I haven't a clue/ don't have a clue.

Ilovecambridge

New Member
French, France
Hi everyone!

My question is very simple. I was once told by my housemate not to say "I don't have a clue" but "I haven't got a clue". As I realized a few days ago that my housemate's English wasn't that good, I would like to know what is best:

"I don't have a clue"

"I haven't got a clue".

Is one of them more informal? What are the differences? What should I use?

Thanks!!
 
  • E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Both of these are examples of perfectly good English, but they will be greeted with varying degrees of acceptance, depending on where in the English-speaking world you use them.

    "I don't have ..." is standard American English. "I haven't got ..." is standard British English. In the UK we also use "I don't have ..." but it sounds a little more formal, at least where I'm from (south-east England).
     

    E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I should add that there's another option - "I haven't a clue" - which you may come across if you're living in England, as there is a BBC Radio 4 comedy series called "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue". This is a more formal construction.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hello and welcome, Ilovecambridge. (Hi, E-J)
    I agree with EJ that the most likely choice of expression is different for AE vs. BE. Using "have got" is quite a bit more common in BE than here in the US, but we could use any of these as well.
    I don't have a clue (most likely)
    I haven't got a clue (not uncommon)
    I haven't a clue (I might say it, but people might give me funny looks for it.)
     

    E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Kelly B said:
    (Hi, E-J)
    (Hi Kelly! We seem to have become the duo responsible for pointing up the differences in American and British usage on a few threads recently! Kind of like "good cop, bad cop" ... only we're both good cops, don't you think? :D )
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm really surprised at the comments on "I haven't a clue!"
    That is the normal, common, routine expression around here.
    Are you sure, E-J, that you'd really find it "more formal"?
    That's a description not often applied to the our version of English:)

    Comparison #1

    Comparison #2

    Could all those links be related to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue?
    Well, 9 of the first 10 are:)

    It's a great programme, but not as great as "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again".
    Come back, Angus Prune....

    Edit: I'm really sorry to but in....:D
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    panjandrum said:
    I'm really surprised at the comments on "I haven't a clue!" That is the normal, common, routine expression around here.
    I agree. I've never thought it uncommon, and use it frequently. But, what do I know? I usually haven't a clue about anything! :p
     

    DAH

    Senior Member
    USA/California--English
    E-J said:
    (Hi Kelly! We seem to have become the duo responsible for pointing up the differences in American and British usage on a few threads recently! Kind of like "good cop, bad cop" ... only we're both good cops, don't you think? :D )

    Nah,

    My mom is English and my father is American.

    I would say: I've not a clue. If I wanted to belabor the listener: I would say: I don't have a clue or I haven't got a clue.

    Here on the other side of the pond, there are those who will compound the content of their spoken communications with "have got or don't have," etc.

    Best regards!
     

    E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    "I haven't a clue" is something I'd be less likely to say, and yes, to me it still sounds slightly more formal than the other suggestions - or perhaps the distinction is really that it's a little more old fashioned to my ears, because I'm used to hearing it more from people of my parents' generation. That's my own take on it, but I should no doubt have made the subjective nature of my observation clearer.

    For the benefit of non-native speakers, DAH's suggestion that "I don't have a clue" and "I haven't got a clue" are intentionally long-winded isn't true of British English - at least, not where I come from (she adds hurriedly ;) ). For us, it's not a question of 'belabouring the listener' or 'compounding the content' - it's just the way we say things. But I expect DAH was referring specifically to the intention of people who choose to use the longer constructions in regions where the shorter versions are standard.

    Panjandrum, thanks for the links ... I'm afraid you've sidetracked me now. My search for intellectual stimulation is currently losing out to plain old silliness!
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "I haven't a..." is fairly marginal AE usage in general. However, "I haven't a clue" might constitute an exception.

    Back in the 50s David Niven made a similar but more fanciful expression popular in the U.S., playing Phileas Fogg in "Around the World in 80 Days," namely "I haven't the foggiest." It became a catchword, one of the first mega-catchwords of the Media Age, I'd say, and stayed popular long enough to influence our idiom, just possibly. "I haven't a clue" might be echoic of that catch phrase.

    Even so, to my ear the AE default setting is "I haven't got a clue." As usual the reason it beats out the others isn't grammatical at all, it's metric. The expression is not descriptive, it's dramatic-- almost always part of a spoken line delivered with attitude and for effect. "I don't have a clue" isn't punchy, it's too kaplop-ploppa-plop. "I haven't a clue" is ta-dadda-ta-dah! Much better, about as good as my favorite and more idiomatic ta-tadda-dat a-dah!

    "I haven't the foggiest" was an elegant and well-tooled working of basically goofy wordstock, it was kabollica-wollica. A guaranteed show-stopper when delivered deadpan.
    .
     
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