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!
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.
Non so che ore sono.
Non conosco Marco.
Non so nuotare.
Non conosco bene la città.
Sai dove posso prendere un buon caffè?
Conosci un posto buono per prendere un caffè?
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:
|Lui / Lei||sa||conosce|
Now that we know the main differences between these two verbs, check out the following table with a few general, useful phrases!
|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).
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:
|Lui / Lei||capisce|
|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!
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.
|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!