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Life skills tip of the week: ways of saying ‘I don’t know’

Macmillan Life Skills: language is a life skillLearning about pragmatics and how to express yourself successfully is a useful life skill, said Michael Rundell last month when he introduced the new pragmatics series on Macmillan Dictionary. The series is part of the Macmillan Life Skills campaign, offering free resources for English language students and teachers each month.

As part of the series, we’ll bring more useful content and tips from the Macmillan Dictionary on expressing yourself.

This week’s language tip helps with other ways of saying ‘I don’t know‘:

Dunno: used informally, in spoken language:
‘Are you coming out later?’ ‘Dunno. Depends on the weather.’

I have no idea/I haven’t a clue/I haven’t the faintest idea: used when you have no information and you are unable to guess the answer to a question:
‘What time does the film start?’ ‘I have no idea. Why don’t you call the cinema?’
‘I don’t suppose you know where Braganza Street is?’ ‘I haven’t a clue. Sorry.’
‘Could somebody please explain how this car ended up in my driveway?’ ‘I haven’t the faintest idea.’

How should I know?/Don’t ask me/Search me: used when you do not know something and you feel annoyed that someone is asking you about it:
‘Who left this rubbish all over the table?’ ‘How should I know? I’ve only just come home.’
‘Why didn’t he call me himself?’ ‘Don’t ask me. I’m only the messenger.’
‘Why didn’t he say he wasn’t coming?’ ‘Search me. He never tells me anything.’

Who knows?/It’s anyone’s guess: used for saying that you don’t know something because it is impossible for anyone to know it:
‘When will this situation ever be resolved?’ ‘Who knows? It’s been going on for so long now.’
‘How the situation will develop from here is anyone’s guess.’

Your guess is as good as mine: used for saying that you know as little about something as the person who asked you about it:
‘Do you think the store will be open on Sunday?’ ‘Your guess is as good as mine.’

Not as far as I know: used for saying that something may be true, but you do not have enough information to know whether it is or not:
‘Has James left the company? I haven’t seen him for ages.’ ‘Not as far as I know, but I haven’t seen him recently either.’

It beats me: used for saying that you do not know or understand something:
‘Why did he do such a stupid thing?’ ‘It beats me.’

Would you like to learn more about pragmatics? Keep a close eye on our pragmatics page; we’ll publish the first life skills lesson plan next week. For more information about Life Skills, visit the Macmillan Life Skills page.

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Macmillan Dictionary

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  • Alina, thank you for the suggestion. That’s a good one to join the list too – it’s now been added.

  • Along the same lines as ‘I haven’t the faintest idea’ but a little more emphatic is ‘I don’t have the foggiest (idea/clue/notion),’ which plays nicely on the idea of confusion or ignorance being like fog. The noun is optional: ‘Who was that guy?’ ‘I haven’t the foggiest. I thought he was a friend of yours.’

  • Another way to say “I don’t know” in my family (my dad would almost always use this) : “Your guess is as good as mine.”, which means he didn’t know and would only be guessing if he attempted to answer. But, being a good dad, he would then get out the dictionary. 🙂

  • Another way to say I don’t know: I am not clued-up. (do you know anything about Britain? I am not clued-up. Is this acceptable?

  • Hi Osim. ‘(Not) clued up’ is a perfectly good expression, and quite a frequent one. However, it is generally used to say that someone knows (or doesn’t know) a lot about a particular subject and we usually specify what it is they know or don’t know about, either before or after the expression. Here are some corpus examples:
    They are some of the most clued up chaps in the wine business.
    The majority of children today are really clued up regarding computers and the internet.
    After leafing through these books and trawling the Internet for pregnancy forums and articles, my wife was pretty much clued up on everything.
    Lots of people are aware of the effect that colour can have on interior decoration. However, people are less clued up about the way texture can do the same.
    The police are not choosing the right ways to go about things because they are not 100 percent clued up about what’s going on in the streets.

  • What about this (from your dictionary — Macmillan!)

    ‘… “you never can tell” or “you can never tell” spoken

    used for saying that it is impossible to be certain about something
    You can never tell how long these meetings will last.’

    Perhaps this is a more up-to-date version of “No one can tell”?

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