She's always knowing something she's not supposed to.

Is this sentence correct? Why? Why not? Are we dealing with a so called "present progressive"?

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    The usual expression would be: She's always poking her nose in(to) other people's business/affairs. Your sentence sounds like a variation on that theme. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 '15 at 7:15
  • He was/is always poking his nose ... and ...always knowing something – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 '15 at 7:20
  • @Mari-LouA Or sticking her nose. Or being nosy. – A.P. Oct 22 '15 at 7:25
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    "know" can be used in Continuous after modal verbs.And how might you be knowing! – V.V. Oct 22 '15 at 7:50
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    @Mari-LouA Sure, verbs of mental state do take the Progressive tense (to express negativity), but your Google results are not about the Present Progressive at all. Where's the Present Progressive in "Learning is always knowing something more"? Here knowing is simply a gerund. – A.P. Oct 22 '15 at 7:53

Sounds perfectly fine to me, though I can see why you are asking. The reason why progressive aspect is not normally used with verbs such as know is that normally they already express a state of continuity on their own and just don't need this. Using them with progressive aspect is normally redundant.

But not in this case. Here we are dealing with a progressive that expresses repetition, not continuity in the strong sense. (See the Wikipedia article. It's currently the last example under "Common uses".) This repetition is in no way inherent in the verb know, and therefore a priori (ignoring the pragmatics discussed in the next paragraph) you should stress it by using the progressive if and only if you would do the same if you used the alternative formulation find out about something.

On the other hand, the way we analyse grammar is not always so logical. Many of us (or just some of us? see discussion) have an internal censor who applies rules such as "know doesn't take progressive aspect" mechanically. This can lead to some native speakers outright rejecting the construction. Even for the others, the rarity of the progressive of know makes the construction stronger. For these two reasons it is best to use the repetition progressives of know and similar verbs more sparingly than those of other verbs - only when you really want to stress the repetitions because they frustrate you. The fact that most native speakers get this right intuitively contributes further to the rarity of the progressive of know. (Some statistics.)

PS: The following example provided by Rathony is even more tricky:

She's always knowing something she's not supposed to know.
?She's always knowing something she's not supposed to be knowing.

Suppose we have already decided that the first progressive ("always knowing") is just what we want to say in the current context. Now how about the second? Should we use "supposed to know" or "supposed to be knowing"?

At first I wasn't completely sure, but after some analysis I would say "supposed to be knowing" is very likely ungrammatical, and even if it were grammatical, then it would only be appropriate to express such a great deal of frustration that grammaticality probably wouldn't matter anyway.

Now it turns out that the verbs in relative clauses such as "[that] she's not supposed to know" generally don't automatically agree with the main clause verbs (with respect to tense and aspect). This is because the coupling between main clause and relative clause is too loose to permit this. Conversely, non-defining relative clauses are generally used as if they were fully equivalent to the two main clauses that result from a purely mechanical substitution. The relative clause in question is defining, but let's pretend it isn't and make the substitution anyway:

She's always knowing something. She's not supposed to know it.
She's always knowing something. ?She's not supposed to be knowing it.

Since the infinitives in the second sentences may still be complicating matters, let's get rid of them:

She knows it. But this is not right.
*She is knowing it. But this is not right.

The first sentence in the second example is ungrammatical. (That does not mean that it is wrong under all circumstances. Most rules of grammar can be broken when we use language creatively in order to express very unusual thoughts such as the state of mind of an Alzheimer's patient. "Right now she is knowing that she never had a child, but yesterday she wasn't. She thought I was her grandson." I wouldn't do this in a single sentence because it's too distracting, but in a longer text about the same person it might be appropriate to do it each and every time.)

But it doesn't follow automatically that "She's always knowing something she's not supposed to be knowing" is ungrammatical. It took some effort to find out that technically it shouldn't be grammatical, and the way language works, the various red herrings taken together make it more likely that someone would say this, and less wrong if they do. Add to this the exasperation of someone who has to witness that she keeps knowing what she shouldn't know, and a single progressive just may not feel strong enough. It is then natural to make the relative clause agree in aspect so that it also carries the frustration. (Even though technically it has nothing to do with it.)

