If you’re going to France (or are currently there) and suddenly a French approaches you, saying something that sounds totally incomprehensible, how would you respond? If you have no idea, then this is the perfect place to learn the way to say ‘I don’t know’ in French!
I Don’t Know in French — Common Phrases
Yes, we know you’re here because you don’t know the exact words and phrases in French which signify the meaning of ‘I don’t know’.Today, let’s see some of the French common phrases that are used to say I don’t know.
1) Je ne sais pas
This is one of the most used phrases by people in France to convey the meaning I don’t know. The translation of je ne sais pas is quite direct:-
Je ne sais pas = I don’t know
So, if someone asks a question but you do not know how to respond, you may use this particular phrase and say “je ne sais pas“, especially in a formal setting.
If you want to sound more polite, you can add the word ‘sorry’ at the end of this phrase; I don’t know, sorry. In the French language, sorry is translated as desolée;
Je ne sais pas, desolée = I don’t know, sorry
Use this phrase instead of just saying je ne sais pas if you want to sound more courteous and well-mannered especially if you are responding to a stranger or an elderly.
2) Je sais pas
Like the first one, this phrase has the exact same meaning. The only difference is that the word ‘ne‘ has been omitted from the phrase. Just so you know, ‘ne‘ is always used in French written form but not so much in the spoken context as it is known as an element of formality. So, dropping out the ‘ne‘ from je ne sais pas would bring a similar meaning in a more casual context, which is ‘I dunno‘.
3) Je ne sais pas parler français
This is the perfect response to use if some French people ask or say things in the French language but you don’t know any French to start with. So, instead of just randomly saying je ne sais pas, you can say these words instead:
Je ne sais pas parler français = I don’t know how to speak French
By saying these words to the French, they would definitely stop talking to you, especially in French. So, you might need to take your time to discover and learn more about learning the French language.
4) Je ne sais pas la réponse
Okay then, how about if someone asks you a question in French and you totally get what they mean — but you just really don’t know the answer? You could use these words to reply as its translation convey the exact intended meaning!
Je ne sais pas la réponse = I don’t know the answer
5) Je ne sais pas ce qui s’est passé
If something interesting occurred among you and your French friends, family, or acquaintances, and they require to get some information from you, you can use je ne sais pas ce qui s’est passé to respond to their question. This expression means that you don’t know what happened.
6) Je ne comprends pas bien
If you’re a beginner in learning French but eager to speak with the locals, don’t be surprised if you can’t understand what they say. Since they are native speakers and you’re just starting to learn their mother tongue, what they say can make no sense to you at all.
So, let’s just be frank and tell your interlocutor that you don’t understand a thing by uttering these words:
Je ne comprends pas bien = I don’t understand everything
By right, the French native will either rephrase his words to sound simpler or maybe he’ll ignore you and ditch the conversation (but most French people wouldn’t do this — they’re really friendly!)
Here’s another way for you to say that you totally don’t understand:
Je ne comprends pas tout = I don’t understand it at all
7) Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire X?
If you’re quite proficient in French or let’s say you’re an intermediate French non-native speaker and you don’t get certain words — you can ask them specifically about what that certain word means. You can try to ask for its translation in English or further explanation or definition of the word in simpler words by saying;
Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire X? = What does X means?
This expression is usually used in a formal context. In casual French, you can say “Ça veut dire quoi X?” instead, which carries the exact same meaning — only that it sounds much more friendly and informal.
8) Comment dit-on X en français?
Similar to the previous example and context, this particular expression can be used to ask “How do you say X in French?”
Comment dit-on X en français? = How do you say X in French?
This is absolutely one of the most important basic expressions you need to know and keep under your sleeves especially when travelling to France — it’ll extremely help you along the way.
Surely, the phrase above is most suitable for informal circumstances. For something more casual, you can use these words instead:
C’est quoi X en français? = What is X in French?
I Don’t Know in French — Other Expressions
Here is a list of other expressions in French that may help you in learning the French native tongue. Look at each example and see how it is normally used:
Learn More French Common Words and Expressions
From today’s blog, there are a lot of examples of how to use multiple expressions in French to signify the fact that you have no idea to respond to some questions. By using Ling App, you’ll learn many French words, sentences, basic phrases, pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and many more! Seize this opportunity and you’ll get to learn French in an interactive way for free!
Original blog post: https://ling-app.com/tips/how-to-say-i-dont-know-in-french/