How to Say ‘I Don’t Know’ in German [6 Essential Phrases]

i don't know in german

Learning how to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’ in German is an essential skill to learn, especially when you’re first starting out on your German learning journey.

When you first start speaking German, you’ll need to get used to sometimes not being able to understand what you hear. This will happen a lot and a good way to deal with it is to have a few useful phrases up your sleeve.

It’s essential to be able to let the person you are talking to know you don’t understand something, whether it’s your language partner (Sprachpartner), someone you encounter on holiday or at work. There are a number of different phrases you can use, so let’s get started, auf geht’s!

Ich weiß (es) nicht

Meaning: I don’t know

Ich weiß nicht

The most common way to say ‘I don’t know’ in German is ich weiß (es) nicht. Weiß is the conjugated form of the verb wissen which means ‘to know’. There are actually two verbs meaning ‘to know’ in German. We use wissen when another verb is involved.

If we are using it as a stand alone phrase, ich weiß (es) nicht, the es is sometimes omitted.

Let’s take a look at some example sentences:

Ich weiß (es) nichtI don’t know (it)
Ich weiß nicht, was ich sagen sollI don’t know what I should say
Ich weiß nicht, wie ich es sagen sollI don’t know how to say it
Ich weiß nicht, was Sie meinenI don’t know what you mean (formal)
Ich weiß nicht, was du meinstI don’t know what you mean (informal)

Ich kenne nicht

Meaning: I don’t know

Ich kenne nicht

The second verb meaning ‘to know’ is kennen. This is used when we’re talking about living things or objects.

Ich kenne ihn / sie nichtI don’t know him / her
Ich kenne das Wort nichtI don’t know that word
Kennst du dieses Lied?Do you know this song? (informal)
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Ich verstehe nicht

Meaning: I don’t understand

Ich verstehe nicht

Another essential phrase is ich verstehe nicht for when you don’t understand what you hear.

Ich verstehe nichtI don’t understand
Ich verstehe nicht viel DeutschI don’t understand much German
Verstehen Sie mich?Do you understand me? (formal)
Verstehst du (mich)?Do you understand (me)? (informal)

Wie bitte?

Meaning: Pardon?

Wie bitte?

Wie bitte? is a great, short phrase to use as a quick response if you don’t understand something or didn’t hear it properly. If you say wie bitte? the other person will most likely repeat what they said, so you’ll get another chance to hear it.

Keine Ahnung

Meaning: No idea

Keine Ahnung

Another useful, short phrase to memorise. Keine Ahnung means ‘no idea’ and is used in the same way as we use it in English. It can be used on it’s own as an exclamation, or as part of a longer phrase:

Ich habe keine AhnungI have no idea
Ich habe keine Ahnung, was du meinstI have no idea what you mean (informal)

Did you know? Ahnung doesn’t actually translate as ‘idea’ (that’s Idee in German) the actual translation for keine Ahnung is something like ‘no hunch’ or ‘no notion’.

Ich bin mir nicht sicher

Meaning: I’m not sure

Ich bin mir nicht sicher

If you want to say ‘I don’t know’ in German, but you want to soften the phrase a bit, you can say: ich bin mir nicht sicher. Using this phrase means that you don’t know, but you’re also undecided.

Here are a few example sentences:

Eine Ahnung, aber ich bin mir nicht sicherA vague idea, but I’m not sure
Ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob er es weißI’m not sure if he knows
Ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob dein Vater mich magI’m not sure if your father likes me

So know you know 6 different ways to say ‘I don’t know’ in German. Hopefully keeping these phrases in mind will be useful as you begin and progress along your German journey.

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