How do you say I don’t know in Italian?

How exactly do you say I don’t know in Italian? Are there more ways to say it?

In this lesson, we will take a look at the different ways you can translate this sentence into Italian. Read on to learn them all!

Let’s start! Iniziamo!

how do you say i don't know in italian - let's start - iniziamo - athlete woman running

How do you say I don’t know in Italian?

Non (lo) so

Non lo so is the closest translation of I don’t know in Italian, literally meaning “I don’t know it”.

Non lo so
I don’t know
Literally: I don’t know it

Differently from English, it uses a direct object pronoun “it”. The version without pronoun is also found, non so, but it’s perceived to be somewhat informal and uncaring so it’s not as commonly used.

Non so
I don’t know

unhappy computer that doesn't know things

This common sentence in Italian is made of three elements.

Non
Not

Lo
Direct object pronoun “it”

So
“I know”

Are you wondering why the direct object pronoun “it” precedes the verb? Learn how direct object pronouns in Italian work here.

So is the first-person singular conjugation of sapere, to know, in the present tense. Sapere is one of the four Italian modal verbs and it’s also an irregular verb.

Present tense conjugation for sapere

ioso
tusai
lui, leisa
noisappiamo
voisapete
lorosanno

For example, you could say…

So cucinare, ma non so cantare.
I can cook, but I can’t sing.

Sai leggere l’alfabeto cirillico?
Can you read the Cyrillic alphabet?

Sapete suonare il pianoforte?
Do you know how to play piano?

cat playing a piano - italian modal verb sapere

Non ne ho idea

This is another common translation for I don’t know in Italian, and it’s used when you want to stress you don’t know something. It literally translates to “I don’t have any idea about it”.

Non ne ho idea!
I don’t know!
Literally: I don’t have any idea about it.

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Non ne ho la più pallida idea

If you want to stress even further that you don’t know something in Italian, you can use non ne ho la più pallida idea, which translates to the English expression I don’t have the slightest idea.

Non ne ho la più pallida idea!
I don’t have the slightest idea!
Literally: I don’t have the palest idea about it!

Pallida translates pale, while the particle ne once again means about it.

sweating woman who doesn't have the slightest idea about something

Boh!

Don’t use boh in formal settings, because this is a very informal (and very popular) way to mean I don’t know in Italian! It’s an exclamation and it has no literal translation into English.

Boh!
I don’t know!

It’s usually accompanied by some hand movement: palms up, just like in the following picture!

man with palms up saying "boh!" in italian

Che ne so!

Che ne so is another colloquial way of saying I don’t know in Italian. Again, don’t use it in formal settings. It can be perceived as rude even among friends because it conveys impatience.

Che ne so!
I don’t know!

In its variant che cavolo ne so!, it can very closely translate the English expression the hell if I know!.

Che cavolo ne so!
The hell if I know!

angry man writing on a piece of paper

A saperlo! / Magari lo sapessi!

A saperlo and magari lo sapessi are two less common ways to say I don’t know in Italian, but they are different from the expressions we’ve seen. They convey a need to know what you don’t know, similar to I wish I knew.

A saperlo!
I wish I knew!
Literally: To know it!

Magari lo sapessi!
I wish I knew!
Literally: If only I knew!

And that’s it, now you know how to say I don’t know in Italian in all its forms!


What next?

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