If people talk like that often enough, it becomes grammatical. The progressive of know is probably too rare to test this, but we could try to test it with sentences like this:

She is always eating things she shouldn't eat.
?She is always eating things she shouldn't be eating.

We could search for similar sentences in a large corpus and for each try to measure the degree of frustration and find out the scope of the statement in the relative clause. Examples:

She is always eating things she shouldn't eat. Socks, paper clips, once even a screwdriver.
She is always eating things she shouldn't be eating. But eating my passport at the airport gate? This time she's gone too far!
Whether she is pregnant, on a diet or preparing the buffet for the customers: She is always eating things she shouldn't be eating!!

If the result of this hypothetical research project is that a progressive in the relative clause is often caused by just the frustration that also causes it in the main clause, then we should probably consider "She's always knowing something she's not supposed to be knowing" grammatical. If it's too rare, then it's not grammatical. But since ungrammatical sentences can actually be another way of expressing an agitated state of mind, it turns out that under the very circumstances when it might be appropriate, grammaticality doesn't really matter anyway. (This is of course not an accident.)

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    She's always knowing something she's not supposed to be knowing. What is your opinion about using "be knowing" at the end of the sentence? I am curious. – user140086 Oct 22 '15 at 10:15
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    I'm having a hard time agreeing with this claim: Many of us have an internal censor who applies rules such as "know doesn't take progressive aspect" mechanically. I think this is true of those who have studied English as a second language. Your average native speaker will not even be aware of what the present progressive means and why some verbs are used in the continuous, while others, generally, are not. Are you a native speaker? Or have you studied/learnt about English grammar for work or for pastime purposes? – Mari-Lou A Oct 26 '15 at 17:21
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    @Mari-LouA: I am not a native speaker, though I have spent a few years in England and many more in English books. But I have had extensive experience with numerous native speakers who clearly have this inner censor. Especially the US seems to have a strong tradition that language is supposed to be hard, with counter-intuitive rules that one has to subscribe to even though the best authors have never followed them, often including the very prescriptivists who invented or popularised them. – Hans Adler Oct 26 '15 at 18:08
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    @Mari-LouA: This particular rule is probably not one of the zombie rules that English prescriptivists teach without any regard for actual facts about the language; or if it is, it's certainly not very prominent among them. But I think I am seeing among many English speakers an unhealthy attitude to language that follows from those zombie rules: The idea that the rules which the likes of Strunk and White have come up with, however self-contradictory and unrealistic, are more important than those which exist in the minds of competent speakers. – Hans Adler Oct 26 '15 at 18:15
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    @Mari-LouA: The result of poor grammar teaching is that many native English speakers are much less relaxed about their language than native speakers of German, a much more complicated but similarly 'natural' language. They are as scared of breaking zombie rules as French speakers are about breaking the actual rules of their actual standardised and counter-intuitive grammar. Which is funny, because it's almost impossible to write good prose following all the rules of Strunk and White, and it's very hard to do so following the rules of Fowler. The best writers don't even try. – Hans Adler Oct 26 '15 at 18:22

Verbs of state such as to know, to like, to own, to understand, to mean are not usually used in progressive (aka continuous) tenses.

In the sentence you've mentioned, you have used the Present Progressive, but because to know is a verb of state (expresses a state, not an action), you should use the Simple form of that tense, which is the Present Simple.

It should be: "She always knows something she's not supposed to."

In addition, when you use adverbs of frequency like always, you are talking about habitual actions, which are generally expressed by the Present Simple and not by the Present Progressive, which is used to express what is happening right now, not habitually.

You can use always with the Present Progressive with verbs of action, not verbs of state, and there is a slight negative connotation associated with it, as though the person is doing something too much.

