Are there any nonreligious versions of the phrase "heaven knows"? For example:

Heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

I've heard other religious variants like "the Lord knows", but I can't find a nonreligious version.

  • Simply put that statement indicates that an ultimate judgement would decree "x", and so there's no direct equivalent for it. You could simply state "Admittedly I'm not perfect when it comes to ..." since there is no greater judge of your own deeds (or misdeeds) than yourself.
    – mkinson
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 12:55

18 Answers 18


Goodness knows is a derivation of God knows, so it is still 'religious' but not overtly so.

goodness knows

  1. No one knows. (A variant of "God knows.")
    Goodness knows how long it will take for my application to be processed.
  2. It is true, certain, or definite that; it is obvious or clear that.

If you want to go aggressively secular, there is Fuck knows

fuck knows

(idiomatic, vulgar, followed by a wh-clause) I don't know; nobody knows; it is unclear. Fuck knows what we'll do now the car's broken down.

but while 'fuck knows' can substitute in many situations, the requirement for a subsequent wh-clause means it wouldn't work in your example construction.

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    +1 for fuck knows. Also, this does work in the OP example.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 1:11
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    That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 4:59
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    ""heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."" doesn't mean "nobody knows; it is unclear" it is "used to emphasize the truth of a statement." Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:58
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    @MartinSmith yeah, I did say that 'Fuck Knows' doesn't work in the example sentence. It does work in many other situations where 'heaven knows' is used. Sorry if you didn't agree with my answer, but fuck knows, i tried!
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 10:26
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    @Rich i acknowledged that 'goodness knows' was still religious, while noting that the reference was not overt. I have never heard anyone claim that 'fuck' was a euphemism for 'god' before. In this usage it is clearly a replacement for the word 'God' in the phrase, but that doesn't make it a euphemism for 'god'.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:39

Goodness knows... (when I'll see you again).



Who knows/can tell...(when I'll see you again).


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    Upvoted for who knows, who can tell, even though it's awkward. I think goodness knows is invalid, because it is not secular or nonreligious. Goodness is a euphemism for God, hence oh my goodness, goodness me, etc. ref. OED 1st Ed. Vol. 4 [F-G] Goodness 5. "In various exclamatory phrases, in which the original reference was to the goodness of God (cd. 2a above), as Goodness gracious!, Goodness (only) knows, For goodness!, For goodness' sake!, In the name of goodness!, Thank goodness!, etc., or simply Goodness!"
    – Rich
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:29
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    "Who knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise" doesn't make any sense except as a very odd question.
    – nollidge
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 21:41
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    @Rich I wonder to what extent people feel that Goodness is a euphemism for God these days, from my own perspective I feel that its only marginally so, and then I have to consciously consider it to make the religious connection. I think it may have had much more of a religious connotation in the past compared with modern-day usage? Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 0:16
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    "Who knows" has a completelly different meaning. Stop suggesting it, people.
    – Davor
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 10:41
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    @Brad: Ever since I discovered that "goodbye" has its roots in "God be with ye", I can't help but think about that when I hear or read it, and the term has come to have a lot more meaning to me now. I also recognize that "goodness" shares a similar root. So there's an n=1 sample for you.
    – user128216
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 15:45

E.g. "heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."

The real meaning of "heaven knows" in the given example is a statement of a fact that cannot be refuted (though it may not be immediately obvious). I may try to pretend I am good at it, but there is a higher being that knows the truth.

Therefore the secular equivalent would be something like:

"There's no denying I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."


Consider everyone knows:

But if you know something, and others know the same thing, it's more emphatic to say that all people know it (all the time). - FumbleFingers

It's a form of hyperbole, of course. In your example, you'd say:

  • Everyone knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
  • 1
    I see what you're getting at, but I think this really alters the meaning. It suggests that at least someone is aware of the OP's exercise difficulties, whereas the original phrase doesn't suggest that anyone on Earth at all need be aware. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:57
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I think the original has the sense that the information was public knowledge, or at least, indisputable between the conversing pair. As used in the OP's example, it fits definition 2 at thefreedictionary.com.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 22:30

What about nothing at all?

