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"I know John."

I think this sentence usually means that I have met and talked to John before. Maybe John and I are friends.

How about "I know John Lennon"? Is it OK to say this even if I have never met him? I know who John Lennon is, and I know his face, his voice, etc., but I have never seen him in person, let alone talked to him. He isn't my friend, of course.

I'd like to know what "to know sb" means. Do I need to know them in person?

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  • Thank you for your help. How about asking "Do you know this actor?", pointing at a picture of him? Does it mean that the person is asking if you have a personal relationship with the actor? If you want to ask whether someone is familiar with the actor or not, what would you say?
    – kuwabara
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 2:06

2 Answers 2

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You are right, if your friend says he is friends with Jim then it would be common for you to say "I know Jim" implying that you have met and/or spoken with him. Although, when speaking of someone famous it isn't often used because it also implies that they know you. If you meet Jim and speak with him he will likely remember you just as you remember him, but if you meet John Lennon he will probably not remember you more than 5 minutes, so to say you know him is not accurate.

I know John Lennon.

This implies that you have met him and he also knows you by name.

I have met John Lennon

This implies you know of him and have met him, but he likely doesn't know you.

If you want to say that you are familiar with him it is common to say:

I know of him.

or

I know who he/John Lennon is...

This implies that you have heard of him and may be familiar with some of his work.

Another common occurrence is:

Person 1: I have been listening to John Lennon all day.
Person 2: Oh, I have heard of him.

This implies only slight knowledge of him and his work, but still some familiarity.

In the dialogue above "Oh, I know him!" could be used and would not imply that you know him personally, but this heavily depends on the context and delivery. Also, this is the most common in AmE.

Usually in AmE if you are very familiar with the person (Say he is your favorite artist) it is common to not even mention that you are familiar with him but instead offer additional information to portray your knowledge of him whilst continuing the conversation. Consider:

Person 1: I have been listening to John Lennon all day.
Person 2: Oh, yes, I love Stand By Me!

This will imply that you know of him, obviously, since you know his songs.

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In general, "I know John" is understood to mean that you have a personal relationship with him. You have talked to him, spent time together, etc. Conceivably one could say "I know John" if your only contact has been telephone or email conversations. If you had extensive conversations of this sort, it might be reasonable to say you "know" the person. But even then, people would probably think it odd that you say you "know" him if you've never actually been in the same room.

I certainly would not say, "I know the president." I may have read a lot about him on the Internet and seen him on television many times, but I have never spoken to him personally and I have never been in the same room with him. I might say, "I know ABOUT the president".

Just a day or two ago I heard a comedian say that someone approached her and said, "I saw your YouTube video. Do you remember me?" Of course, to ruin the joke by explaining it, the viewer might think that he "knows" her because he has seen her on video. But she doesn't know him. She's never seen him before.

(Indeed, in Christian circles it is common to talk about this distinction in terms of someone's relationship to Jesus Christ. Preachers will say, "Do you know Jesus as your personal savior? Or do you just know ABOUT Jesus as a historical figure?")

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