I read a comment in a post (meaning of the phrase "some kind of X") just now and learned an expression "I neither know nor care".

I would like to know whether the expression formal or informal.

I searched the expression on cambridge (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/spellcheck/english-chinese-simplified/?q=I+neither+know+nor+care) and oxford (https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/spellcheck/english/?q=I+neither+know+nor+care), none of them has this item.

I am aware that not being included in cambridge does imply necessarily informal, though I don't know somewhere else I can check this.

Is there an easy way to check if an expression formal or informal?

If formal/informal sounds like a matter of opinion, I would prefer the expression in a textbook as formal.

  • @Lambie Is "set expressions" a kind of grammar term? What does that mean?
    – brennn
    Feb 16, 2020 at 21:40
  • @Lambie Thank you! Does "set" here means the same in math, like set theory?
    – brennn
    Feb 16, 2020 at 22:07
  • 1
    Yes, specifically a past participle, equivalent to "fixed" (you could also say "fixed phrases") meaning established and not subject to change Feb 16, 2020 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


Whether an expression is formal or informal can be very much a matter of opinion, and the classification can change over time, usually in the direction of the informal becoming formal.

"I neither know nor care" is quite grammatical. It is not slang. It is certainly dismissive, and so would not be polite in all circumstances. But it is capable of bearing a serious meaning.

Hansard Online shows that the expression "neither know nor care" has been spoken in the UK Parliament three times since February 2015. Being spoken in formal proceedings by a legislator is obviously not an infallible test of the formality of an expression, but it is suggestive that this expression is not particularly informal.

As the above might indicate it is not necessarily easy to check if an expression is in formal use. Sometimes it is obvious, but there will be cases that are debatable. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that this expression would be accepted as formal usage.

  • Thank you. May I consider the expression in a textbook as formal?
    – brennn
    Feb 16, 2020 at 22:43
  • I'd say so, yes.
    – JeremyC
    Feb 16, 2020 at 22:45

There is a difference between formal speech and the speech that you might choose for formal situations.

"Formal speech" might be described as the type of speech used in 'serious' situations such as the workplace. It typically does not include 'slang' words and expressions and adheres closely to the rules of grammar.

A formal situation or occasion is usually an event at which you want to make a good impression.

I would say that your example sentence "I neither know nor care" meets all those criteria. It sounds more formal than "I don't know and I don't care", which would not be surprising to hear in colloquial speech. However, despite being an example of well-formed speech, it is clearly rude, possibly insulting.

I don't think you'd want to say "I neither know nor care" to someone in a formal situation, as it would not make a good impression.

Also - sometimes people use overly-formal language to add weight to something like an insult. That could be the case with your example.

In direct answer to your question then - your best way of knowing if something is formal or informal is to examine the wider context. Does the speech sound out of place beside everything else that is being said? Do you think it is meant to be rude? Who is saying it and to whom?

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