the latter definition relates to your question, as it can be used in place of the verb 'know':

I know my rights!

Consider the alternative:

I am aware of my rights.

Both suggest being informed of, or having knowledge of, something. 'Know' has several other definitions, but in this context I would say they can be used interchangeably. The distinction between them is subtle, perhaps related to an intended tone or mood rather than definition.

For example, you often see 'aware' used in a sardonic way to convey scorn or disapproval:

Bill: Do you know Frank got promoted to Team Leader?

Jim: I'm aware of it.

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  • "I know that S" where S is a sentence like "It is raining outside right now"

  • "I am aware of NP" where NP is a noun phrase like "the fact that it is raining outside right now"


  • "I know that it is raining outside right now" - I have direct evidence (I can look out the window) or irrefutable proof (or think I do) that it is raining outside right now.

  • "I am aware of the fact that it is raining outside right now" - someone told me, or I am otherwise unsure.

In the example "I know my rights" and "I am aware of my rights", the first means that you could specify (or think that you could specify) what those rights are). The second means that you are somewhat unsure of the details, but you have a general idea of the existence of rights.

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For me, know implies knowledge of details or individual pieces, while am aware of implies a knowledge only of a whole. Using your example, knowing my rights means that I know I have the right to remain silent, the right to be represented by an attorney, etc. Being aware of my rights might mean the same thing, but implies that I know that I do have rights, but am not sure what those rights are. – Wayne May 24 '11 at 22:37

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