Is there a good word or a great expression that describes not knowing what to do (as a response to an unexpected event that happened)?

Something uncanny happened, and I do not know what to do.

A raccoon drank my cup of tea on the table (and there was still some tea left in the cup). I do not know what to do.

My mom told me that my father is actually me who will travel back in time later and marry her and then procreate with her. I do not know what to do.

Dr Perhaps called himself perhaps and perhaps not surprisingly it was perhaps his real name. So when Dr Perhaps asked me "Would you perhaps make a guess on what perhaps my real name is?", I do not know what to do.

Mr Loy suggested the word "lost" to be used and I looked it up in the dictionary only to discover that

Lost (of a person) very confused or insecure or in great difficulties: she stood there clutching a drink, feeling completely lost | I'd be lost without her

And that I think it's a bit different from not knowing what to do.

But strangely it has the definition of "not knowing what to do" too. However I think when "lost" is used most people will assume it to be an indication of confusion or insecurity. So thank you Mr Loy but I'm looking for an even greater word or better expression if it ever exists.

  • We need more context here. Do you mean when you're bored, restless (and you just want to do something, but you can't think what), or do you mean when there's a problem (and you want to solve it, but you don't know how)? Oct 7, 2013 at 15:30
  • So you didn't follow the link Jasper gave in his answer?
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 7, 2013 at 15:47
  • 4
    I think many of the current answers are adequate. Since the asker doesn't seem to think so, I have no idea what this question is looking for.
    – MrHen
    Oct 7, 2013 at 20:15
  • 1
    @MrHen, agreed. You might even say I do not know what to do with it. Dec 20, 2013 at 15:41

16 Answers 16


Stumped: brought to a standstill, uncertain which way to turn, at your wits' end.

Synonyms are: baffled, perplexed, at a loss, floored (informal), at sea, stymied, nonplussed, flummoxed.

Nonplussed: A state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment.

At sea is a great metaphor for being unsettled, drifting, directionless. It is a situation where one is powerless and does not know what to do in a given situation.

  • 3
    Nonplussed is a good one Oct 7, 2013 at 18:55

You could use dumbfounded in your scenario.

affected with sudden and great wonder or surprise

  • 5
    +1 you stole my answer. I would also add "thunderstruck" to the list of apt suggestions.
    – Lumberjack
    Oct 7, 2013 at 16:31
  • Any AC/DC reference is good with me!
    – Ste
    Oct 8, 2013 at 8:00

Perhaps at a loss would suit your needs:

  1. uncertain as to how to proceed <was at a loss to explain the discrepancy>
  2. unable to produce what is needed <at a loss for words>

The phrase is typically used with a phrase indicating what the subject is at a loss for:

I am at a loss for what to do next.

After her revelation, I was at a loss for words.

However, it can also stand alone (per the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms), especially if there is sufficient context:

John was out of money, his phone had died, and his friends had abandoned him in a strange city -- he was really at a loss.

  • Practically canonical, IMHO.
    – Ladlestein
    Oct 8, 2013 at 19:09

To describe your state of being when something incredible happens and you don't know what to do, what about:

  • stunned

  • flabbergasted

  • gobsmacked

  • flummoxed

I upvoted @Ste who suggested dumbfounded, which may be the best answer.

  • 3
    I like flummoxed and gobsmacked. Dumbfounded is good too. Then there's that great lexeme that also comes to mind, discombobulated, but unfortunately it doesn't imply vacillation, but rather, mental disarray. :(
    – Talia Ford
    Oct 7, 2013 at 16:26
  • 3
    Actually, discombobulated can work for that my father is actually me sentence.
    – Talia Ford
    Oct 7, 2013 at 16:28

You are lost means you don't know what to do in a new situation.


I have seen baffled used in some contexts very close to your examples, for what it's worth.


Perhaps 'Befuddled', 'Bewildered', 'Stupefied', or 'Perplexed' would suit your needs.


Some more options:


If you mean 'unable to make a decision' then irresolute is the word you need. Or maybe not…


"My mom told me that my father is actually me who will travel back in time later and marry her and then procreate with her."

