je ne sais pas
What is "je ne sais quoi"?
‘Je ne sais quoi‘ is a French phrase which translates directly as ‘I don’t know what’. This is a perfect example of a direct translation not conveying the true meaning of a phrase, and why automated translation software can go so terribly wrong.
The phrase is used in the sense of ‘a certain something’. You could say: ‘she wasn’t the most beautiful woman, but she had a je ne sais quoi‘. Here you may mean the lady in question had flair, or style – an X factor, if you will, which distinguished her despite her not being terribly attractive. Or you could use it in a negative sense: ‘he seems perfect, but he is lacking je ne sais quoi‘ – in other words, something is missing, but I can’t put my finger on it.
When you look at the phonetic spelling, and listen to the audio of this work, it may seem that I have left out a syllable in the pronunciation of je ne sais quoi. English speakers think you should say ‘zheh neh say kwah’. Actually the French contract it to ‘zhən seh kwah’ (‘seh’ is more correct than ‘say’). Think of it like the English contraction ‘we’ll go’ instead of ‘we will go’.
While we are at it, I’ve added in audio so you know how to pronounce ‘je ne sais pas’ which is French for ‘I don’t know’. This phrase is pronounced with a similar contraction in French, so you will remember both more easily by association.
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