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In English we have this stupid expression Je ne sais quoi, which is of course really a French expression that anglophones with PhDs like to use to sound intelligent.

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

Would I say:

Je ne sais quoi dire.


Je ne sais pas quoi dire.


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3 Answers 3

up vote 18 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.

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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 at 10:16

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

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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".


  • 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".

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