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    see my comment beneath's the OP's question. You can use: always + Verb + -ING – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 '15 at 7:17
  • My upvote. "He is always knowing what to do after school" vs "He always knows what do do after school", one of which doesn't work. – user140086 Oct 22 '15 at 9:42

To know is a verb of mental state. It doesn't usually take the progressive form.

This source has a section entitled "Verbs that are not usually used in the continuous form" that you can look at.

That said, verbs denoting mental states can be used in the Present Progressive, if you want to express an idea of irritation.


"Susie's always forgetting her car keys!"

Here the speaker is irritated about Susie's forgetfulness. Therefore the Present Progressive tense is used.

However, I don't recall hearing the verb to know used this way. Consider instead:

She's always sticking her nose into things that don't concern her!


Or simply:

She's always so nosy!

  • I support your answer. – user140086 Oct 22 '15 at 10:04

I think that some verbs can be followed by another verb which takes the ING ending. Here's an example that I found on the internet:

He's always texting me and he keeps calling a lot like 24/7. He says that he loves me and he only wants to be by my side. Why do I have this feeling that he's using me only and that he's a player?

It seems that the auxiliary verb BE has here the same role as the full verb KEEP (he's always calling me / he keeps texting me). It could've been:

He's always calling me

instead of

He keeps calling me

Now verbs such as KEEP and STOP are verbs of presupposition or inference. If you keep calling someone or stop calling someone, it infers that you were already calling that person before you keep calling or stop calling. In the syntaxical order of the sentence (the order of words), KEEP and STOP are followed by CALLING, which means that CALLING is after STOP or KEEP, but in the logical order of ideas, you call before you keep calling or stop calling.

Therefore the ING ending signals a relation that is already established, already recorded, registered, or taken into account, and whose logical order can be reverse to the order of words.

It's about the same idea in “He's always calling”. In this case the adverb ALWAYS is stressed orally and the context shows irritation about an annoying or disturbing repetition. The comment on the event infers that the event is previous to the comment. The repetition infers that it happened at least once before it happens again. ALWAYS is stressed orally and emphasizes the recurrence (not only did it happen once but it also happened a great many times). The use of ALWAYS and 24/7 is here hyperbolic (exagerated) to show exasperation : he's been calling again and again and won't stop calling.

In another context it could've been “He always calls me”:

Why does he always call me with nothing really to even talk about?

In this case the use of the present simple appears to be synthetical for it appears in the title of a teenager's magazine. The question (Why does he always call me?) is then developed in more details in the following context:

So my boyfriend of like 4 months will end up calling me most days, sometimes late at night, just to talk. I'm always doing homework and he'll just be chilling at his place and it seems like he really doesn't even have much to say. A lot of times there will be an awkward silence even. Why does he do this? And he's always the one calling. I just find it odd. Like he's called me before when he was playing video games with his roommate just to chat or whatever, but then he won't really say much... Why does he do this?

You will notice examples such as he will end up calling me / I'm always doing homework / he'll be chilling / he's always the one calling. The use of the "progressive form" is not really "progressive" at the moment (he's calling me now) but serves to criticize recurrent events that are continuously happening.

We can here oppose “I'm always doing homework” (ALWAYS with the present progressive) to “Why does he always call me?” / “Why does he (always) do this?” (ALWAYS with the present simple).

If it was simply a matter of progressive aspect it should be “Why is he doing this?”, and if it was just a question of habit it would be “I always do my homework when he calls”. I'd rather think that the present simple forwards information, and that's why the question "Why does he always call me?" is in the present simple in the headline, whereas the present progressive carries an understated comment backward to the previous information, and that's why you have "He's always the one calling" in the present progressive in the body of the text, which suggests that this guy is a pain in the neck.

It is wrong to think that the present simple is just a present of habit. You can use it to describe a football game while the game is going on (X passes the ball to Y. Y shoots the ball and scores). You can also use it to propose something now (What do you say to a cup of tea?) or to perform an action as you say it (I declare the meeting open). If you're faced with a problem you can say “What do we do now?”. If children are making too much noise an adult can say “That does it!” to end the noise now.

