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Could someone explain to me the grammar of the second sentence below? Why is it to have known and not to know?

He was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. I was honored to have known him.

"What happened to him?”

“He died.”

Thank you!

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    Can you take a look at the subject and try to correct it? What is "grammer"? – user140086 Nov 12 '15 at 18:41
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"to know" is also correct, with a slightly different meaning.

"I know" means right now. "I have known" means that from the perspective of this moment now, knowing has happened in the past.

"I am honored to have known him" would mean something similar: Right now, I have honor, because in the past, I knew him.

"I was honored to know him" would mean that in the past, I had honor because at that time I knew him. The knowing is happening at the same time as the honor. What confuses this a little further, however, is the meaning of "know". You can't suddenly know someone that you didn't know the moment before. Knowing someone is something that grows over time, so "to know him" speaks of the present, but implies something of the past.

"I was honored to have known him" means that in the past, I had honor because at the time, there was a moment even further in the past where I had known him. So looking at the rest of the context, and understanding that knowing the man ended at the time of his death, we understand that we are speaking of a time that is in the past, but after the man's death. At that moment somewhere between the death of the man and now, I was honored, because I had known him. In contrast, "I was honored to know him" speaks of a time when the man was yet still alive.

  • So if i say that "i am honored to have known him" it implies that the person whom i am talking about has died? – Gábor Kiss Nov 14 '15 at 7:48
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    @GáborKiss Not necessarily. The part about his death is taken from the rest of the context. After that statement, it says "What happened to him?" "He died." Without that context, we might imagine that something like that happened to him, but there could be another explanation for why we speak of having known him, which implies that we do not, or at least did not any longer know him. – Mark Bailey Nov 16 '15 at 16:32
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First, we don't know people in the same way that we know 2+2=4. To know a person means to have them as an acquaintance or as a friend. We "get to know" people by communicating with them or being in their company. When a person dies, we don't say that we know them but that we knew them.

Second, when we want to use an infinitive phrase as a subject or predicate complement, and cast the IP in the past-that-impinges-on-the-present, we use the present perfect not the simple past:

*To knew him ...

To have known him ...

Third, the question about whether having known him is, has been, or was an honor. Let's go back to #1. The knowing here is not knowing the answer to 2+2, but to be part of an active friendship. The statement is about the honor felt during the friendship, and the "peak awareness" of that honor which one often feels when the person has passed away:

It was an honor to have known him.

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It's from "The End of All Things", right? The, I suppose, finality of "to have known" when "to know" might be expected leads Tvann the interlocutor to ask, "What happened to him?" Response, "He died." It's a sort of setup and spike exchange. Perhaps the conversation wouldn't have taken that turn had the speaker just said "I was honored to know him". "To have known", perhaps the clumsiness and finality of it in the context, allows Tvann to be like, "huh?", it's as though the speaker through his (mis)choice of words is almost asking to be further questioned about it, which then allows the conversation to take the macabre turn it does, all hinging on the "What happened to him?" "He died." dynamic.

  • You might want to put a spoiler alert on this if you are revealing the ending of a recently released novel. Also, use spolier formatting to hide the details unless someone chooses to peek. – Mark Bailey Nov 16 '15 at 20:25

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