A person's reaction to this occurrence would be that of shock or horror rather than "hmm, what should I do? Let me think...". That's why I don't think it makes sense to follow this sentence with sentences of the type: "I do not know what to do."

"I was lost for words when my mother told me that my father was actually me." - but is perhaps a little weak.

"I was taken aback by what she had just told me." - is another similar expression but again rather weak.

I think the following are better in this case:

  • I was horrified to hear that my father was actually me.
  • I was shocked by what she had just told me.
  • I was stunned by this revelation.
  • I almost had a heart attack when she told me...
  • My jaw dropped to the floor...

Your questions seems very indecisive.

Nothing worse than a wishy-washy person trying to come up with a good question.

I had a really good answer but I am hesitant to give it.

My teenager might even say you are hot and cold.

A politician would be on the fence.

I have been waffling over whether or not to order the pancakes.

  • 1
    "On the fence" and "waffling" both imply that the person has many ideas about what to do, and can't decide between them, rather than having no ideas at all. Actually, all of your words do to some extent, but those most particularly.
    – neminem
    Oct 7, 2013 at 21:29
  • @neminem - he changed the question after I answered. Oct 8, 2013 at 3:01

Something uncanny happened... My mom told me that my father is actually me who will travel back in time later and marry her and then procreate with her.



or in other words, aghast

Terrified; struck with amazement; showing signs of terror or horror


You could use flustered

meaning agitated or confused.

Fluster at Dictionary.com

verb (used with object)
1. to put into a state of agitated confusion: His constant criticism flustered me.
2. to excite and confuse with drink.


If it isn't inappropriately informal (or perhaps too creative) for the context in which it will appear, you could follow "Something uncanny happened," with "and it has left me [completely/totally/etc] uncanned."

It's an unconventional usage of the word 'uncanned' (which is itself a relatively uncommon word; see Ngram links below) but for that very reason might convey the emotional and psychological reaction to the unexpectedly uncanny. It might also spruce up and help you "buy" the use of 'uncanny' which, to my ear at least, has a certain old school quality that may or may not be desirable.

Ngram for uncanny

Ngram for uncanned

  • Hmm...re: my saying that 'uncanny' has an old school quality, the Wiki article on the word dates its appearance to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, citing its use by Nietzsche, Freud, and Jentsch. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny And it does indeed strike me as vaguely Victorian.
    – Nicole
    Oct 8, 2013 at 22:52

I like the word "aporia": An insoluble contradiction or paradox, an impasse. Let's use those lesser-used words!


I am often in a situation like this but as a professional consultant it's not the best idea to say "I don't know" or "I don't know what to do." So here are some options if you're trying to be positive.

"All options are equal at this point, we'll need more data to narrow them down."

"The situation calls for analysis before committing to any action."

"This is a decision for leadership."

"Due to the nature of the problem we will need to consult appropriate subject matter experts for an appropriate solution."

  • 1
    Good suggestions if you're a consultant, but on EL&U we tend to prefer truthful, clear English. Oct 7, 2013 at 22:15
  • 3
    As a consultant myself, "I don't know what to do" is a perfectly valid (and sometimes necessary) response. This kind of fence-sitting (or corporate bs) is purely an exercise in blame-avoidance and risk mitigation. Not only is it not a good answer for this question, but is bad advice in almost any situation. Any consultant 'worth his salt' is quite content to say "I do not know", providing they can follow it with "but I can find out" or "I know someone who might know".
    – Bob Davies
    Oct 8, 2013 at 0:36
  • 1
    This kind of speech is the reason why consultants and their ilk have such a reputation for mangling language. weaselwords.com.au/plague%20rats.htm
    – stib
    Oct 8, 2013 at 0:41
  • 1
    I know, right? I don't mind a beatdown <3. That being said, sometimes your role requires you not only to know what to do but to be able to provide reassurance and calm in the middle of a storm. When your trusted consultant says "I don't know what to do" during a critical incident, (s)he could actually be making the problem worse. Also-- I answered the original question from a different (and I thought interesting) perspective; whether you like the answer is a different matter.
    – John Wu
    Oct 8, 2013 at 2:18

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