How to say I don't know & I don't understand in Italian. Boh!

Author

Tinamaria Colaizzi

If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head in confusion while traveling in Italy or not knowing how to answer something in Italian, then this article is for you.

I don’t know or I don’t understand are two of the most important phrases you can learn in another language.

Coming across something you’re not familiar with or don’t understand is par for the course when learning another language or traveling abroad. No matter where you are in your language learning journey, it never hurts to review ways to say I don’t know or I don’t understand in Italian. Plus, you can use these phrases in a wide variety of situations!

Maybe you need a bit more time when choosing your drink of choice at an aperitivo and need to say I don’t know yet in Italian. Or perhaps you didn’t understand what a train conductor has just asked you, and need to say I didn’t understand in Italian.

No matter which situation you find yourself in, this article will give you all the tools you need to say that you don’t know or don’t understand something in Italian. Let’s dive right in!

You need a bit more time when choosing an aperitivo and need to say I don’t know yet.

How to say I don’t know in Italian

Before we embark on our journey of saying I don’t know, we need to make sure we do know the differences between two verbs: sapere and conoscere. You may already be familiar with these verbs, but let’s do a quick review.

The difference between “sapere” and “conoscere”

In Italian, there are two verbs used to talk about “knowing” or “not knowing” something or someone: sapere and conoscere. These two verbs are not interchangeable, so it’s important to understand how to use each one correctly. Don’t worry, though! We’ve come up with a handy table to discuss the main differences.

On a simple level, use sapere when referring to knowing something and conoscere when talking about knowing someone. Sapere often refers to being aware of something, whereas conoscere refers to being familiar with a person, place, thing, or topic.

Let’s go into a bit more detail with this table.

Sapere

Conoscere

  • Being aware of something, like a piece of information
  • It can also be used as a modal verb “can”, to talk about an ability or skill.
  • Being familiar with a person, place, thing, or topic
  • It’s always followed by a noun.

Non so che ore sono.
I don’t know what time it is.

Non conosco Marco.
I don’t know Marco.

Non so nuotare.
I can’t swim. / I don’t know how to swim.

Non conosco bene la città.
I don’t know the city well.

Sai dove posso prendere un buon caffè?
Do you know where I can get a good coffee?

Conosci un posto buono per prendere un caffè?
Do you know a good place where I can get a coffee?

The last row in the table has two different sentences that essentially ask the same thing: Where can I get a nice cup of coffee?, but notice how the verbs are used differently. In the first question, sapere refers to being aware of where to get a coffee, whereas conoscere refers to the specific place (the coffee bar).

Keep in mind that these are both irregular verbs, so you’ll need to conjugate them accordingly. Let’s conjugate both in the present tense:

Sapere Conoscere
Io so conosco
Tu sai conosci
Lui / Lei sa conosce
Noi sappiamo conosciamo
Voi sapete conoscete
Loro sanno conoscono

Now that we know the main differences between these two verbs, check out the following table with a few general, useful phrases!

English Italian Pronunciation IPA
I don’t know. Non lo so. non low soh ˈnon ˈlo ˈsɔ
I don’t know, yet. Non lo so ancora. non low soh an-kor-ah ˈnon ˈlo ˈsɔ anˈkora
I wouldn’t know. Non saprei.** non sah-pray ˈnon saprei̯
I don’t know how to speak Italian. Non so parlare l’Italiano. non soh par-lar-eh lee-tal-ya-no ˈnon ˈsɔ pparˈlare litaˈljano
I don’t know what to do. Non so che fare. non soh ke fah-reh ˈnon ˈsɔ ˈkke ˈffare
I don’t know where it is. Non so dov’è. non soh doh-veh ˈnon ˈsɔ ddovˈɛ
I’m not entirely sure. / I don’t know exactly. Non so di preciso. non soh dee pre-chee-so ˈnon ˈsɔ ddi preˈtʃizo
Nobody knows. Nessuno lo sa. neh-soo-no low sah nesˈsuno ˈlo sa
Good question! I don’t know the answer. Bella domanda! Non so la risposta. beh-lah doe-man-dah! Non so la rees-pos-tah ˈbɛlla doˈmanda ‖ ˈnon ˈsɔ lla risˈposta ‖
I don’t know him. Non lo conosco. non low ko-nos-ko ˈnon ˈlo koˈnosko
I don’t know her. Non la conosco. non lah ko-nos-ko ˈnon la koˈnosko
I don’t know them. Non li/le conosco. non lee ko-nos-ko / non leh ko-nos-ko ˈnon li koˈnosko
ˈnon ˈle koˈnosko
I don’t know you. Non ti conosco. non tee ko-nos-ko ˈˈnon ti koˈnosko
I don’t know this city. Non conosco questa città. non ko-nos-ko kwe-stah chee-tah ˈnon koˈnosko ˈkwesta tʃitˈta

