I have no idea what you’re talking about

Thomas, from Marseille was in class with me today, and emailed me later to ask this question:

Je suis étudiant au GRETA de Marseille (je viens à l’instant de terminer un cours de conversation sous votre tutelle).Nous venons de soulever une question au sein du groupe au sujet de la conjugaison du verbe HAVE.Que doit-on dire ou quelle est la différence entre les formulations :

  1. Have you got any idea…?
  2. Do you have any idea…?
  3. No, I haven’t any idea.
  4. No, I don’t have any idea.

Thank you for this question. In order to answer any question about grammatical structure, we need to find a context for them. Grammatically, 1 and 2 are the same, do you have being no different to have you got.

But how would you use these questions? Imagine finishing a meal in an expensive restaurant with your partner and realising that neither of you have brought any money to pay. You might say to your partner:

I don’t know what we are going to do. Do you have any ideas?

Notice that ideas is plural. This question is a real request for ideas, just like do you have any friends? is a real question about how many friends you have.

Do you have any idea? is different. It can be a request for information:

do you have any idea where my keys are?

Or it can be a (angry) reproach:

do you have any idea what time it is? = you are very late and I’m not happy.

do you have any idea how much your comments hurt me? = You hurt me and I don’t think you realise it.

Now let’s look at 3 and 4. While there is nothing really wrong with these two phrases, they are not commonly used by native speakers. If you are thinking of a translation for je n’ai aucune idée then it is better to say I have no idea.

I will write something about some, any and no in a future post