The Tomb of the Unknown Solider has the engraving "KNOWN BUT TO GOD", as presumably no man knows his name, but shouldn't it read "unknown, but to God", as the default for everyone is "unknown", with the exception "but to God"?

Is the construction older? How should it be parsed?

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    Gravestones of unknowns in Commonwealth cemeteries are inscribed "Known unto God". Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


In the phrase

Known but to God

but functions as an adverb, and, as such, it means only. Thus, the inscription could very well read:

Known only to God

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    So the comma I figured was implicit doesn't belong there at all, as it changes the meaning?
    – Nick T
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 13:11
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    @Nick T: Right, the comma doesn't belong there. With the comma, but becomes a preposition, which means except!
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 15:05

The tomb of the unkown soldier, or any of the graves at Arlington that are inscribed with the same quote for that matter, have a comma so the point made regarding that is moot. Just because someone posts something with it that way doesn't mean it's accurate.

I don't think the language used at the time makes any difference. If you are focused on that maybe take a step back for a few seconds and think about how strange it sounds to be concerned with the wording considering the gravity of why it was used.

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    Please provide a reference that these have a comma. I don't see one in the 4th picture here. Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 10:47

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