In English we have the 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.


Je ne sais pas quoi dire.


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    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
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 7:04
  • Is it je ne sais or j'ne sais?
    – Chloe
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 19:39
  • The former. The second would just be an attempt to make written dialogue more closely mimic the sound of how someone might be pronouncing it, but it's not correct to write it that way otherwise. Kinda like writing "kinda" instead of "kind of." Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 22:31
  • @Chop : Surely "Je ne sais que ..." means "I only know (how)..." or "I know only (how)..." with the infinitive, although it doesn't make sense (does it?) with "dire". Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 23:51

4 Answers 4


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
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 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".


  • 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".

  • "Je crains qu'il ne vienne": not an example of the emphatic "ne"? Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 4:26

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


A long time ago there were certain verbs including "savoir" and "oser" (to dare) with which you only used "ne" and not "pas." I think in modern French these verbs use "pas" just like any verb. Search for https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/ne-litteraire/

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