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I knew that Britain consists of 4 different countries this evening. I knew that Britain was a different country to England.

I used the two 'knew' as different meanings. 1. to be aware of. 2. to realize

My meaning is that,

  1. I thought Britain was a different country to England.
  2. I was just talking with an England girl. She said, I'm from England, Britain. So I asked, what's the difference between Britain and England? She explained it.
  3. I knew that Britain consists of 4 different countries this evening. I knew that Britain was a different country to England.

When I said this, I felt weird a little bit. I think the sentence can be confusing. For natives, is it okay? Or do I have to be corrected?

  • I would use "found out" instead of "knew" in the first sentence. You could insert an "already" before "knew" in the second sentence to make your meaning clearer. I might also put the second sentence before the first and join them using a "but" conjunction (assuming the meaning is "I knew this, but I didn't know that until recently"). – SteveES Apr 3 '17 at 16:50
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    I'd say "different from" or "different than" rather than "different to". – Jay Apr 3 '17 at 20:03
  • By the way, I'm uneasy about saying "Britain is a different country from (or to) England", as that implies the two are on the same "level". Britain is a different country from France. If you call England a "country", then England is a different country from Scotland. Do people in the UK call Britain a "country" and also call England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland "countries"? Or do they have two different names for these two ideas? – Jay Apr 3 '17 at 20:05
  • @Jay: England is a country. Great Britain is three countries. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is three-and-a-half countries. We're as confused as you are. – JavaLatte Apr 3 '17 at 20:43
  • @Jay I knew that the two are on the same level. – Ting Choe Apr 3 '17 at 23:40
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When you use the word know in the past, it means that you already knew about something at the specified moment. You cannot use it to talk about the moment when you changed from not knowing to knowing.

If the awareness came from new information, you can describe that moment by saying

This evening I found out that Britain consists of four different countries.
This evening I discovered that Britain consists of four different countries.
This evening I became aware that Britain consists of four different countries.

If the awareness came from thinking about or analysing information that you already had, you can say

This evening I realized that Britain consists of four different countries.

Note that you can put the time adverb at the beginning, which can make long sentences more readable and emphasise the time element.

Note also that, for small numbers occurring in text, we usually write them as text (four) rather than as digits(4).

  • Or "... I learned ...", or perhaps "I read" or "I heard". To my mind, "found out" and "discovered" imply that you were searching for this information and finally found it. In context, this is the sort of thing you would probably stumble across rather than be searching for. I admit I might be being pedantic here. – Jay Apr 3 '17 at 19:59
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    It doesn't always work that way @TingChoe If you create an a=b=c=d=e chain there's no guarantee that a=e or any other combination on that chain. – Catija Apr 4 '17 at 0:00
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    @TingChoe - Thanks. I see where it says that. I think what it's not explaining very well is that it only means the same thing as realize in very specific contexts. – stangdon Apr 4 '17 at 12:14
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    @TingChoe Dictionary definitions of words often fail to make clear subtle differences in meaning. People trying to learn English often sound strange or funny to native speakers because they use words that fit the dictionary definition of what they are trying to say, but that just don't sound right in context to the native speaker. The same is true for other languages, of course. – Jay Apr 5 '17 at 19:33
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    @catija Excellent point. Yes, in math, if x=4 and y=x, then we can confidently say that y=4. But in language, two words rarely mean EXACTLY the same thing, so following a chain like that, the meanings can diverge farther and farther. It's like saying 10 is close to 11 and 11 is close to 12 and 12 is close to 13, ... and 99 is close to 100, so 10 is close to 100. – Jay Apr 5 '17 at 19:37
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I would say:

I knew that Britain consists of 4 different countries. But I now know that Britain is a different country than England.

which indicates that your current understanding changed from what you previously understood (or just didn't know).

Also use than, since you are making a comparison. Using but indicates that you are adding additional information to the previous statement.

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