Word Confusion: Know How versus Know-how

Posted December 15, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I know how to cook, but I’m still acquiring the know-how, the ability to look at the ingredients in my fridge and put together a meal based on just that. The know-how to pull out the right seasonings to turn a bland meal into an enjoyable one.

It’s odd, as I have the “know-how” to taste the high, mid-, and low tones of the spices in a dish, to know that something is missing, unbalanced. Or, in the best circumstances, that it is balanced. But I’m horrible at creating something without recipes. I lack that know-how.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Know How Know-how
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: know-how

“Jungle Mission 3” is Druyts.t’s own work [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

You don’t know how lost you really are.

Chefs cooking with a wok

“Wok Cooking and the Heat Source” by The Pocket from Nanjin, China (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It takes expertise — know-how — to cook and season with a wok.

Part of Grammar:
Verb Phrase Noun
To understand the method Practical ability or knowledge


Ingenuity, aptitude, or skill

  • Knack

Commercial and salable knowledge of how to do a particular thing

  • Experience

The fact or state of knowing

I know how to boil water.

I don’t know how to knit well.

Do you know how to change the oil in your car?

She knows how to get the most out of a few dollars.

Hey, girl, you know how we do.

Know-how and a little luck will see us through.

It takes know-how to run a truck that size.

She has the know-how to invest her money well.

Our employees who have been us for a number of years have the know-how that cannot be taught in school.

You gain know-how with every job you take on.

I’m sorry but we’re looking for someone who already has the know-how.

Adjective: knowable
Adverb: knowingly
Noun: ken, knower
Verb: ken, known, knowing
Verb, modal: can
History of the Word:
An Americanism coined between 1830–40 in a noun use of the verb phrase know how

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Somehow, know has a number of conflicts within homonyms, and you may want to explore other posts that include know or no, including Know versus No, Knows vs Noes vs Nose, and Knew versus New.

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“I Don’t Know How It Works!” by The_Doodler (Flickr: “I don’t know how it works!”) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

“WIM 2004 Balloms” is Dominik Schäfer’s own work is under [CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.