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I'm getting bored of repeating the same "I can't answer that" phrase over and over.

I'm trying other phrases, like "I'll leave that to your imagination," but that one sounds too weird.

Specifically, I'm not trying to avoid answering a question (so deflecting it is not in the question). I'm trying to reply to a question by asserting it's one I cannot answer, and that the asker should understand this.

I'm looking for both formal and informal phrases.

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closed as too broad by Kit Z. Fox Mar 17 '14 at 15:57

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Why do you have to repeat it? Is it to the same asker? What are you saying at the moment, that they are failing to understand? – AakashM Mar 13 '14 at 11:12
Why can't you answer? Forbidden, don't know, answer is poorly formed, ... Without knowing that, it's hard to suggest appropriate phrases. – keshlam Mar 13 '14 at 13:30
Yes, I think this depends a lot on context. For instance, in a job interview, "I'll leave that to your imagination" is probably not something you should ever say, for obvious reasons. :D – Kyle Strand Mar 13 '14 at 16:51
"Sorry, I'm under NDA." If you tell people that you aren't allowed to talk about it, they may stop pestering you. Or they may not, in which case the next step is "what part of 'legally liable if I blab' didn't you understand?" – keshlam Mar 13 '14 at 19:31
You could print "Sorry, I'm under NDA." on a t-shirt and point to it as necessary. – Jason C Mar 14 '14 at 1:08

32 Answers 32

If you want informal, you can go with "Can't say", which is short and concise (though, it might be a bit ambiguous if someone interprets it as "I'm not allowed to say"). You could also go with the classic "I don't know" or "I have no idea".

Formally, I usually go with "That is outside of my area of expertise".

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I'd love to help you @user129811, but I can't think of anything right now.

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You could say: (It) beats me!

thefreedictionary (It) beats me. and (It's) got me beat.; You got me beat. Inf. I do not know the answer.; I cannot figure it out. The question has me stumped.


Bill: When are we supposed to go over to Tom's? Bill: Beats me.


Sally: What's the largest river in the world? Bob: You got me beat.

Another option:

If you want to show that you sincerely would have wanted to answer if only you had one - you could say:

I wish I knew / I wish I had an answer to that


you might be interested in some atlernatives to I have no idea like:

I haven't the faintest / I haven't the foggiest
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I plead the 5th.

The privilege against compelled self-incrimination is defined as "the constitutional right of a person to refuse to answer questions or otherwise give testimony against himself

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To be clear, that phrase is mostly used humorously (unless you find yourself in a courtroom situation). – IQAndreas Mar 13 '14 at 9:23
@IQAndreas - I wouldn't say it is "common" to say but it is said in work/everyday conversation. Like if your boss assigns you a stupid project and someone from another group asks why you are working on it... "I plead the 5th". Maybe this is regional and obviously it is mainly AE. – RyeɃreḁd Mar 13 '14 at 13:01
This is used in context of avoiding an answer, which is specifically excluded in the question. – Alok Mar 13 '14 at 19:22
@Alok - sometimes. Sometimes it is used to deflect the conversation. A person pleading the 5th isn't always trying to get out of telling something that they know. Plenty of innocent defendants plead the 5th. – RyeɃreḁd Mar 13 '14 at 19:44

From your comment, the scenario seems to be that you have some knowledge under NDA, and are facing queries about it (e.g. new project feature for a hot product etc.)


  • My lips are sealed
  • Its hush-hush, sorry
  • Can't say, under NDA


  • Due to contractual reasons I cannot answer your questions
  • Unfortunately, due to agreements with I can't help you at the moment
  • We're not allowed to talk about unreleased features (for IT types)

Of course, if you are part of a super secretive company, then couple of ways to avoid such questions altogether is :

  • Apple: Don't even mention your department, just talk about the campus & food and smile vaguely when anyone asks about your work domain
  • CIA: Pretend you have a different job altogether, preferably a super boring one that no one will ask about
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Hmm. The last person I met who who worked for Apple was perfectly happy to talk about what he did. According to your policies that means he must not have really worked for Apple, but in fact was a CIA agent. Or could just be because he wasn't working on an unannounced product. – Steve Jessop Mar 13 '14 at 21:58
I've come across a few Apple employees being super reticent about what they're working on, but yeah that was mostly meant as a joke :) – Alok Mar 13 '14 at 22:47
Sure, since Apple prefers to surprise-announce new products only once they're already in stores, they can't have employees making unguarded comments about product development. Even more so than most companies, who announce what kind of thing they're working on long before the product is fully designed, let alone shipped. – Steve Jessop Mar 13 '14 at 23:36

Some very formal and polite ways of expressing your reluctance or inability to answer a question.

  • Unfortunately, at present, I am unable to answer
  • It grieves me to say, but I am unable to respond
  • I regret to say, I cannot answer your query
  • Regrettably, I am not in a position to reply
  • I choose not to answer that question (for obvious reasons)
  • I'm afraid that is confidential information

Alternatively, a more informal expression is

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+1 for the clue family of phrases. – bib Mar 13 '14 at 12:35

Best answers:

  • I am not at liberty to say.
  • I am unable to disclose that information.
  • I am currently under an NDA and can not discuss.


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+1 for not at liberty to say. Professional, crisp, good. – Warren P Mar 16 '14 at 20:30

This one from House of Cards, a bit verbose: You might think that but I could not possibly comment.

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+1 for HOC reference. – David M Mar 15 '14 at 15:50
When I read that I heard Frank Underwood. – Rob Mar 16 '14 at 2:21

I don't know the answer to your question.

I don't have prior knowledge to answer your question.

An answer to your question is unknown to me.

