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I've been trying to get a robust answer to this question but I've unfortunately not been able to because people have different opinions on this.

I haven't a clue.

I haven't an idea.

This doesn't sound correct to me because based on my understanding, it should be written with "got" and I'm not pretty sure whether this is grammatically correct or not. This probably works okay with "have" but as "haven't" stands for "have not", this seems wrong.

Thanks in advance.

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  • Do you mean to say - "I have got no clue/idea"? Oct 27, 2021 at 22:01
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    Your statements are very close to this idiom, which I must say is an archaic usage. People can also delete the word "idea" from the idiom "haven't the faintest/slightest idea", and still convey its meaning without hindrance. Oct 27, 2021 at 22:05
  • I said the idiom archaic because of this Oct 27, 2021 at 22:09
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    But your statements are quite the correct usage. See here. At least the first one. Oct 27, 2021 at 22:11
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    Idiomatically, I haven't a clue is fine - particularly for BrE speakers - but the stand-alone utterance I haven't an idea doesn't sound remotely natural to me. Turning things around a bit more, it's fine to say I haven't got a clue and I've got no idea, but you'd probably never encounter I haven't got an idea or I've got no clue Oct 28, 2021 at 12:50

2 Answers 2

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"I haven't a clue" is an idiomatic expression, probably more common in UK English, or at least in English outside of the US, but still recognizable here in the US. It means, "I don't have a clue" or "I haven't got a clue," both of which are also perfectly fine. "I have no clue" is also used.

However, "I haven't" is not generally used to express that you don't have something, at least in American English. If you said, "I haven't a girlfriend," that would be understandable but would sound extremely weird. Instead, you would say "I don't have a girlfriend" (most common formulation in the US) or "I haven't got a girlfriend" (might be more likely to be heard in the UK - someone from there would need to confirm).

"I haven't an idea" doesn't sound idiomatic to me. "I have no idea," "I've no idea," or "I've got no idea," however, are common ways to very strongly say "I don't know."

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  • "I haven't an idea" is not commonly used in the US, but "I haven't the foggiest [notion]" is a well-known, if maybe somewhat old-fashioned, idiom.
    – The Photon
    Oct 28, 2021 at 2:44
  • In the UK, up to about the 1960s, in speech, using 'got' after a simple 'have' or its shortened forms (I've, you've, we've, they've) was a distinct class marker. Most upper and middle class people didn't do it. I went to local-authority-run schools (in a 'Cockney' area of London) up to the age of 11 (in 1963) and the teachers made considerable efforts to make us write like ladies and gentlemen. They would strike out 'got' with a red pen. They tried to get us to avoid it in speech, with, generally, little success. Oct 28, 2021 at 11:30
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  1. We can trace this usage with other things besides "idea/clue"; it's not limited to "not knowing something." For instance, you might say "I haven't any money."
  2. It is distinctly British, and less likely in US English.
  3. It makes sense as a parallel to the fact that the positive versions of these statements can include "got" or leave it out, equally validly. "I have an idea!" OR "I've got an idea!" ... which equates to ... "I [have not -> haven't] an idea" OR "I [have not got] an idea."
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    I think it's at least possible the shift away from I haven't any money happened earlier in AmE than BrE, but today I'd say it's no more likely to actually occur in British than American conversational contexts. Oct 28, 2021 at 12:53

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