In English, a verb that expresses a state can also express the entrance into a state. This is called inchoative aspect.

Would a sentence like "How do you know me?" have the inchoative aspect? I think "how" in this instance means "method, way" but it bothers me that the sentence is present tense if it does have the inchoative aspect where "know" means "to enter the state of knowing." If it is the inchoative aspect, why isn't it past tense if something like "how did you find out who I am?" is the proper way to put it? Given the definition of "how" here, I don't think it works without the inchoative aspect, but I can't explain why it's present instead of past tense.

  • English approximates aspect lexically. There are no declensions which mark a verb as having a particular aspect. So we could say "Are you getting to know your way around?" or "I heard you spent the year in Madrid. I hope you really got to know the place." – TRomano Sep 10 '15 at 18:37
  • Please add the attribution as well as a hotlink. // 'How do you know me?' here may well mean 'How did you make my acquaintance?' Just consider it as a standard idiomatic expression. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 10 '15 at 18:40
  • I suppose it's because pragmatically, the focus is on the current situation (How does it come about that you know me here and now?), rather than On what occasion in the past did you [first] come to know me? In some contexts, How did/do you know that? are pretty much interchangeable, so far as I'm concerned. – FumbleFingers Sep 10 '15 at 18:49
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    No, it's not inchoative. Inchoative verbs usually have some form of be, become, or get involved. So if you know Bill (a state), the inchoative of that state is coming to know Bill, or meeting Bill, or getting to know Bill. Inchoative means change of state; in English it's not an aspect, but a characteristic of many predicates and constructions. – John Lawler Sep 10 '15 at 22:55
  • But I don't see how "how" when used to convey means of action can work with stative verbs without the inchoative aspect. – Joe Sep 11 '15 at 1:37

In your example question, "how do you know me?", 'know' might be used as a stative. In context, it might not be inchoative, because it might not express the beginning of the state of knowing. The answer to the question might be "as a friend", or "by your distinctive walk". For example, consider this exchange:

"I know you when I see you."

"How do you know me?"

"Your funny way of walking and your 3 meter height are usually the first clues."

When "how do you know me" is an idiomatic shortening of 'how did you come to know me', where the past tense is conveyed by the elided verb 'did', then 'know' is inchoative, but the form remains stative.

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  • I think some context would be nice. How about something like "Hi." "How do you know me?" – Joe Sep 11 '15 at 1:36
  • @Joe, context for what, your example sentence or my simulated dialogic representation of it? – JEL Sep 11 '15 at 5:41
  • Asking about a state may include, or be interpreted as, asking about entrance into the state, whence the come to, which is an overt inchoative construction (come to be = become, for instance). Phrases that can be reconstructed with come, become, or get are usually inchoative in meaning (though this is not an "aspect", except in the higher-faluting semantic theories; English verbs don't have aspects, moods, or voices any more; only two increasingly vestigial tenses) – John Lawler Oct 11 '15 at 15:10

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