"I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."

Or if it's an admission of sorts:

"To be honest, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."


"Let's face it, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."

There's a lot of ways to express the idea here, not necessarily requiring a directly equivalent substitution for "heaven knows".

  • I find “Let’s face it, …” to be the best suggestion of all the answers here.
    – k.stm
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 9:47

The phrase is rather ambigous, so replacing it really depends on what you want to say:

  • Your example means 'Everyone knows'.
  • But usually one means 'Nobody knows', e.g. : 'God/Heaven knows when we'll meet again'.

For meaning one: use. 'Surely' or 'Everyone knows'.

For meaning two: use 'Who knows'..

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    "Your example means 'Everyone knows'." No, it doesn't. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:57
  • Hm, is this strictness I don't think you are right.. I do aggree that a more precise meaning is: 'Heaven/God be my witness, this is how it is'. Still pretty close to 'It is obvious and generally known/no secret'. Do read the op! The other meaning, of course, is: 'God only knows, I surely don't'. Pretty much the opposite. Which is why no one replacement is likely to work.
    – TaW
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 15:48
  • "No one knows" is more correct, but "everyone knows" is the exact opposite of correct.
    – user210771
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 15:58
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    "No one knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."??? Hardly!
    – TaW
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 16:17
  • "No one knows I'm perfect when it comes to exercise" would be the formation. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 17:51

Using 'so' instead.

"Heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."

'Heaven knows' here is underlining/emphasising the speaker's awareness of not being perfect - "Not only am I not perfect,..." they are saying, "...but it's clear for all to see that I'm not perfect." https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/heaven-knows

This negative emphatic sense of 'heaven knows' can often be heard using 'so' (http://painintheenglish.com/case/427).

"I'm so not perfect when it comes to exercise."

  • 1
    Very neatly done.
    – Elby Cloud
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 19:02

try as I may and try as I might

from the free dictionary

Cliché a phrase that introduces an expression of regret or failure.

Bill: Try as I may, I cannot get this thing put together right. Andy: Did you read the instructions?

Rachel: Wow! This place is a mess! Mother: Try as I might, I can't get Andrew to clean up after himself.

So, for your example: "Try as I may, I'm not perfect when it comes to excercize"

I think this answer isn't some sort of santized version of the apeal to spiritual 'karma'

  • That's a different emphasis. I think the OP is asking how to express an undeniable truth, rather than an unalterable one. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:05
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    It's less awkward than the XXX knows, and less at risk of euphemistic derivation. However, it's more typically placed after the assertion, so: I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise, try as I might; or a similar try alternative, I'm not perfect [...], not for want of trying.
    – Rich
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:32

Evidently seems to be an appropriate alternative in this context.

in an evident manner : clearly, obviously (Merriam-Webster)

to all appearances; apparently (Collins via The Free Dictionary)

I like this one because it feels like a great counterpoint: evidently, relating to evidence as in science, counter to the religious expression, which references the speaker's faith in some omniscient power.

It's important to note that "heaven knows" has two somewhat opposite definitions:

(1) used to mean "I don't know"

(2) used to emphasize a statement

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Within the context of the OP's phrase, I believe "heaven knows" is used in its 2nd sense. Evidently is synonymous with this definition, but it is antonymous to the 1st one.

Evidently, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

I also like it because evidently is just high-brow enough to sound slightly self-deprecating in this context, perhaps even more so when the phrase is spoken rather than written. It gives the phrase a somewhat humorous and humble tone. Contrast that with the more common:

Obviously, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

...which to me comes off as a bit sarcastic, and:

Clearly, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

...which comes off as a bit frustrated, relative to evidently.

Apparently, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

...somewhat implies reaching a conclusion, accepting mediocrity, or giving up.

Of course, these are just my personal impressions of the shades of meaning these words carry in this particular context. YMMV.

