The intended original sentence before conversion is:

  • I know that he is an honest man.

I want to know about these two possible reformulated versions of that sentence that replace the original’s bolded that... part with a non-finite verb of the “right” form:

  1. I know him to be honest.
  2. I know him being honest.

Does it make any difference whether we use an infinitive or a gerund here following know? I know English grammar has no general rule saying whether any given verb must be followed only by infinitives or only by gerunds, or whether both are acceptable. We non-native speakers know that we have to learn how certain verbs must be followed by gerunds and others by infinitives on a case-by-case basis. So I’m trying to learn which case this one is. If both versions sound acceptable to native speakers, do they mean the same thing or different things?

How would you analyse both of those grammatically? Is the bolded non-finite-verb phrase there an object of the main verb know or only a modifier? If it’s an object, what kind of object is it? If it’s a modifier, what does it modify?

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    "Know " licenses a to-infinitival complement but not a gerund-participial one, so only your first example is grammatical.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 12:42
  • Interesting question. I remember him being honest. I see him being honest. BUT: I want him to be honest. I ask him to be honest.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 12:48
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    @GEdgar Free samples for thoughtful meditations upon syntactic structures of vaguely plausible contexts under just the right set of extenuating circumstances: ”I know him being honest is pretty hard to imagine ever happening at all but every once in a while it happens anyway just like that old joke about a stopped clock still being right twice a day.” // ”Yes ok fine, I know him, to be honest now that you’ve jogged my memory, but not intimately, so I couldn’t recite his phone number for you off the top of my head; we’re just not that close, sorry.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 12:57
  • 2
    @BillJ Please put answers in the answers box. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 13:50
  • 1
    @mahmudkoya There are two kinds of catenative construction, the simple kind, and the complex kind, the latter having an intervening NP between the verbs.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 13:59

1 Answer 1

  1. I know him to be honest.

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary explains this construction in definition 5 for know:

reputation [transitive, usually passive] to think that somebody/something is a particular type of person or thing or has particular characteristics

know somebody/something as something It's known as the most dangerous part of the city.

know somebody/something for something She is best known for her work on the human brain.

know somebody/something to be/do something He's known to be an outstanding physicist.

The infinitive clause "to be honest" is serving as an object complement to "him," which is the direct object of the verb "know." (John Lawler gives a concise explanation for the terms "infinitive clause" and "object complement" here.) The Learner's Dictionary documents this use of the infinitive as a regular construction that can be used in most contexts. "I know him to kick doors down" and "I know him to rise to the occasion" work, and so does "I know him to be honest." They all describe something about the person's reputation, or the habits of that person.

  1. I know him being honest.

This has no corresponding dictionary entry, indicating that the construction is not regular. I read "being honest" as a gerund clause serving as the object complement of "him." It makes sense but isn't something I would likely say.

I went as far as trying to find the gerund-based phrasing in the wild. Corpus of Contemporary American English search results confirm that "know him being" (0 results) is far less common than "know him to be" (with 31 results). In fact, on the largest corpus (NOW) there are only 3 results for "know him being." I note the context beforehand in parenthesis and include the link in that parenthesis:

(oral interview, Irish Examiner) I looked him up after the movie and he seems to be a bit of a go to guy in terms of horror so you’ll probably know him being a horror fan.

(oral interview, Irish Examiner) We obviously know him being a really good player...

(photo caption, Lifestyle) U may not be with him all the time like most of my friends and classmates but I know him being away has made the country safer and more peaceful each day.

Note the informal register of all three contexts. These are people (presumably native speakers and writers) expressing themselves. The second one functions most like number 1 - the object "him" is "being a really good player." The third one is a different beast: "him being away" serves together as the subject of a new clause initiated by "I know." The entire clause represents what the speaker knows.

The first one involves yet another function. The gerund clause most likely describes the subject, not the object. The interviewee is referring to "you" (the interviewer) as "a horror fan." In more rigorous writing proximity would make the relation more clear:

You, being a horror fan, will probably know him.

In short, the gerund construction is irregular enough that it sometimes comes up in usage but requires careful attention to context to distinguish usages focused on someone's reputation from other items. It is jostling enough that the construction is discouraged in more regulated contexts. I would avoid using a gerund as an object complement with "I know him" if the sentence were standalone.

  • I disagree. Clauses do not function as object complements -- only NPs and AdjPs can do that. "Know" is a catenative verb and the infinitival clause is its catenative complement. And most of what you've said has no bearing on the OP's question.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:03
  • @BillJ I disagree. Catenative verbs usually take their verb pairs in close proximity, that is, not interrupted by an object: "We decided to try to rent a house near the sea." The catenative verb is in bold, and its infinitive complements are in italics. This is distinct from a clause serving as an object complement: "You can call him what you wish" has what you wish describe him; it's an object complement. So clauses do serve as object complements. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:14
  • Further, object complements are complement of the verb, not the direct object. They only refer to the object, but do not syntactically complement it. Not that it's relevant here, since there is no object complement in the OP's examples.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:15
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    @BillJ Your conception of grammar is not compatible with mine, so I respectfully choose not to modify my explanation according to your input. You are of course free to answer the question with your own references. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:16
  • That's wrong. As I explained earlier to mahmud, There are two kinds of catenative construction, the simple kind, and the complex kind, the latter having an intervening NP between the verbs. Compare: "We daren't move the furniture" (simple) vs "We helped Sue move the furniture" (complex).
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:16

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