French Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the French language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In English we have this stupid expression Je ne sais quoi, which is of course really a French expression.

But the thing is, I don't actually know if this is valid French.

Would I say:

Je ne sais quoi dire.

or

Je ne sais pas quoi dire.

?

share|improve this question
    
1  
Édouard's answer is complete concerning the use or absence of use of pas. Just one thing about this particular case: "Je ne sais que dire." sounds a bit less heavy than "Je ne sais quoi dire." (to me), though maybe a bit dated (not as "this is an antique" but as in "we don't use this anymore"). – Chop Dec 21 '15 at 7:04
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Both “Je ne sais pas quoi dire” and “Je ne sais quoi dire” are correct translations for “I don’t know what to say”. With most verbs, skipping the “pas” sounds dated, but with “savoir”, not so much; still, the version with the “pas” probably remains more usual in everyday conversation.

However, the English “je ne sais quoi” (no “pas”!) actually comes from the French expression “un je ne sais quoi“, used as a noun. It has the same meaning in English as it does in French: something that you can’t exactly point out.

share|improve this answer
    
using "pas" is usually favored in spoken language because "ne" can be easily misheard in casual conversation (considering accents, etc...), turning the meaning of the sentence upside down. Adding "pas" or "plus", depending on context, although unnecessary actually helps preventing misunderstandings. – Calimero Nov 19 '15 at 10:16

The negation is entirely expressed by the "ne".

Pas, or in classical French point are just there to insist: pas même d'un pas, pas même d'un point — that is "not at all".

Compare:

  • je ne sais … = I don't know …
  • je ne sais pas / point … = I don't know in the least …
  • je ne sais pas du tout … = I don't know at all …
  • je ne sais guère … = I don't know much about …

"Pas" is very usual, but in fact useless; the worst is the childish "J'sais pas", where the negation is not expressed.

Pitfall: "Je crains qu'il ne vienne" = "I am afraid that he could come" (and not: he could not come); it comes from a strange Latin turn of phrase "timeo ne veniat".

share|improve this answer

In "Je ne sais quoi," quoi is an adequate closer for "ne." The sentence means "I don't know anything."

It is just a bit weaker than "Je ne sais rien." (I know nothing.) Here, rien closes the negative.

In either case, you do not need the "pas," which would be redundant.

This post has more information on negatives

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.