I kind of use this phrase a lot when speaking Greek, and sometimes I feel the need to say it when speaking English as well but cannot think of a good candidate, as a non native English speaker, I also don't know if there is an English equivalent.

The phrase feels a bit slang-ish so I cannot think of a literal translation.

The usual usage of it is when you need to answer a question with a rhetorical question because you don't know the answer and you are in question as well. e.g.

A. The buses were on strike and I had to walk home.

B. Why didn't you call me? I could give you a ride.

A. Έλα ντε?

Free form translation could be something like "Yeah, why didn't I?"

  • Note that google translate (a questionable but hint-worthy source) gives 'Come on', which, when understood as a slang interjection means something like, "I'm exasperated by the situation" (and can be directed in multiple manners, towards the speaker, towards oneself, in general, etc.)
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 13:46
  • 1
    @Mitch the truth is that it could be translated as "come on" if it is not phrased as a question but it wouldn't make much sense in this context.
    – xpy
    Apr 9, 2018 at 13:50
  • 'come on' in this usage is very idiomatic and so direct literal translations are somewhat meaningless. In Greek, the sentiment may be a question (rhetorical or not) but in English it may not have a corresponding question. In other situations, the English phrase is fairly literal like you're requesting a dog or baby to walk over to you.
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 13:59
  • Can you give any more examples, nuances to it? I found this in greek which doesn't give english equivalences, but google translate gives translations for the list of explanations. I didn't find them particularly idiomatic English.
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:56
  • 1
    @Mitch From the translations only "beats me" seems to be close enough. My description is also (surprisingly) pretty much the same as the description of your first link. I'll try to come up with more examples.
    – xpy
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:08

7 Answers 7


"Beats me."

This is still very informal to slang, and not a rhetorical question, but it is quite common. The subject ('It') (vaguely referential: 'the matter under consideration') is usually deleted.

From CED:

[it] beats me

also what beats me [is ...] slang ​

said when you do not understand a situation or someone's behaviour:

It beats me how she got the job.

What beats me is why she stays with him.

and from Farlex Dictionary of Idioms:

beats me :

(it) beats me [slang]

A response when one does not know the answer to a question [possibly self-posed].

A: "How long has this milk been in the fridge?" B: "Beats me. Check the expiry date."

A: "When's Ali's birthday?" B: "Beats me!

It beats me – I have no idea how to get to the mall from here.


A simple "Now why didn't I think of that?" is doubtless more idiomatic and can be used in formal as well as informal situations, but is so transparent that it doesn't really qualify as an answer on ELU.

  • This may be an accurate translation according to denotation (I don't know, I don't know the real meaning of the Greek phrase), but for nuance for the OP this kind of slang is very dated. Maybe it might be used if the speaker were to travel back in time to the 1950's in the US.
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 13:42
  • 1
    Google Ngrams show that 'very dated' is unwarranted. And the UK is nearer to Greece than the US is. Apr 9, 2018 at 14:23
  • I am reading Google ngrams differently from you. It shows usage dropping considerably starting in the '30s in both US and UK.
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:53
  • I also suspect that the verbal usage will be very far from the written usage.
    – xpy
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:10
  • @Mitch You've never heard or said Beats me? I’ve certainly done both.
    – tchrist
    Jul 19, 2018 at 2:29

I think I would translate έλα ντε as good question, defined by the online Collins dictionary as:

If you say 'Good question' in reply to a question, you mean that it is a difficult question to answer, or perhaps that you are embarrassed about the answer or do not know the answer.

When asked why you didn't do something, good question, like έλα ντε, can be used to convey that you accept that you should indeed have done whatever it is you didn't do and that you don't have any good reason to explain why you didn't do it.

While έλα ντε, is slightly more informal and Greek also has a direct translation of good question (καλή ερώτηση) which is used in a very similar way, as a native speaker of Greek and English, I would use good question as the English equivalent of έλα ντε.


One more:

You tell me.

Which has the benefit of coming close to the pragmatics of the Greek, which literally means "Come on, already!"

The "already" (the originally Turkish particle de) expresses exasperation about not knowing, which corresponds to the emphatic "you" in the English imperative. The "come!" imperative is metaphorically a request to the listener to help the speaker out (because they might have a better idea as to why than you do).


Your guess is as good as mine. (Cambridge Dictionary online)

British English:

informal ~ something you say when you do not know the answer to a question

American English:

I have no way of knowing exactly what happened or what will happen

A. The buses were on strike and I had to walk home.

B. Why didn't you call me? I could give you a ride.

A. Why didn't I call? I don't know, your guess is as good as mine.


Having looked up the translation of "έλα ντε", it seems to be very flexible. People have already mentioned some good candidates; Beats me, Good question, Come on.

"Search me!" could also be another translation, as it gives that same meaning of not knowing the answer yourself.

In the grand tradition of English stealing useful phrases, you could always just use the Greek phrase itself. Most people would understand what you meant, even if you had to explain it the first time. Who knows? it might catch on.

An example of this in action would be "C'est la vie", which is quite often used by non-French speakers to convey the same meaning.


Slang is very complicated. A lot of nuance can be packed into a short utterance and context can change the intention wildly.

  • If you are responding to a question where you don't know the answer

I don't know, I have no idea

That's a bit literal not slangy, but it is appropriate for that context.

  • If you are exasperated (annoyed or irritated) or trying to get someone to do something (or both), it might be:

Come on!

This is a bit vague, but shows mostly consternation.


Nope, the meaning in greek comes from the Cypriot expression "Αν Ξέρεις τζεσί ξέρω τζε εγιώ" which means "If you know I know too" or "As much as you know I know too" which is very similar yo the English expression "Your guess is as good as mine."

  • 1
    Please provide some sort of reputable source for the – frankly very unbelievable – claim that έλα ντε; comes from a completely different and perfectly transparent sentence in a particular dialect. That’s like claiming the common BrE short form dunno (from ‘I don’t know’) comes from the AmE expression search me. Feb 20, 2019 at 16:15

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