Savannah: Have you seen my phone? I’ve been looking for it everywhere!
Martin: Dunno where it is.
S: Are you sure? I thought I left it in here.
M: How am I supposed to know? It’s your phone!
S: I can’t leave without it!
M: When was the last time you used it?
S: Mmm, I dunno… I sent some messages this morning. I’m pretty sure it was in here.
‘Dunno’ is a contraction and it is used informally. Use it when speaking to people you know well. You should probably avoid using ‘dunno’ in more formal settings, because it can sound like you’re not so interested in what the other person is asking you.
Learn more about contractions and how to pronounce them correctly in this Oxford Online English lesson: English Contractions – Pronunciation and Listening.
You might also write ‘dunno’ in informal messages or emails.
If someone asks you a question and there’s no way you could know the answer, you could say something like ‘How am I supposed to know?’ This has more information than just ‘I don’t know’. It says ‘I don’t know, and why do you think I would know?’ It expresses frustration, so again, it’s not something you would generally use if you want to be polite.
That doesn’t mean that it’s rude! It’s just that you should be aware of the situation when choosing your language.
Savannah: Where’s that vase that use to be on the table?
Martin: There was a vase…? I haven’t got a clue. I didn’t even notice it was missing!
S: How is that even possible? It was right there on the table.
M: I’m sorry, you know I don’t really pay much attention to these kinds of things.
S: Wow, you really don’t have a clue, do you?
‘I haven’t got a clue’ emphasises that you don’t know something. Use this to add some strength to the basic idea of ‘I don’t know’.
Want more practice with emphasis? This lesson can help: Use Emphasis in English Speaking.
‘Have got’ and ‘have’ are used in the same way, so you can say ‘I haven’t got a clue’ or ‘I don’t have a clue’. They’re both possible and they have the same meaning.
Savannah: This scratch is new! Didn’t I tell you to be careful with my car?
Martin: I *was* careful! I have no idea how it happened!
S: Did it happen at the shopping centre, do you think?
M: I’m so sorry. I really have no idea! I was extra careful the whole time!
S: Well, you’d better pay for the repair.
‘I have no idea’ is another strong phrase, which you can use to add emphasis.
If you want to make this idea even stronger, you could say ‘I really have no idea’ or ‘I don’t have the faintest idea’.
Savannah: It’s been raining for days! When’s it gonna stop?
Martin: Who knows? It’s been so unpredictable lately.
S: I wonder if it’ll stop in time for the street party on Sunday.
M: Well, I suppose that’s anyone’s guess…
‘Who knows?’ goes further than saying ‘I don’t know’ – it means that not only do *you* not know, but nobody could know the answer to this question.
It’s often used to answer questions about the future. Imagine you have a friend who is very unreliable. This friend is always late. You invited him for dinner, and of course he’s not on time. When will he arrive? Who knows? Could be in ten minutes, or it could be in two hours.
There was a similar phrase you heard in the dialogue. Do you remember it?
You heard ‘That’s anyone’s guess’.
This is also conversational, and is another way to say ‘no one could know the answer to that.’
Savannah: There are so many people coming next week! Do you think there’ll be enough chairs for everyone?
Martin: Well, we still don’t have exact numbers, right? So, your guess is as good as mine! Let’s just get enough to fill the hall. What more can we do?
S: Mmm… I’m really worried about it. Do you think people will enjoy the performance?
M: Who can say? Everyone has their own tastes, right?
S: I just really hope it goes well. We’ve put so much work into it.
Here, you heard two more phrases like we just discussed. What were they? Do you remember?
You heard ‘your guess is as good as mine’ and ‘who can say?’
These are different ways to say ‘no one knows exactly what will happen in the future.’ They’re common in conversational English.
‘Your guess is as good as mine’ adds the idea that we’re both in the same position of not knowing. This means: I don’t know, and you don’t know.
Savannah: Hey, I heard Sonja’s planning to move to Spain next year. Is it true?
Martin: Not as far as I know. I’m sure she’d have told me if she was planning such a big move.
S: Well, you two are quite close, right? So I guess maybe I misunderstood.
