The question is fairly straightforward: is the passive voice of "I know him," which would be "he is known by me," a valid English sentence? I thought I had heard/read it before, but I may be wrong and it may also be some form of slang.

I am a student of Italian, and in learning the passive voice, I attempted to make this same connection and was told that this is not a valid passive voice in Italian because "to know" ("sapere" in Italian for those interested) cannot be used in the passive voice.

This idea is mentioned in this question, but I struggled to find a definitive answer.

  • 1
    It's grammatical, but very unlikely to be spoken. When we wish to say that someone is not a stranger to someone else, it's usually "He was known to them." Perhaps in a court of law: Who at the company knew this fact? -- It was known by me, and by the VP. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 2 '18 at 21:24
  • But in looking at answers to the post I linked, the agreement seems to be that "he was known to me" is not the passive voice and has a different meaning than "I know him" – B-Rad Apr 2 '18 at 21:28
  • I did not say "he is known to me" was the passive voice. I said that the passive voice construct "He is known by me" is very unlikely to be used, though it was grammatical. Many active-to-passive exercises are simply designed to teach learners the mechanics. The resulting sentences are often flying pigs. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 2 '18 at 22:10

As Tᴚoɯɐuo points out in his comment, while "He is known by me" is grammatically correct, it's not something a native speaker would normally say. Instead the more idiomatic expression is "He is known to me".

This sentence is not necessarily the passive voice, but at some point you should recognize that every language has odd phrases and expressions that don't always match what you would expect from textbook grammar.

A variation of the passive "to be known" is sometimes used when talking about things rather than people:

It is widely known that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, but I wonder how many people know why this is necessary?

Here there is no need to define who this is known to, since "widely" implies "by most people".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.