The name is known to me. (a medium level of knowing) - OK

The name is familiar to me. (a high level of knowing) - OK

The name sounds known to me.(it seems that is a medium level of knowing) - OK

The name sounds familiar to me. (it seems that is a high level of knowing) - ???

I know that "it sounds familiar" is a common expression but I can't understand its logic if we know the difference between "is familiar" - it's true - and "sounds familiar" - it seems it's true. So, how it might be logically that we use "The name sounds familiar to me."? Because, if we try to analyze those words one after another, it looks like: It seems that the name has a high level of knowing for us. And that looks illogically because I can understand "The name sounds known to me." [maybe, they mix up it] but not "The name sounds familiar to me." [because how could they mix up the well-known name?].

  • 4
    Your "levels of knowledge" are a bit fanciful. But actually, I suspect most native speakers would rarely if ever use anything except the final That name sounds familiar to me - almost always meaning I think I've heard that name before, but I can't remember the actual person. On rare occasions someone might say That name is known to me - more explicitly making the point that I've definitely heard that name before (but I don't know the actual person). If you did know who the name referred to, obviously you'd refer to the person, not the name. Dec 22, 2021 at 17:40
  • sounds known=buzzer.
    – Lambie
    Dec 22, 2021 at 17:53
  • 2
    Sounds known is definitely not idiomatic. Either you know a name or you don't. Dec 22, 2021 at 17:54

1 Answer 1


We can use 'sounds familiar' to express tentative recognition.

Person A: Have you heard of Peter Williams?
Person B: The name sounds familiar, where might I know him from?
Person A: He is an actor.
Person B: Ah Yes! He was in a TV crime drama, wasn't he?
Person B: Yes, he was in episode three of Thrilling Murder Stories. He played the detective.

Also sarcastically to express definite recognition:

Person A: I found Mother drunk under the table last night. She said she had accidentally drunk a whole bottle of sherry.
Person B: That sounds familiar.


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