I Don’t Know

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I Don't Know

⭕ What to Say Instead of “I Don’t Know” ⭕


One of the first things that most people learn how to say in English is “I don’t know.” This makes sense, since there will always be a lot of things you don’t know when you’re learning a language. And that’s OK! Feeling confused and making mistakes is part of learning, and it’s a good thing.

But, the fact that you’re just learning English doesn’t mean that you have to use the same boring phrase that every other learner uses. Even if you’re a beginner, you can express yourself in English with more personality.

Here are some different ways to tell someone that you don’t know the answer to his or her question, instead of just saying “I don’t know”:

⭕ I have no idea I haven’t a clue I haven’t the faintest idea

These expressions are used when you have no information and to not know anything at all about something.

  • I have no idea who he was, and no idea what information the arrest was based on.
  • As for Alexa, which is owned by Amazon, I have no idea what’s wrong with them.
  • I haven’t a clue about the menu, but I doubt it will be very traditional.
  • Don’t ask me why, as I haven’t a clue.
  • Frankly, I haven’t the faintest idea.
  • It’s at this point I realise I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on.
  • I’m sorry, I haven’t the foggiest. You should ask someone else. (idiomatic) I don’t know, I haven’t a clue (as thoughts clouded by a thick fog).

⭕ How should I know? Don’t ask me Search me

These expressions are used for telling someone that you do not know the answer to their question when you are annoyed or surprised that they have asked you. “How should I know?” means “I don’t know and I am not the person you should ask” or “I do not know; Why should I be expected to know?”

  • Who left this mess on the table? How should I know? I’ve only just come home.
  • Bill: Why is the orea called the killer whale? Mary: How should I know?
  • What kind of wedding ceremony your sister and her fiancé want to have? Don’t ask me. I feel like I don’t count! I’m always the last to know what’s going on in my family.
  • Sally: Where did I leave my glasses? Tom: Don’t ask me.
  • Why would he bother to lie about it? Search me.
  • Why didn’t he ask you for the keys? Search me. I’m not a mind reader.

⭕ Who knows? It’s anyone’s guess

These are used for saying that you don’t know something because it is impossible for anyone to know it, it’s something that no one knows for sure, as in: ”Will it rain next Sunday? That’s anyone’s guess.

  • Whether he’ll succeed is anyone’s guess, but you have to admire him for trying.
  • It is anyone’s guess whose side they are on and how dangerous they might be.
  • How well he could handle a crisis as China’s top leader is anyone’s guess.
  • Who knows how much better they might be if they paid less attention to football?
  • I want us to win as many games as possible and who knows where that can take us?
  • Who knows if you will still be each other’s spouse when it comes time to retire?

⭕ It beats me

This is a rather informal expression, it’s used when a person does not know the answer to a question. It is also something a person says when he cannot understand something. “It” is often left out.

  • It beats me! He really has no excuse for being late!
  • It beats me how he managed to survive for three weeks alone in the mountains.
  • It beats me how he survived in such a dangerous environment! What an amazing story!
  • Why did he do such a stupid thing?’ It beats me.
  • It beats me that people don’t get this.

⭕ Your guess is as good as mine

This is used for telling someone that you know as little about something as they know. When you respond to someone’s question by saying “your guess is an good as mine” you are letting them know that you can not speak with certainty about something. If you were to answer their question, you would only be guessing.

  • Honestly, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen on the TV show.
  • No idea, but I’d say far from all, your guess is as good as mine.
  • Excuse me, what time does the bus arrive? Your guess is as good as mine; I almost never take the bus.
  • I am sure there are hosts of possibilities, but your guess is as good as mine.

⭕ Not as far as I know

We use this to say that something may be true, but you do not have enough information to know whether it is or not

  • As far as I know Tibet does not and never has had UN representation, for instance.
  • Has Clive left the company? I haven’t seen him for ages. Not as far as I knowbut I haven’t seen him recently either.
  • There are rumours that he converted, but it is not certain, as far as I know.
  • I am not, as far as I know, ill.

⭕ Dunno

This word is used informally and in spoken language, especially by teenagers who don’t want to answer their parents!

  • Dunno the details on where to get it, but I expect we’ll see it circulating soon.
  • Dunno, I’ll probably sit around watching TV and picking my spots, I said.

⭕ Advice for Teachers

Do you allow students to answer a question with the response “I don’t know” in the classroom? Perhaps you should consider no longer allowing that phrase and instead offering up these five other ways that might get students thinking a bit more.

For example, if you were to pose a question to a student or even to an entire group in a project-based learning situation, what would be an appropriate response if the answer was not known? Would a student (or students) be allowed to skate by and just say they don’t know? Would you allow a group of students to simply look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and just reply that they don’t know the answer. I imagine they’d say something to the effect of “I don’t know, you tell us the answer.”

Here are a few fabulous alternatives to the popular “I don’t know” response:

  • May I get some more information?
  • May I please have some more time to think?
  • Would you please repeat the question?
  • Where could I find more information about that?
  • May I ask a friend for help?
  • Would you please rephrase the question?

Please let me know if there are other expressions that I haven’t included here. I will then add them to the post. If you found this post helpful, please care to share with others.

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