On ne sait jamais

Fatalistic French Expression

On ne sait jamais
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Meaning you just never know, you never can tell
Literally one never knows
Register normal / informal
Pronunciation French sound files [o(n) n(eu) seh zhah meh / o(n) seh zhah meh]
IPA   [ɔ̃ nə sɛ ʒa mɛ / ɔ̃ se ʒa mɛ]

Usage notes: The subject pronoun on in the expression on ne sait jamais is the generic "you" or "we," meaning people in general, and jamais means "never." So on (ne) sait jamais literally means "you never know."

Par exemple…

On ne sait jamais qui va marquer le premier but.   You never know who will score the first goal.
C’est un bon mystère, on ne sait jamais ce qui va se passer.   It’s a good mystery, you never know what’s going to happen.

 Remember that in informal French, ne is usually dropped.

On ne sait jamais is commonly used as a sort of fatalistic statement about a possibility, whether good or bad.

Par exemple…

Je dois trouver mon parapluie avant de partir, on ne sait jamais.   I need to find my umbrella before we leave, you never know.
Nous avons acheté le tableau de Michel sans l’avoir examiné, on ne sait jamais !   We bought Michel’s painting sight unseen, you never know!

Regional variation: on ne sait pas jamais

 Note that this is grammatically incorrect: "you don’t never know."

Related informal expression

On ne sait jamais avec lui si c’est du lard ou du cochon. – You never know where you are with him, You never know what it’s about.

Literally, "One never knows with him if it’s pork or pig." Nowadays lard means "fat" or "bacon," but this expression dates back to a time when lard was another word for a cochon, so the expression was using two different words that referred to the same thing.

 Related lessons

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On ne sait jamais

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4 Responses

  1. Lise 5 March 2018 / 3:29

    Absolutely loving your emails! I feel like I am learning more from you than I ever did from university French classes.

  2. Tony 2 March 2018 / 13:04

    Dear Laura, It is probably not important, but I am an old guy of 82, and have loved your missives for many years. Regards, Tony.

    • lkl 2 March 2018 / 19:15

      Bonjour Tony, it’s important to me – merci ! 🙂

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