Understanding the Homophones Know and No

Commonly Confused Words

The words know and no are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The verb know means to be aware, to be informed, to recognize, to understand, or to be acquainted with. The past form of know is knew; the past participle form is known.

No (which can function as an adjective, an adverb, or an interjection) means the opposite of yes: not so, not in any degree. No can also be used as an exclamation to give force to a negative statement.

Examples

  • Kara didn't know any of the other children in her class.
  • "I take out my dictionary but then the kids come in and want me to give them a bath and baby Tee Tee has a fever and is throwing up all over the place. I look at the words and suddenly I know I will know them without studying."
    (Carolyn Ferrell, "Proper Library." Ploughshares, 1994) 
  • James firmly believes that no good deed goes unpunished.
  • No, I will not be quiet.
  • "'I loved your father very dearly, that you know, but this you did not know: when we were very young, not yet twenty, we saw, with our own eyes, an exhibition by the Corsican Wizard, Bastia.'
    "'I know of no wizards.'
    "'It is the rank beyond master in swordsmanship,' Yeste said. 'Bastia was the last man so designated.'" (William Goldman, The Princess Bride. Harcourt, 1973) 

Practice

  1. It is difficult to _____ what to say to someone who has lost a loved one.
  2. There is _____ person on earth who has read everything.
  1. _____ talking was allowed during the study period.
  2. You need to _____ the rules before you can break them.

Answers to practice exercises are at the end of the article.

Idiom Alerts

  • In the Know
    The idiom to be in the know means to have inside information—facts not generally known by others.

    "Authors are always told by people in the know— publishers, other authors, teachers, and so forth—that they should be able to describe their book in one or two sentences."
    (Rachel Louise Snyder, Fugitive Denim.  W.W. Norton, 2009)
  • Know by Heart
    The expression know by heart means learned or memorized word for word.

    "When preparing to deliver a speech, know by heart your opening and closing paragraphs. Know in general what you are going to talk about in the body of your speech."
  • (Well) What Do You Know!
    The exclamation What do you know! is an expression of surprise.

    "He gave a low whistle. 'Now that's surprising, a singer out here in the sticks. Where do you sing, in church?' And he roared at his own humor.

    "'I sing in clubs,' I responded haughtily, recalling a short bio of Patsy Cline I'd found in a magazine in one of the trash bins behind the market.

    "The remark intrigued Jack. 'What clubs?'

    "Here I was on more sure ground. 'The Eight Bells.'

    "'Well, what do you know.' Jack's whistle demonstrated how impressed he was."
    (Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman, Kathy Little Bird. Berkley, 2004)
  • You Know
    You know is a question tag or a placeholder (a phrase used by a person who's trying to remember something).

    "One cool fall day, in his snazzy, impractical convertible, when she asked him what was wrong he said, 'You would not be ill served by new clothes, you know.'"
    (Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too." The New Yorker, 1990)
  • A No-No
    The expression a no-no refers to something that's not possible or allowed. 

    "Not hanging up first-class passengers' coats, that's a no-no, even though there's no room in the coatroom. You're supposed to somehow make room."
    (Studs Terkel, Working. Pantheon, 1974)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    1. It is difficult to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one.
    2. There is no person on earth who has read everything.
    3. No talking was allowed during the study period.
    4. You need to know the rules before you can break them.