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Is it possible to say know someone in detail in English?

In my opinion, if you have only one best friend, you can develop a deep friendship more easily. On the other hand, if you have a lot of friends, you don't have the opportunity to know them in detail.

If not, what would you suggest instead?

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  • Please provide proper attribution for the text that you quote. That means title, author, and publication, or as many of those as are available. If the source is long, such as a book, please include a page number or other location also. If the source is online, please include a link also. See Marking and Attributing Examples, Sources, and Other Quotes Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 22:00

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To "know someone in detail" is easily understood, but sounds unnatural, like it's translated from another language, and it doesn't work.

A better expression is, "know someone intimately", though that can have sexual connotations if the context isn't clear.

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  • As alternative for "intimately" you could also use "through and through" which has less risk of sexual connotations.
    – towr
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 12:25
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It is not an expression you would hear. The phrase "know in detail" would be more likely to be applied to something like a school subject or the maintenance of a car or some such. The word "detail" tends to refer to matters of fact, in particular down to the smallest fact. So to "know in detail" about car repair means you know every fact (detail) that will result in the car being correctly repaired. Things like what tool to use in a situation, or what oil to use, or how much force to apply tightening a particular fastener, or those sorts of thing.

To know a person "in detail" would thus mean to know things like hair color, shoe size, height, etc. These are not the kind of things that one thinks of in regard to a best friend. You may know these about a best friend (or not) but those are not the things that tend to make one think of somebody as their best friend.

For a best friend you might be thinking of such things as sharing some personal event of great importance. Say a graduation, a marriage, getting or losing a job, buying a house, birth of a child, death of a parent, etc. Or sharing some extended or often repeated group activity. Things like going to the bar every Friday for years, or going camping for two weeks, etc.

Depending on the context you might use several possible words instead of "in detail." Here are just a few.

  • Personally to emphasize that you have direct contact
  • Intimately to emphasize that you know information that would not be available to "just anybody"
  • Closely would be similar to intimately
  • Long term to emphasize that you have known this person for many years

There are others. Here is a link to a thesaurus web site entry for "personally." You can easily find the entry for other words and choose what makes sense in context.

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From an America English speaker, I would use "know them well" instead of "know them in detail" as that gets too close to "know intimately" which in many cases conveys a sexual relationship.

Hope that this helps you to get to know others well!

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    I would feel perfectly comfortable saying I knew someone "intimately" confident that it carried no sexual connotation. But I am British, and I'm not sure whether that makes a difference or not.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 21:39
  • @WS2 given the Biblical use of the verb in the KJV, just "knowing someone" can imply sexual connotation if the listener wants to find it.
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 16:56
  • @origimbo In that case I'd better be careful saying that I know all the neighbours in my road!
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 10:40
  • Do you have the chapter and verse of the 17th C version of the bible you quote? It will be interesting to see how it is translated in one of the modern versions. As with much language context is crucial. And I would be hesitant to use the verb "know" in some conjugations - for the reason you refer to. "Have known" might be one. "I have known XYZ person" without any further elaboration might be off limits to some. But people do not normally use the verb in that way. However "I have known XYZ person say some odd things" is not ambiguous
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 12:27
  • @Ws2 As per my comment on EngrStudent’s answer, Matthew 1:25 is probably enlightening. King James has “and knew her not til she had brought forth her firstborn son:…” where the New International Version has “But he did not consummate the marriage until she gave birth to a son”.
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 15:24
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Though it is an expression I have never heard used - I see no reason not to do so as its meaning is perfectly clear.

More usual would be to say that you knew the person "intimately";"very well indeed"; or "personally".

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Humans are dynamic, complex, and self-interacting. They cannot be perfectly known by other humans. They cannot be perfectly known even by themselves.

The "in detail" is usually applied to subjects with details that can be fully known.

For something as ambiguous and nuanced as personhood the way to describe the best possible understanding that can be realized, or to express a level that is substantially greater than median knowledge of the person by their associates, would be found in examples like "Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio." or the scene in Hunt for the Red October when Jack Ryan convinces leadership that he has a superlative understanding of Captain Ramius.

Other variations that can be valid include:

  • I know him as well as I know the back of my own hand
  • I knew him better than his own mother knew him
  • I am an expert in all things
  • He was my best friend, my brother. Ironically enough it doesn't apply up or down, so saying he was your father or your son both have an implied level of disconnect because of our disconnected culture, as if fathers cannot understand sons, and sons cannot understand fathers.
  • I knew him better than he knew himself.
  • There is an archaic phrase "I knew her biblically" which in modern vernacular implies sexual, but in the ancient connotation was a truly perfect knowledge. In Adam "knowing" Eve, he comprehended masterfully every aspect of her being.

They are comparison, but it is treated as a categorical variable in its limits on inference instead of a continuous one.

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  • "And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son" (Matthew 1:25, King James Version) is generally agreed to be sexual, ditto for David in 1 Kings 1:4.
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 17:07
  • @origimbo - Elohiym says of Abraham "I know him". link David asked God to "know" his heart. link Knowing is about what the mind does, not about what the body does. Also funny is that the word is "yada" so when you say "yada yada yada" you are saying "know know know". Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 18:00
  • I'm definitely not saying that all uses of "know" in all English language translations of the Bible are sexual. But some (in early, famous translations) were.
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 18:27
  • @origimbo - like the SAPS software from Red October, when we get confused we also "run home to mama". The middle English of KJV is Shakespeare era, and we barely get, and mostly don't get much of the innuendo and metaphor in it. "Rake and Rake", right? I don't know if saying it was that sexual is correct, or if we are imposing our current (highly sexualized) cultural interpretation on the words from what is nearly an alien culture. Consider how and why Americans of the 18th century didn't smile, especially for photographs. Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:36
  • KJV (and the more particularly the Tyndale Bible it’s derived from) are usually agreed to be post the start of Early Modern English, rather than Middle English. Ditto forShakespeare.
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 20:02

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