Je ne sais quoi

Je ne sais quoi
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French Expression in English

Meaning something inexplicable
Literally I don’t know what
Register normal
Pronunciation [zheu n(eu) say kwah]
IPA   [ʒə nə se kwa]

Usage notes: There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the expression je ne sais quoi, don’t you think? In French, it literally means “I don’t know what”:

Par exemple…

Il ne sait quoi étudier cette année.   He doesn’t know what to study this year.
Elle a promis d’apporter du vin, de l’eau, des boissons gazeuses et je ne sais quoi encore.   She promised to bring wine, water, soda, and I don’t know what else.

To describe something in vague terms, you can use je ne sais quoi + de + adjective. The adjective does not change to agree with the subject, but rather remains in the default masculine singular form.

Par exemple…

Cette histoire a je ne sais quoi d’inquiétant.   There’s something disturbing about this story.
Les bâtiments ont je ne sais quoi de menaçant.   The buildings are kind of creepy, There’s something kind of creepy about the buildings.

Variations

  • je ne sais quoi
  • je-ne-sais-quoi
  • un je ne sais quoi
  • un je-ne-sais-quoi

  In English, we use je ne sais quoi only to mean “a certain something” or “something inexplicable.” It’s usually modified by the (English) adjective “certain”:

Pierrette has a certain "je ne sais quoi" about her today.

It’s a beautiful town, but it lacks a certain “je ne sais quoi.”

 Related lessons


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