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Coroner just told me that Christine's body was put in the water sometime early Tuesday morning. So that Monday night party is critical. Somebody there had to have known what happened later that night.

Why did the author not simply say:

... Somebody there must know what happened later that night.

What does the original sentence convey that mine doesn't ? or, What does the original sentence not convey that mine does ?

Thank you

  • The first sentence means somebody must have known at the time it happened. Yours just means that somebody must know now. – Jason Bassford Jun 28 at 23:29
  • @JasonBassford Thank you. But now I have another question: Wouldn't a detective be more interested in a person who knows now vs a person who knew on Monday night but is inaccessible now (because of death or flight out of the country or ...) ? Hence, I feel my sentence better reflects the usefulness of a person who knows now. – user1572206 Jul 3 at 0:16
  • The gist of the dialogue is that the detective is saying it's not really possible for somebody not to have known what happened the night it happened. (Somebody had to have seen it.) The detective needs to find that person and question them. You might feel better replacing known with seen, but the tense amounts to the same thing. – Jason Bassford Jul 3 at 2:48
  • @JasonBassford Thanks. Now I've understood the reason why the detective used "had to have known" – user1572206 Jul 4 at 2:02
  • had to have known and must have known are the same thing. You need a past tense. – Lambie Jul 4 at 13:56
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To consolidate some comments I had made on this.

Somebody there had to have known what happened that night.

This means that somebody must have known at the time it happened.

Somebody there must know what happened later that night.

This means that somebody must know now.


The choice of tense is a matter of personal choice. There's no reason why must know couldn't be used—but there's also no reason why it must be used.

However, do note that if it's actually talking about somebody knowing in the present, either there would be dropped or it would be somebody who was there. It's unlikely that the person who was there that night is still there.


Consider what happens when you replace know with see:

Somebody there had to have seen what happened that night.

This expresses the fact that it's not really possible for somebody to have not seen what happened the night it happened. In this case, the detective needs to find that person (the one who saw it) it and question them.

Although the specific verb is different, the verb tense in had to have known is being used in the same way. You can also think of had to have known as had to have been aware of.

  • I've never suspected that the word "there" is contributing to the correct meaning and is a substitute to the long "somebody who was there" !! This is really new to me. I thought it was a short for "out there" – user1572206 Jul 11 at 2:10

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