I came aross a ques­tion like this:

As a pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer, he is said ________ some very in­flu­en­tial peo­ple.

  1. to know
  2. to have known

There are two avail­able an­swers to this ques­tion. The first is to know and the other is to have known. I chose the first ver­sion, to know, but it said that the stan­dard an­swer should have been the sec­ond ver­sion, to have known.

This con­fuses me. Which an­swer is both gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect and also rea­son­able in sense here?

Fur­ther­more, I checked out some of the us­age of to have done some­thing,

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  • Does he still know them? – Hot Licks Jan 13 at 14:24
  • 3
    They are both fine, Compare "She is said to have spoken fluent Greek" ~ "She is said to speak fluent Greek", where the first ex refers to past time and the second to present time. Just remember that the perfect is a past tense. – BillJ Jan 13 at 18:23
  • This is one of those examples where people who write tests outsmart themselves. As @BillJ says, both usages are grammatical. However, one makes slightly more sense if you consider the context provided by the rest of the sentence. – Spencer Jan 14 at 20:14

If the perfect infinitive to have known is given as the only correct answer, I strongly suspect that the author of the question is expecting students to apply the rules for reported speech and backshift the tense of the infinitive.

The problem is that a generally held opinion — or one which the speaker wishes were generally held — introduced by “it is said” or the notorious “people are saying” does not trigger the rules for reported speech. In other words, without further context the sentence

As a public relations officer, he is said to have known some very influential people.

is a hypercorrection, i.e., a valid grammatical rule applied in the wrong context.

Not only does the sentence misapply a grammar rule but ends up violating another: dependent verbals such as infinitives and participles have no tense, only aspect in relation to the finite verb, either ongoing or a completed action/state.

The use of the perfect infinitive after is in your example is only possible if the knowing is in the past, and given the nature of the verb know, likely a more distant past:

As a public relations officer with few current connections in New York, he is said to have known some very influential people twenty years ago when he first started out in Chicago.

I have to fully contextualize your example into a definite timeframe for the perfect infinitive to make sense, and I’m still not thrilled with the results.

Consider this sentence:

At another center, the person who is said to know the most about the students is the maintenance man. He is fairly young, and the students relate to him. — Retention in the United States Job Corps: Analysis and Recommendations, Report prepared by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, U.S. Department of Labor, 31 Jan. 2000, 143.

At the time of writing, the maintenance man is still employed at a Job Corps Center and is said (now) to know (ongoing) the most about the students there.

This relationship of infinitive to finite verb does not change when the latter is in the past tense:

He was said to know every Gibraltarian by name. — The Economist, Obituary, Sir Joshua Abraham Hassan, 10 July1997.

Knowing every Gibratarian by name was an ongoing action back then when Hassan, now dead, was active. If there was a generally held opinion encouraged, say, by a sudden revelation after his years of service that Sir Joshua knew everyone by name, then the perfect infinitive would be the way to suggest it. But that’s not what this author intends.

In the November investigation, the Justice Department team interviewed Colonel North and the former White House national security adviser, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, who is said to have known of the diversion of the Iran arms payments. — ISLA 34 (1987), 109.

It is said (now) that Poindexter knew (then) about the whole Iran-Contra mess, thus the perfect infinitive. The knowing is over and done with prior to the current “saying.”


In this kind of passive voice structures, we have two timeframes: the time of the reporting verb and the time of the reported state or action. The time of the reporting verb will be reflected by the tense of the passive auxiliary "be", and the time of the reported state or action will be reflected by the use of the simple or perfect infinitive.

  1. They say (present) that he knows (present) some very influential people => He is said to know some very influential people.

  2. They said (past) that he knew (contemporary past) some very influential people => He was said to know some very influential people.

  3. They say (present) that he knew (past) some very influential people => He is said to have known some very influential people.

  4. They said (past) that he had known (previous past) some very influential people => He was said to have known some very influential people.

The answer to OP's question hinges on whether "he" still is or no longer is a public relations officer. If he still is, then the correct answer can be (1) (if he still knows some very influential people) or (3) (if he used to know such people), and if he no longer is a PR officer, then the answer has to be (3) (when he was a PR officer, he knew some very influential people).

  • He could still be a public relations officer—but with amnesia or early onset dementia. He has simply forgotten the people he used to know . . . – Jason Bassford Jan 13 at 19:21

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