As far as I know, the two following sentences mean the same:

  1. He's talking to the girls who wear skirts.
  2. He's talking to the girls wearing skirts.

But I've just heard that native speakers don't say "those knowing" and only say "those who know". Here are some examples that @FF provided:

  1. All those who know the answer raise your hand
  2. All those knowing the answer raise your hand

Why? Is it because we can't reduce relative clauses coming after pronouns?

P.S. Maybe because know is a stative verb?

  • 1
    (2) must mean 'the girls who are wearing skirts today'. (1) could mean 'the girls who habitually wear skirts'. Commented Jun 26 at 15:14
  • Though, of course, that distinction doesn't apply to knowing because you don't just happen to know something on a particular day. Commented Jun 26 at 15:28
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    The NP "those wearing skirts" is OK. Why shouldn't it be? I strongly advise you to drop the term 'reduced'. Your example 2. is not some kind of reduced relative clause, but a distinct clause, namely a gerund-participial clause.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 15:43
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    Can you give an example sentence with "knowing"? You present something about girls wearing skirts and then ask a question that doesn't seem related. "Know" has two different meanings in English: to be familiar/acquainted with (a person, place, etc); and to be certain of something (a fact), and what works for one meaning may not work for the other.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 26 at 16:09
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    those knowing {something} (where it is a participial clause postmodifier) is a usage found in contemporary American English tending towards formal in register. This is not the same thing as the Indian English use of the continuous/progressive as a matrix verb where in standard English one finds the simple present; in IndE you hear things like "I'm having an iPhone 11" with the meaning "I own an iPhone 11".
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


First, sentences 1 and 2 do not mean the same thing

Sentence 1 describes girls who wear skirts at any time but might not be wearing skirts now. In sentence 2, the girls are wearing skirts now.

“Know” is a verb, “knowing” is an adjective

That’s why sentence 4 doesn’t work.

  • What exactly do you mean by "sentence 4 doesn't work"? And the fact that OP's first 2 don't mean the same isn't really relevant here, since that wouldn't apply to, say, All those owning / who own a smartphone raise your hand. And I don't think you can wave that one away with "owning" is an adjective. I think it's because to own is a "stative" verb, obviously. Commented Jun 26 at 22:14

Relevant usage chart for the verb know...

enter image description here

...and this is to show that there's no such hard-and-fast rule with the verb wear...

enter image description here

Note that it's not just know - it's the same with other "stative" verbs and "verbs of perception". Compare "mainstream" I speak English very well with "Indian English" I am speaking English very well. This chart showed Ngrams not found: Anyone speaking English. It's not that it's ungrammatical/invalid, just relatively uncommon.

Usage chart for speak...

enter image description here

  • 1
    The question is about "those knowing" vs "those who know", not about the continuous/progressive as verb in a main clause.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 18:48
  • My first chart shows conclusively that "those knowing" is incredibly uncommon compared to "those who know". Bear in mind that I put "bad habit" in scare quotes in my comment precisely because it's not a bad habit when used by competent Anglophones. But "competent Anglophones" aren't the people who would be coming here to ask about such things. I assume that's your downvote, but I'll be staggered if it doesn't get wiped out by future upvotes over the coming days and weeks. Commented Jun 26 at 18:59
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    Uncommonness doesn't indicate that it is unidiomatic in all circumstances. Your answers would benefit from less use of ngram statistics and more use of actual attestations.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 19:19
  • "Ngrams not found: Anyone speaking English" means "not idiomatic". But let's not waste time and brain cells arguing about it. Neither of us are of a mind to change our mind, so it's pointless. Let's just let future voters have the last say. Commented Jun 26 at 19:22

We can indeed say "those knowing". [check the attestations at the link for examples in American English where the noun-phrase consists of the head noun followed by the participial clause as modifier]

This request is for those knowing how the movie ends. No spoilers, please!

It may sound a tad stilted to some but it's grammatical. The examples in American English are tending towards formal in register. Here's a typical example, where the noun phrase "those knowing about the Hatch Act" refers to a statistical subset of federal personnel, hence the choice of the impersonal "those knowing" over "those who know"

One would expect that the longer a person has been in the Federal service the more he would know about the Hatch Act and this indeed is the case. Starting with those who have worked for the government from 1 to 7 years, the proportion of those knowing about the Hatch Act rises from 45 percent to a high of 72 percent for those who have served 23 or more years (table 29 C). [my emphasis] A Commission Report: Research By United States Commission on Political Activity of Government Personnel (1968)

Here's another very similar one, again referring to statistical subsets in an impersonal manner:

Finland: The population is 88.7 per cent Finnish speaking, 11 per cent Swedish speaking, and 0.3 per cent use other languages. The report of the census taken on December 31 1921 gives the extent of education under four categories: (1) Persons who have received instruction higher than primary; (2) other persons knowing how to read and write; (3) those knowing only how to read; and (4) those not knowing how to read and write. [my emphasis] Bulletin By United States Bureau of Education (1929)

And here's another one in the same vein from Ireland in the 19th century. Notice the shift from the impersonal "those knowing" to the more personal "those who could read and write" when the reference is obliquely to the famine:

In 1861 upon the other hand the absolute number of those knowing how to read and write has increased in every county with the exception of Carlow Wexford and Tipperary in each of which while the relative number was largely increased the absolute number had somewhat diminished. In the City of Kilkenny in the Town of Galway and in the City of Limerick the relative number of those knowing how to read and write had greatly risen while the absolute number was something less than in 1851. Between the years 1841 and 1851 the number of those who could read and write had been reduced from 1,966,156 to 1,938,685 or by 27,471 persons. [my emphasis] The Census of Ireland for the Year 1861. Ireland Census Office

  • Sure, we can say that. But actually, native Anglophones very rarely do use the continuous verb form knowing as an attributive adjective in the cited contexts. It's a "bad habit" particularly associated with "Indian English" that visitors to ELL should expect to be warned against using. Commented Jun 26 at 16:19
  • @FumbleFingers It's not a "bad habit", and I cited examples from AmE. Did you even bother to visit the link? You are having your head in the wrong place, as they say in Delhi, when they're being polite.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 18:27
  • I'm a competent speaker with a degree in English Language & Literature, so I don't need to follow your links to find out how the language is normally used. Commented Jun 26 at 19:02
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    @FumbleFingers And so am I, and don't need you telling me either. That's why I included the attestations, so it's not a native-speaker-with-degrees pissing contest. This has nothing to do with "bad habits" but with register. It's a valid, grammatical construction that has its uses, and in AmE tends to appear in formal contexts. And stop using the blunt knife of ngrams on such questions. It's for chumps.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 19:14
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    I really do not think this deserves a downvote. And I agree that ngrams is useless for this. I would add: all varieties of English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 26 at 19:52

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