With friends, I would say: Do I look like a search engine to you? I don't know, shoot!

Although 1) that last word wouldn't be shoot, and 2) No wonder I have few friends.


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"No wonder I have few friends." Especially if you're screaming at them like that (yes, I think you've but too much bold text in your answer). – Pierre Arlaud Mar 13 '14 at 9:55
That's not screaming. THIS IS SCREAMING! This is more on the quiet shouting side of things. ;-) – JSanchez Mar 13 '14 at 16:36

How about:

I only know as much as you do.

Which is to me, mostly for people you consider your equals.

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"hey kind sir can you spare a dime?" – Andrei Cristian Prodan Mar 14 '14 at 17:06

Some other examples. Normally preceded by I'm sorry.

  • I can't give you that information.
  • I'm not allowed to tell you that.
  • I'm not allowed to share that with you.
  • That information is restricted.
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If the context is that you know the answer but the information is private, you might say "I am not at liberty to discuss this matter." Less formally, you might say "That's above my pay-grade" or "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." (Obviously VERY informal and only to be used with people that would understand the humor.)

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In addition to my own answer, I really like the suggestions that you explain that you are under NDA. That is more specific than "not at liberty to discuss" as it carries the weight of some penalty if violated. – TecBrat Mar 14 '14 at 11:06
I'd discourage using "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.", for the sole reason that it's been over-used way too much. – o0'. Mar 14 '14 at 23:40

Consider the phrase Damned if I know!

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How about: I can neither confirm nor deny that there is an answer to your question or whether I could tell you if I were to know.

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Sounds like youtube.com/watch?v=6CGyASDjE-U – IQAndreas Mar 13 '14 at 18:55

"I could tell you, but then I'd have to shoot you".

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That's more of a deflection. – David M Mar 13 '14 at 18:11
Given the context, I think that although it's somewhat a deflection, primarily it's an indication that the information being asked for is secret. Which is what the questioner wants. – Steve Jessop Mar 13 '14 at 22:00

I always say:

I wish I had an answer for that.


If you figure that out, be sure to let me know.

or, my personal favorite

When you figure out the answer to that, there should be a Nobel Prize waiting for you in Sweden.

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+1 for If you figure that out, be sure to let me know. – Cruncher Mar 14 '14 at 15:50

You can say "Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies."

This is generally taken as a hint not to ask questions. Of course, if they persist in asking questions, you're in a fix. I suppose you can just make things up—they've been warned.

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You can say, "Let me get back to you" or "I'll get back on that". And really mean to search for an answer. Else if you cannot know the answer, just say "I'm sorry, I really don't know". Honesty is the answer.

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Some rather informal versions, the first of which is quite popular slang in the UK at present:

  • "I haven't got a scooby" - from rhyming slang, "scooby doo" = "clue"
  • "No idea"
  • "Beats me"
  • "Pass"
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Tossing my two cents onto the pile...

I do not know the answer because I do not understand the question. Would you please rephrase?

I do not know the answer (now) but I will research and get back to you.

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"I can't discuss it for legal reasons"

Or, slightly less formal:

"I can't say for legal reasons"

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We would need to establish your need to know before that information can be shared. -or- You don't have the need to know.

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"Couldn't say!"

This one seems to have been forgotten... couldn't say why!

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It sounds like what you're looking for is what's come to be known as The GLOMAR response.

The 'official' original GLOMAR response read:

"We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the information requested but, hypothetically, if such data were to exist, the subject matter would be classified, and could not be disclosed."

It was designed as, essentially, a means for the CIA to cope with Freedom of Information requests in which merely revealing the existence of documents which comply with a request, whether or not the documents themselves were disclosed, would itself be material and damning information. It is the utter and complete lack of an answer. "I will not tell you whether I know the answer to your question, but if I did know it, I wouldn't tell you."

Since it's original use, the 'GLOMAR response' has taken on something of a life of it's own, as documented by Radiolab recently. It has become rather standard government boilerplate for all sorts of non-responses, to say nothing of it's use by corporations, celebrities, and even just in personal conversations.

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"nunya" (which is short for "none of your business")

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This answer could be more helpful if you tell us more about why you think it is a good fit. For example, tell us why you think this would fit a situation where you cannot answer a question (as opposed to trying to deflect), or describe in what situations it is appropriate to use this phrase. – aedia λ Mar 13 '14 at 22:03

According to many tech forums, there are the following ways to rephrase it:

1) "Why would you want to do that in the first place?" 2) "You dont want to do that!" 3) "That's a bad idea" 4) "Read the manual" 5) Something totally unrelated to the question.

And after you finally found a solution without anybody's help, you should should come back and answer your own question like so:

"I finally got it solved" - without any explanation as to how you did it, in case somebody else has the same problem as you did, let him eat dirt!

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That is a great question, I wonder who will be able to answer that for you.

Then followed up with either: 1. Who do you think you could ask? or 2. I would ask that question on stackexchange and see what they say.

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Here in the UK, several really informal phrases that I use when I don't know an answer to a question:


God Knows

Wow! Really? (Or just Really?)

Slightly more formal is something like:

Sorry, I'm not sure


Sorry, but I'm not sure at the moment. (However, I would find the answer by...)

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No comment might come across as a bit too evasive for the asker's tastes, but if the question was an obviously or comically unreasonable one (e.g. asking for intimate details of one's private life in a public conversation) then it's a reasonable reply.

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Another common answer is:

Your guess is as good as mine.
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Apparently OP knows, but is not permitted to answer, so this doesn't work (see the comments, though it would have been nice of him to mention it in the question). – TimLymington Mar 15 '14 at 15:36

protected by Kit Z. Fox Mar 17 '14 at 15:57

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