1 He said to me his name when I gave him the money.

1 I gave 2 he said

That is clear. The next are not clear.

2 When I met him he knew the news.

Does it mean that he learnt the news after I met him or that he had known it before I met him?

2a When I met him he didn't know the news. (What does it mean? The news was eliminated after he met me?)

3 He lived in Germany when I arrived.

Technically, it should mean that he started living in Germany after I arrived. But it's strange. Should it be "He have been living in Germany when I arrived"? Or is it the case when in real speech this logic is neglected?

  • He told me his name. Nov 25, 2022 at 15:40
  • He told me his name as far as I know is used but not as correct as say a name. After all, it's not a story to be told
    – user1425
    Nov 25, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    Believe me as a native speaker: He said his name = he spoke it out loud. He told me his name = he informed me what his name was. It is not 'less correct'. Nov 25, 2022 at 16:04
  • OK. But "He said his name to me", is it wrong?
    – user1425
    Nov 25, 2022 at 16:07
  • 1
    No, but 'He told me his name' is much more idiomatic. Nov 25, 2022 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


"When" used as a conjunction does not usually imply sequence; it usually means "at the same time." It can be used to mean "immediately afterwards," but it's used in order to focus on the immediacy. So He said to me his name when I gave him the money is emphasizing that "as soon as I gave him the money, he told me his name."

"Knowing" is a state of being; you learn something at one moment, and then you know it for a long time. "Know" is rarely used to describe the moment of learning something. So when I met him, he knew the news would usually mean "at the time that I met him, he already knew the news." It would usually not mean that he learned the news at the same time as, or immediately after, meeting me. If that's the meaning you intend, you could use "learned of" in place of "knew." If you instead wrote "when he met me, he knew the news," then I would assume that *meeting you somehow instantly informed him of the news (as would be the case, for example, if the news was that you are visiting from out of town). This is because the focus is on him, so the implication is that it affects him somehow, so I would assume "know" is being used like "learn." (2b) should now be clear: It means "at the time when I met him, he did not yet know the news."

He lived in Germany when I arrived means "at the time when I arrived, he was living in Germany." If you used the past perfect ("he had been living in Germany"), it would mean "at the time when I arrived, he had been living in Germany [for some time already]." The implications are slightly different, although in most situations either would fit. English speakers often choose the simple past instead of past perfect when the context in unambiguous, just because it's "simpler."

  • How about 'when I met her, she knew how to swim', or 'when I met him, he knew how to draw'? Nov 25, 2022 at 15:01
  • @MichaelHarvey same as knowing the news: at the time that I met him/her, he already knew how to swim/draw." In those cases, "know" would *never be used to mean "learn," because the process of learning takes a significant amount of time (whereas learning the news can be instantaneous).
    – Esther
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:07
  • I don't agree with this "it usually means "at the same time." It seems to me that it means that only when STATIVE VERBS like "know, live" are used.
    – user1425
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:09
  • 2
    Yes, it is, and he was [already] living in G. is much more natural. Similarly (2) would be expressed as either When I met him he [already] knew the news or When I met him I told him the news. (Actually, we would say 'He had heard the news', since 'knew the news' sounds funny.) Nov 25, 2022 at 15:47
  • 1
    "He had seen the news." Nov 25, 2022 at 16:11

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