I'm slightly confused by using the word 'knowing' as a noun. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (5th edition) says that 'knowing' can be used only as an adjective. But, for example, Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that it can be a noun. I've always thought that we should use 'knowledge' instead of 'knowing', and that the last one doesn't exist as a noun at all. But recently I faced with such Richard Feynman's quote: "I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something". So, is using the word 'knowing' as a noun good and common for standard English?

  • 1
    Maybe these articles here and here will help you understand the use of the gerund as a noun
    – fluffy
    Apr 17, 2013 at 16:08
  • In addition, 'knowledge' and 'knowing' are rarely interchangeable. Look up examples of usages in a good dictionary. Apr 17, 2013 at 16:18
  • Thanks, fluffy. I've never thought that stative verb 'know' can be used in progressive form as gerund. But it seems that it can. I'm digging deeper.
    – martemiev
    Apr 17, 2013 at 16:39
  • You will likely discover that there is no verb that forbids an -ing form — defecting modals notwithstanding.
    – tchrist
    Apr 17, 2013 at 16:42
  • Thanks, Edwin. Could you advise me a dictionary better than Longman's one?
    – martemiev
    Apr 17, 2013 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


As noted in the comments, the sentence given in the question is a simple use of a gerund.

Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary lists five different historical meanings for the word 'knowing' used as an independent noun with a separate sense. Most are obsolete. One is the use of 'knowing' for 'knowledge,' (as in phrases like carnal knowing), though that usage is pretty rare nowadays.

Another idiomatic sense is still sometimes encountered in phrases like "there is no knowing," e.g., "There's no knowing what he might do if he found out." This idiom apparently comes from an archaic sense where 'knowing' refers to being informed or aware of something, usually associated in older texts in phrases like "the knowing of X."

In short, aside from a few idioms, 'knowing' is usually only used as a gerund in modern English, with the same meaning as the verb.

  • 2
    You can tell that both instances of knowing in Feynman's quotation are gerunds (instead of nouns) because they both have direct objects (knowing the name of something and knowing something). Nouns do not have direct objects. Apr 17, 2013 at 18:41

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