From movies and tv shows to even some books and novels, the word “je ne sais quoi” is one that is commonly seen in various works of art — but what exactly does it mean? Where did it come from? We’ll tell you.
Read on to discover all there is to know about this popular French phrase, including its meaning, origin, usage, and more.
What Is the Definition of Je Ne Sais Quoi?
/ˌʒə nə seɪ ˈkwɑː/ /ʒənseɪˈkwa/
According to the Collins English Dictionary je ne sais quoi is a French idiomatic expression that stands for something with a sort of indefinable quality that can not be expressed or adequately described — most commonly used to denote an appealing quality in a person or thing.
In the English language, we primarily use this expression to refer to a person’s distinct yet intangible qualities; their allure, their presence that just can not be put into words.
In French je ne sais quoi means — I don’t know what. Unlike in the English language, where it is used more so as an idiom, in the French language, our word of the day is more often than not used for its literal meaning.
An example of this would be something along the lines of:
- “Il a perdu son portefeuille qui contenait sa carte bleue, ses papiers d’identité, de l’argent liquide et je ne sais quoi d’autres.”
- “He lost his wallet, which had some money, his ID, and credit cards, and I don’t know what else was in it.”
- “Elle a dit qu’elle va aller au supermarché poire acheter le vin, le pain, et je ne sais pas quoi d’autre.”
- “She told me she was going to the market to buy wine, bread, and I don’t know what else.”
What Is the Etymology of Je Ne Sais Quoi?
Firstly, what is etymology, you ask? Etymology is simply the study of the changes in the structure of words as well as their significance and the origin of words.
Je ne sais quoi is a French expression that has roots in both Old French and Latin and derives from the Old French saying, “ne sai quoi” — which literally translates to “something.”
What Are the Synonyms and Antonyms Je Ne Sais Quoi?
To further your understanding of the word je ne sais quoi, we prepared a short list of synonyms and antonyms for you to review below:
- God knows what
- I know not what
- Who knows what
- Un je-ne-sais-quoi
- Strength of character
- Force of personality
- Special something
- Bedroom eyes
- Come hither look
- Odylic force
- Personal appeal
- Irresistible influence
- Ruling passion
- Idee fixe
- Star power
- Magic touch
- Special something
- Look away
- Mix up
How Can You Use “Je Ne Sais Quoi” in a Sentence?
Now that you’re up to speed on the meaning behind our phrase of the day, you might be wondering how to use it in a sentence. Not to worry; we’ve got you covered. Here are a few excellent sentence examples using the poplar French phrase je ne sais quoi for you to review below:
“He had to be the most plain-looking man in existence, yet she claimed he had a certain je ne sais quoi to him — maybe she is uncertain of the meaning behind the phrase?”
“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one that doesn’t quite understand the meaning behind je ne sais quoi — I was just reading that Merriam-Webster posted that it is one of the most looked up phrases on their online dictionary.”
“You have got to check out the new show! It has a certain je ne sais quoi that most shows are lacking today; it was truly refreshing and mind-blowing!”
“The way she walked, the way she talked, you just can’t describe it; she has a certain je ne sais quoi that simply charms everyone around her.”
“Although the girl in the painting seems to have a few flaws, she had a certain je ne sais quoi about her that made the word of art quite lovely.”
What Are Translations of Je Ne Sais Quoi?
Although our word of the day is french, there are a number of ways to say je ne sais quoi in various languages.
Translations of je ne sais quoi include:
- Afrikaans — Ek weet nie wat
- Arabic — لا أعرف ماذا
- Bulgarian — Не знам какво
- Chinese (simplified) — 我不知道是什么
- Croatian — Ne znam što.
- Czech — Nevím co
- American English — Je Ne Sais Quoi
- Danish — Jeg ved ikke hvad
- Dutch — Ik weet niet wat
- Finnish — En tiedä mitä
- French — je ne sais quoi
- German — Ich weiß nicht was
- Greek — Δεν ξέρω τι
- Italian — Non so cosa
- Japanese — 私は何を知らない
- British English — Je Ne Sais Quoi
- Korean — 나는 무엇을 모르겠다.
- Norwegian — Jeg vet ikke hva
- Polish — Nie wiem co
- Portuguese — Eu não sei o que
- Russian — Я не знаю, что
- Spanish — No sé qué
- Swedish — Jag vet inte vad
- Thai — ฉันไม่รู้ว่าอะไร
- Turkish — Ne olduğunu bilmiyorum
- Ukrainian — Я не знаю, що
- Vietnamese — Tôi không biết những gì
In short, je ne sais quoi literally alludes to, “I don’t know what,” this French phrase is commonly used when you are trying to describe something that is seemingly impossible to put into words. Use this phrase next time you want to express that you cannot adequately describe something.
Je ne sais quoi definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
JE NE SAIS QUOI: definition | the Cambridge English Dictionary
Je ne sais quoi Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com