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    What?! 'Evidently' means the opposite of 'heaven knows'!
    – smci
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 10:19
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    I see what you mean, but that depends on which definition or use of 'heaven knows' you have in mind: (1) used to emphasize that one does not know something; (2) used to emphasize the truth of a statement. 'Evidently' is a synonym of (2), but in a non-religious way. Within the context of the statement provided by OP, I believe 'heaven knows' takes on definition (2), not (1). Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:10
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    @smci Thanks for the note, I edited the answer to clarify which definition of 'heaven knows' applies in this context. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:20
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    I agree, in the OP's example the phrase should be parsed something like God knows that it is true [that] I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise rather than no one but God knows [whether] I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
    – 1006a
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:21
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    Naturally, too; natch for short.
    – Rich
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:33

There are plenty of expletives that work in the same manner and carry a similar meaning.

"Fuck knows...", "fucked if I know..."

Note This is considered swearing and is offensive to some, and may not be compatible with your audience.

  • I don't consider this to be fundamentally different from @Spagirl's answer which was posted three days earlier, on March 1.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 13:27
  • @Mari-LouA you're right - I scanned the highlight boxes visually before answering, but missed that one, possibly because it was a sub-example rather than a full answer formatted correctly. I also see R..'s one on March 2 makes an oblique example, again without using the > box.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 21:07

Who knows?:

  • Who knows the answer to that question? Tom: When will this train get in? Rachel: Who knows? Andy: Why can't someone put this stuff away? Rachel: Who knows? Why don't you put it away?

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)

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    How well do you think that works with the questioner's example sentence? "*Who knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise." Like 'Fuck knows" it needs to be followed by a wh-clause..
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 0:34
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    How come this has 5 upvotes when it doesn't fit in the provided example sentence? Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:57
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit it fits the title. I mostly ignore titles and read the body, but I've learned a lot of people do the opposite.
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:50
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    @DanGetz: It would really be best to read both. Both the title and the body comprise the question. It only takes a moment. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:55

Another "aggressively secular" option (aside from the excellent fuck knows) is to replace heaven/god with the name or title of a deity/demon you don't actually believe in. E.g.

  • The goddess knows
  • Cthulu knows
  • etc.

I consider these "secular" in that they're not associated with any actual/professed religious belief by the speaker and making a clear point to avoid saying "god", and "aggressive" in that they're likely to be offensive to an audience who actually is religious and believes in one god, and possibly also to people who are associated with alternative/occult/etc. beliefs and who might interpret your words as mocking their beliefs.


I would like to add the expression "it's no secret". I think there's an implication in the expression "God knows" that something is out in the open, perhaps not very intuitive since we assume God knows everything but that is the way language works :)


It's no secret that I haven't been exercising lately

Or to reference some pop culture:

It's no secret that I'm miserable now


In London a commonn saying is "fuck knows"

I know this is vulgar but it is by far the most common variation of the phrase where I live and it's not religious, so hey :)

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    "Fuck knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise" Really? Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:59

In your example "heaven knows" or "the Lord knows" is an emphatic way to say "this is true". One way to express that is with "the truth is":

The truth is, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.

You can also leave out the word "the", and just use "Truth is, …", which is easier to say, and might sound a little more folksy.

This expresses the same idea, minus the religious references, as "heaven knows" in your example, while avoiding commenting on which other people might already know about it. Instead of a deity as an arbiter of truth, it refers to the truth:

the real facts about something: the things that are true


With a reference to an avoidance of Heaven and religion, I think "remains to be evident" is appropriate and universally fitting. It also offers some depth into a span of contexts. My favorite comes out of the scientific and political contexts within the medical and health industries. Variations of "sufficient research is not available at this time" certainly offers immense vagueness, and often, seemingly intentional ambiguity with a touch of legal security.


"The dogs in the street know" is sometimes used in the context of the 'everyone knows' meaning.

  • I have never heard that expression. Where is it from? Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 15:29
  • I always thought it was common to all varieties, but it seems it's just an Irish expression. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:36

You could always try to be more explicit, and describe specifically what you want to say. For instance:

  • I can't say how we can solve this.
  • I really don't know the answer.
  • This might not work, but I think it's worth a try.

For something more idiomatic, but also more explicit, try "I haven't a clue".

I haven't got a clue where this is going to end up.

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