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

Posted by on February 11, 2014

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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Comments (15)
  • Nice work #thumb up#

    Posted by oluwatimileyin on 12th February, 2014
  • “Not that I am aware of” is too formal in spoken English?

    Posted by Sergio Rodrigues on 12th February, 2014
  • What about ‘Beats me?’

    Posted by Alina Cincan on 13th February, 2014
  • Alina, thank you for the suggestion. That’s a good one to join the list too – it’s now been added.

    Posted by Macmillan Dictionary on 14th February, 2014
  • Macmillan Dictionary, you are welcome. I can’t think of any other ways to say ‘I don’t know’… Oh, wait, would ‘I can’t think of…’ qualify?

    Posted by Alina Cincan on 14th February, 2014
  • 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.’

    Posted by Liz on 14th February, 2014
  • Oh, yes, indeed, Liz. I remember hearing this one (I don’t have the foggiest), albeit not very often. I think it’s a cute one.

    Posted by Alina Cincan on 14th February, 2014
  • 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. 🙂

    Posted by Pat H. on 15th February, 2014
  • […] Few ways of saying “I don’t know“. […]

    Posted by Ivan Pesin - Links: Feb 16 on 16th February, 2014
  • 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?

    Posted by Osim on 21st May, 2014
  • 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.

    Posted by Liz on 22nd May, 2014
  • 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”?

    Posted by Ahmad Al-Wahy on 21st October, 2014
  • Hi Ahmad. You’re right about the meaning of these phrases. I actually used them as an example of a way of saying you are unsure, in the life skills post on that topic:
    Of course saying you don’t know something and saying you are unsure about it are pretty similar concepts so it’s not surprising that there is some overlap.

    Posted by Liz on 21st October, 2014
  • Thanks for the clarification, Liz.

    Posted by Ahmad Al-Wahy on 27th October, 2014
  • Posted by Notas de Evernote | eoiblogavanzado2 on 9th March, 2015
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