How to Say "I Don't Know" in French

Two Methods:"Je ne sais pas"Other Useful Phrases

So you want to say "I don't know" in French, but you don't know how to say that you don't know how to say "I don't know." Never fear. Say "Je ne sais pas" (juh-nuh-say-pah) for a simple "I don't know," or learn more complex phrases to communicate more deeply.

Method 1
"Je ne sais pas"

  1. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 1
    Say "Je ne sais pas." This translates directly to "I don't know [a specific thing]". Pronounce it as "juh-nuh-say-pah" or "shu-nu-say-pah". To pronounce the "je" like "shu", shape your mouth like you are beginning to "shush" someone, but carry on the "sh" sound by following with a sound almost halfway between "uh" and "ooo". This should sound something like "eu". The "ne" is similar: just replace the "sh" with a "n" sound.
    • Note: in modern spoken French, the "je" and "ne" ("I" and "don't") often glide together, so you may sound more authentic if you slur your syllables—as in, "jeun-say-pah," or even "shay-pah".[1]
    • If you want to be especially polite, say, "I don't know, sorry." In French, that's "Je ne sais pas, deslolée." Pronounce "desolée" as "dez-oh-lay".
    • Bear in mind that the negating "ne" is always used in written French, but is often dropped in informal spoken French. One might say to a friend, for instance, "Je sais pas," and mean something like "I dunno."[2]
  2. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 2
    Understand the function of each word in the phrase "je ne sais pas." "Je," ne," "sais," and "pas":
    • "Je" is the first person subject, or "I".
    • "Sais" is the first person conjugation of "savoir", a verb which translates as "to know something". Always put the "ne" before the verbal tense and the "pas" after it.
    • "Pas" loosely translates as "not".
  1. 1
    • "Ne" doesn't really mean anything, and is more a formality of grammar that accompanies "pas". This is why a person speaking informally can omit the "ne" and simply say "Je sais pas."
  2. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 3
    Use "Je ne sais pas" in a sentence. Add the specific thing that you don't know to the end of the phrase—this can be a piece of information, or it can be a certain thing with which you are not familiar. Review the following examples:
    • "Je ne sais pas parler français" means "I don't know how to speak French."
    • "Je ne sais pas la réponse" means "I don't know the answer."
    • "Je ne sais pas nager" means "I don't know how to swim."
    • "Je ne sais quoi faire" means "I don't know what to do." The "pas" is unnecessary in this example because the verb savoir is being used with a question word.

Method 2
Other Useful Phrases

  1. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 4
    Say "Je ne comprends pas." This means "I don't understand." Pronounce it "juh-nuh com-prond pah". This is a good phrase to use if you are trying to hold a conversation with someone in French, but you simply don't know how to translate something that they just said. If you say it politely, odds are your conversation partner will be understanding.
  2. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 5
    Say "Je ne parle pas (le) français." This translates to "I don't speak French."[3] Pronounce it "juh-nuh pahl-pah frahn-say". This is a good way to politely inform people that you aren't equipped to hold a conversation in French. If you want to try to start a conversation with someone, however, you might just say "Je ne parle qu'un peu le français,"—"I only speak a little French." Pronounce it "juh-nuh pahl koon pay-oo le frahn-say".[4]
    • If someone stops you on the Paris metro and starts speaking aggressively to you in frenzied French, you might be able to turn them away by looking confused and saying "Je ne parle pas français."
    • If you're trying to impress your boyfriend's French grandparents, smile and sheepishly say "Je suis desolée—je ne parle qu'un peu le français."
  3. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 6
    Say "Parlez-vous anglais?" This directly translates to "Do you speak English?" Pronounce it "Par-lay-voo ahn-glay?"[5] If you are learning French and you are still a beginner, you may come to a point at which communicated efficiently is a matter of safety or great convenience. Depending on where you are, you may or may not find someone who speaks fluent English—but this is still an important phrase to have in your arsenal.
  4. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 7
    Say "Je ne connais pas cette personne/place." This means "I don't know this/that person/place." Pronounce it "Juh-nuh-conn-eye pah." "Personne (pronounced "pair-sohn) means "person". "Place" (pronounced "plahss") means, quite literally, "place".[6]
    • Add a specific person or place name to the end of the phrase to make it more specific. For example: "Je ne connais pas Guillaume," or "Je ne connais pas Avignon."
  5. Image titled Say "I Don't Know" in French Step 8
    Say "Je ne sais quoi." This is an expression that means "I don't know what." Je ne sais quoi is an indefinable, elusive quality, usually positive and often descriptive of someone's personality. The phrase is often colloquially interjected into English speech. For instance: "The actress had a certain je ne sais quoi that immediately charmed everyone she met." Pronounce it "juh-nuh-say-kwa," and imitate a French accent if possible.[7]

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Categories: French