M: I saw her last weekend, and she didn’t say anything… Plus, she just got a new job. Why would she move? It doesn’t make sense.
in the dialogue, you heard the phrase ‘not as far as I know’. What does this mean, exactly?
‘Not as far as I know’ is different from the phrases you’ve seen so far. It means ‘I don’t think so, but I could be wrong’.
The opposite is ‘as far as I know’. So, if you ask someone ‘Does the train leave from this platform?’ and the person replies ‘As far as I know’, what are they telling you?
They’re saying that they think the train does leave from this platform, but they could be wrong.
Savannah: Why does Danny keep agreeing to take on her work? She should do her own work!
Martin: I don’t get it, either. She’s not even nice to him. Maybe he’s just one of those people who can’t say no?
S: And what about her? It beats me how people can expect other people to do their work for them.
M: I know, right? But, the management don’t seem to care. They should have a word with her.
Here’s a phrase you heard, but what’s the missing word?
The phrase was ‘I don’t get it’. This literally means ‘I don’t understand’, but here it also means ‘I don’t know why.’
‘It beats me’ is similar. It’s a conversational phrase which means ‘I have no idea why that is’. You can also shorten it to just ‘beats me!’
Savannah: Who left the dirty dishes in the sink?
Martin: How should I know? I’ve only just come home.
S: Who’s gonna clean it up?
M: Don’t ask me. Not my problem.
S: That’s a nice attitude!
M: Well, you can take care of it if you want.
Sometimes, phrases that literally mean ‘I don’t know’ can have other uses. For example, in the dialogue you heard the question ‘how should I know?’. Is this a real question, which needs an answer?
Not really! It’s more an expression of annoyance, or dismissal. It’s like saying ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it’s not my problem’.
Sometimes, questions and responses are used more to express emotions than to exchange information. When using language like this, it’s important to control your intonation. Even neutral language like ‘I don’t know’ can sound impolite if your intonation is unfriendly.
Practice your intonation with this lesson: Intonation in English.
Now, let’s see if you can use the language you’ve seen in this lesson.
- Hello, excuse me … do you know how much this costs?
Could you respond? What did you say?
There are many possibilities. You could just say one word – ‘dunno’ – though this might not sound polite! Let’s see how this might go in a real-life situation.
Savannah: Hello, excuse me? Do you know how much this costs?
Martin: I’m afraid I haven’t got a clue!
S: Oh, I’m so sorry! I thought you worked here!
M: I think that lady just over there might be able to help you.
S: Great! Thank you.
Another point: if you want to soften your answer, add something like ‘I am sorry’ or ‘I’m afraid’. Just saying ‘I have no idea’ is quite direct, which could sound rude in some situations. Saying ‘I’m sorry, but I have no idea’ or ‘I’m afraid I have no idea’ makes the phrase sound softer and more polite.
So, you’ve seen many different ways to say ‘I don’t know’. Why not put your new skills to the test right now?
- D_ _ _ o
- How am I _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to know?
- I don’t have the faintest _ _ _ _
- I haven’t got a _ _ _ _
- Don’t _ _ _ me
- Who _ _ _ _ _ ?
- It’s anyone’s _ _ _ _ _
- Who can _ _ _?
- Your _ _ _ _ _ is as good as mine
- Not as _ _ _ as I know
- B_ _ _ _ me!
Pause the video and try to complete the phrases.
Could you do it? Need more time? You can take more time! Try to get as many answers as you can.
Let’s see the answers now.
- How am I supposed to know?
- I don’t have the faintest idea
- I haven’t got a clue
- Don’t ask me
- Who knows?
- It’s anyone’s guess
- Who can say?
- Your guess is as good as mine
- Not as far as I know
- Beats me
How did you do? Did you get them all? So, next time, instead of simply saying ‘I don’t know’ why not try ‘I have no idea’ or ‘your guess is as good as mine’ or ‘beats me!’.
Even for simple ideas in English, like saying ‘I don’t know’, there are many ways to do it. You can express yourself more clearly by using a variety of language.
I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson. Thanks for watching!