It is also wrong to think that the "progressive" cannot be associated with a habit: He's always texting me and he keeps calling a lot like 24/7.

The BE+ING form (rather than the "progressive") can be triggered by anaphoric context:

If you vote conservative you're voting for a leader who thinks Rob Ford & Doug Ford are role models.

If you say you're a physicist, even relatively uneducated people have some idea of what you're saying.

I feel sick. I'm always feeling sick. I wake up every morning with stomach ache.

The term "anaphora" comes from the Greek ANA (back) and PHEREIN (carry), which means that in an anaphoric use, you have to go back, in reverse, to find information.

Now some verbs, such as WANT and KNOW, are rarely used in the "progressive", but appear more frequently through the mechanism of anaphora:

The fastest way to receiving what you want is through your joy and happy feelings inside. The time it takes to bring the things you are wanting into your life really depends on how long it takes you to get.

I know middling well what it is to go through the world without a father's name to my back. If your lad is like myself, he's knowing it early and he's knowing it late. He's knowing it when he's saying his bits of prayers.

There can be two explanations: whether KNOW and WANT are state verbs unable of undergoing development, unlike LOOK FOR (I'm looking for this book / I want it) and LEARN (I'm learning my lesson and eventually I can say "I know it"), or it is not a question of aspect but of how you deal with information: do you merely inform or do you comment information anaphorically?

If you think about it there isn't much difference between “Here comes the bus” and “The bus is coming.” It is not really a question of aspect but of how you present information. In the former you inform, alert or warn someone whereas in the latter you're inferring that the bus was expected, with an underlying subjective comment such as “At last, it's coming!”.


She's always knowing something she's not supposed to.


She's always knowing something she's not supposed to be knowing.

there is a comment (she's annoying / nosy) that seems to backpoint to previous information.

In French we would have a subjunctive in the translation, followed by a conditional: Il faut toujours qu'elle sache quelque chose qu'elle ne devrait pas savoir, approximatly meaning “She always has to / needs to know what she shouldn't know”.

It's true that I still feel uncomfortable with “She's always knowing something that she's not supposed to”, for I can't rule out the problem of aspect, and I'd rather have something like “She's always finding out something she's not supposed to”, but I don't feel uncomfortable with “She always ends up knowing something she's not supposed to.”, in which the end is presented as pre-established and inexorable.

The thing is that the problem of aspect is also a problem of inference. Let's say that in "It's raining", the action is in course, in progress at the moment of speech, it also infers / implies that it started raining and it hasn't stopped raining.

The theory of the "present progressive", which is related to the theory of aspect (progressive aspect, imperfective aspect, perfective aspect), is not that wrong if you consider it as a local theory, part of a broader theory.

To be more precise, the theory of aspect can explain “I'm learning my lesson” (present progressive / imperfective), which will eventually result in “I know my lesson” (present simple), which is equivalent to “I've learned my lesson” (present perfect), and which represent an end-point incapable of sustaining more "development" or "progress", which means that you can't say “I'm knowing¨my lesson”, since the undergoing process is over.

At the same time, you need a broader theory if you want to explain “She's always knowing something that she's not supposed to”, which is close in meaning with “She always ends up knowing something that she's not supposed to”.

  • Now I don't think we should say that state verbs such as WANT and KNOW rarely "write" in the progressive, for English is before all a spoken language. I just mean that prescriptive grammar says that they shouldn't,, but they do occasionally.. – user68188 Oct 25 '15 at 7:30
  • We might say that state verbs "occur" occasionally in the progressive, with interesting changes in meaning (I have a car / I own a car); (I'm having a sandwich / I'm eating a sandwich). Of course, it can be argued that HAVE in "I'm having" is not a state verb anymore. – user68188 Oct 25 '15 at 7:54

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