We _ Harold for three years before he died.

a) knew. b) have known.

Which answer should I use in my exam question? I have doubts, as I want to choose a, but a friend of mine advises me to choose b.

  • 1
    Simple Past can work, but Past Perfect is better still. Depends on context and register. – RegDwigнt Sep 26 '14 at 20:51
  • 3
    Both of them are incorrect; past perfect (had known) is what you want. If you're sure you transcribed the exam right, don't take any more exams made up by the same person. – John Lawler Sep 26 '14 at 21:09
  • 1
    @JohnLawler You could also use the past simple, couldn't you? I agree that it is not as good, but it does seem to me to work. We knew Harold for three years before he died. – WS2 Sep 26 '14 at 21:32
  • 2
    It's OK if you want to focus on knowing him for three years as a continuous activity, which is a little odd for a stative verb like know. But the present perfect is right out. – John Lawler Sep 26 '14 at 21:41
  • @JohnLawler Yes. I always tend to think of know in a continuing sense. Sometimes people will say 'I don't feel I know him like I used to', suggesting that 'knowing' needs nurturing in order to continue. But you will agree, I've no doubt, that it would be alright to say: We admired Harold for three years before he died – WS2 Sep 27 '14 at 8:35

As Dr. Lawler pointed out in comments, had known (past perfect) is the correct tense for a continuous activity that started and ended in the past. The simple past (knew) is fine as well, but it is used more often for a discrete event.

See this representation from a previous Question (How do the tenses and aspects in English correspond temporally to one another?):

enter image description here

Have known carries into the present.

| improve this answer | |

Since he is no longer among us (alive) I would rather choosing "past simple" than "present perfect" because there is no more connection between the past and the present.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.