Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Example:

  • — What is he called?
    — I have not a clue.

  • — What is he called?
    — I have no clue.

Are both versions grammatical in English? If they are, which one is preferred by native speakers in the US and the UK?

share|improve this question
1  
Try a Google Ngram - but I'd advise you to include I haven't a clue as well. –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 '13 at 15:55
    
@KristinaLopez I agree that we wouldn't normally say "I have not a clue", but you can hardly call it "just plain wrong" when it is actually the non-contracted version of "I haven't a clue", which you've endorsed. –  TrevorD Jun 29 '13 at 19:35
    
@TrevorD, you got me in a technicality. Lol! I guess that it would be exceedingly uncommon to hear "I have not a clue" in AmE. "I haven't a clue" is more common but "I don't have a clue" and "I haven't got a clue" are much more commonly used in the states. –  Kristina Lopez Jun 29 '13 at 19:49
    
@KristinaLopez All three contracted versions are heard in BrE - I wouldn't care to say which is/are more common. But incidentally "I haven't a clue" was the name of a British TV quiz show some time ago. –  TrevorD Jun 29 '13 at 20:18
    
@EdwinAshworth Unfortunately, it is impossible to compare the relative frequency of "I have not a clue" with "I haven't a clue" using Ngram Viewer. Ngram Viewer normalizes negations. "Can't" becomes "cannot", "haven't" becomes "have not", etc. –  MετάEd Jul 1 '13 at 2:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

In British print sources, the answer to this question changed midway through the 20th century. Before 1945, “I have no clue” was nearly always preferred to “I have not a clue”. Beginning that year, “I have not a clue” and “I haven’t a clue” began a sharp rise in popularity,¹ dominating by 1980.

American print sources exhibit virtually the same pattern.

Graph from Google Ngram Viewer

Notes

¹ Google Ngram Viewer does not differentiate not and n’t. There is no way to chart the two separately.

share|improve this answer
    
I’d ask why, but I suspect you’ve nary a clue. :) –  tchrist Jul 1 '13 at 23:18
    
My own personal experience is very much at odds with this data. I can't imagine anyone in real life (in speech) speaking out loud "I have not a clue" unless they were sipping tea with their pinkie out and quoting Oscar Wilde. I've looked through the Google nGrams items and they all seem legitimate uses of "have not a clue". So I can only surmise (without any possibility of evidence) that the phenomenon shown by nGrams is an artifact of written English, and has little correspondence with spoken English. –  Mitch Jul 2 '13 at 0:04
    
@Mitch It's important to read the note above: the Google data combine "I have not a clue" with "I haven't a clue". The former does show up in print but I would expect the latter to be much more common in informal speech and even common in print. –  MετάEd Jul 2 '13 at 0:16
    
I don't get how "haven't" and "have not" can possibly be searched the same. –  Mitch Jul 2 '13 at 2:40
    
@Mitch Google explain it on the Ngram Viewer help page. Search the page for "can not". –  MετάEd Jul 2 '13 at 11:23

As an Englishman who has lived in the US also, out of the two it's 'I have no clue'

Personally I'd prefer 'I'm clueless' probably because it has less syllables.

In the past tense you would say 'I didn't have a clue' or my favourite would be 'I was clueless'

And looking forward you would say 'I wouldn't have a clue' or my favourite 'I'd be clueless'

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.