** This phrase can be used for formal situations, since it uses the conditional form (saprei instead of so).

You didn’t understand what a train conductor has just asked you, and need to say I didn’t understand in Italian.

How to say I don’t understand in Italian

If you want to talk about understanding (or not understanding) something, you’ll need to use another verb: capire. This verb is also irregular, so let’s conjugate it in the present tense:

Capire
Io capisco
Tu capisci
Lui / Lei capisce
Noi capiamo
Voi capite
Loro capiscono

The phrases in the table below can be very helpful if you’re traveling around Italy and don’t quite understand a question in a restaurant, train station, coffee shop - or anywhere, really!

English Italian Pronunciation IPA
I don’t understand. Non capisco. non ka-pee-sko ˈnon kaˈpisko
Sorry, I don’t understand. (Formal) Mi scusi, non capisco. me sku-zi non ka-pee-sko mi ˈskuzi | ˈnon kaˈpisko
Sorry, I don’t understand. (Informal) Scusa, non capisco. sku-za non ka-pee-sko ˈskuza | ˈnon kaˈpisko
I don’t understand the question. Non capisco la domanda. non ka-pee-sko la doe-mahn-dah ˈnon kaˈpisko la doˈmanda
Sorry, I didn’t understand the question. Scusa, non ho capito la domanda. sku-za non o ka-pee-toe la doe-mahn-dah ˈskuza | ˈnon ˈɔ kkaˈpito la doˈmanda
I don’t understand Italian. Non capisco l’italiano. non ka-pee-sko lee-tal-ya-no ˈnon kaˈpisko litaˈljano

Boh in Italian, and other informal Italian phrases for I don’t know

Familiarizing yourself with a few slang and informal phrases in Italian can bring you one step closer to Italian culture - and it’s always fun to use them in conversation with friends!

You might already know that hand gestures and facial expressions can make all the difference when speaking Italian, and this rule really holds true with the first phrase in the table below: Boh!

I don't know and I don't understand in Italian.

Boh! is an exclamation that is instinctive for many Italians. It’s an expressive way to say something like I dunno, and I like to think of it as a verbal shoulder shrug. In fact, many native Italian speakers will accompany this phrase with a shoulder shrug for emphasis. Although this specific phrase (and accompanying gesture) might be considered the easiest way to show that you don’t know something, keep in mind that it’s very informal!

Check out the other phrases in this table and their English equivalents.

English Italian Pronunciation IPA
I dunno / a shoulder shrug Boh! b-oh! bo
How should I know? Che ne so io? keh ne so ee-oh ˈke ˈnne ˈsɔ ˈio
Who knows? Chi lo sa? key lo sah ki ˈllo sa
Don’t ask me! Non chiedere a me! non kye-deh-reh a meh ˈnon ˈkjɛdere a ˈmme
I have absolutely no clue. Non ho la minima idea. non o la meen-ee-mah ee-deh-ah non ˈɔ lla ˈminima iˈdɛa
I have no idea. Non ne ho idea. Non neh ho ee-deh-ah ˈnon ne ˈɔ eedea
I haven’t got a clue. / I haven’t got the faintest idea. Non ne ho la più pallida idea. non ne o la pyoo pah-lee-dah ee-deh-ah ˈnon ˈne ˈɔ lla ˈpju ˈppallida iˈdɛa

So, what’s your favorite way to say I don’t know or I don’t understand in Italian? Personally, non lo so, because there are so many to choose from!

Not only have you added 25+ phrases to your repertoire, but you’ve also reviewed three great Italian verbs (sapere, conoscere, capire), along with their meanings and subtle differences. What’s next? Keep the party going by learning Italian online and brushing up on more Italian vocabulary. See you next time!

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