Recently I have stumbled across a phrase

mankind has got to know his limitations

but could not really understand it. I'm confused by "has got to know" and how I should distinguish some words here. As far as I understand this phrase can be either Present Perfect and mean roughly the same that

got to know

does or using modal verb have got to that can be replaced by "must" and the whole phrase would mean

must know

Am I right and this phrase actually has two meanings or I messed up something and it has only one (which one)?

By the way, in general case should I use "his" or "its" toward "mankind"?

  • 2
    There are three meanings I can think of. "must (already) know", like you mentioned; "eager to know" (as in "I've got to know how you made these cookies so delicious!"), and "imperative that they learn" (like in your example, or "she's got to know it's not okay to bite people or she'll never make any friends")
    – Anthony
    Apr 13, 2018 at 21:19
  • Please include the research you’ve done. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. Apr 13, 2018 at 22:46
  • Interestingly, I wouldn't hear that sentence as either of the two meanings you mentioned unless accompanied by some additional context that casts out my default meaning. I would use gotten for got as past participle, as mentioned in John Lawler's answer, and I would use learn, not know in the second. The bare meaning of your sentence to me is got to meaning must and acting modally to add doubt to the statement. How much doubt is indicated by other context. It communicates the opinion that mankind does not currently know its limitation.
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 14, 2018 at 1:02
  • Incidentally, if this is from Megadeth, Clint Eastwood said it first (and differently) in Magnum Force, 1973. He said, "A man's got to know..." youtu.be/_VrFV5r8cs0
    – Chuckk Hubbard
    Apr 14, 2018 at 15:37
  • @ChuckkHubbard Yes, this is from Megadeth. Ironically, as regards Clint Eastwood, I came across this video accidentally right before asking this question
    – Oleksandr Zymohliad
    Apr 14, 2018 at 18:13

4 Answers 4


The sentence

  • Humans have got to know their limitations.
    (Let's get away from mankind and his, OK? They're just distractions)

does have several senses, but they wouldn't all be pronounced the same, nor in the same place.

Have got to know is already ambiguous in British and American usage. In this particular case, the sense of 'have come to know' that many UK speakers and others will get is unavailable to American speakers. For that sense, Americans would say

  • Humans have gotten to know their limitations.

instead of using got, because this is an inchoative 'change of state; come to be' usage of Perfect get, and the American past participle of that verb is gotten, not got, as it is elsewhere.

The other two senses of have got to know are the two modal senses that virtually every modal has, in this case the periphrastic modal have got to, often pronounced 'gotta', which does mean must:

  1. The Epistemic (logical necessity) sense, as in
    This has to be/has got to be/must be the place he was talking about,
    He has to be/has got to be/must know that this place is a dump.
  2. The Deontic (social obligation) sense, as in
    You have to be/have got to be/must be back home by midnight,
    He has to be/has got to be/must know all the verb paradigms to pass the test.
  • I was unaware that "have gotten to" was just American English rather than all English. I didn't think the wording was ambiguous at all before reading this. Apr 13, 2018 at 20:08

Yes, "got to know" has two distinct meanings.

One is the past of "get to know", in the sense of becoming more familiar with.

I have got to know more about StackExchange over the years I have been using it.

Second is the meaning that it is imperative that the subject know something

I have got to know more about how StackExchange works, or else the moderators will ban me.

It's not clear without context which your sentence means.


In regard to your inquiry about "mankind" following is the definition: Definition of mankind:

1 \ˈman-ˈkīnd, -ˌkīnd\ : the human race : the totality of human beings

2 -ˌkīnd\ : men especially as distinguished from women (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mankind) As such, unless the overall context pertains to masculinity-only, then using "his" is incorrect. Addendum: Both of my collegiate composition professors were adamant about how the word "got" is completely unnecessary and should be avoided.


Hopefully you are fine!

1: "Have got to do sth" is a standard structure which is used when you want to say that something is necessary or must happen. *

So, here, only the second choice "must/should know" is meant.

2: "Mankind" and "Man" are used to refer to humankind as a whole without reference to sex.** So, the supposed pronoun for it is "it". But, normally it is personified just like "love" is personified as feminine. (Although, this usage is considered sexist.)

You must log in to answer this question.