What does “boh” mean?

8th March 2020

Ever heard the sound “boh” in Italian and wondered what it meant? Find out what it means and how to use it like a real Italian.


Listen to the episode

In this episode, you’ll learn about my favourite Italian word of all time, that isn’t even really a word, it’s more like a sound: Boh! But what does it mean? 

Find out in episode #79 of five minute Italian

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Vocabulary: What does “boh” mean in Italian?

  • Sono contenta = I’m happy
  • Cosa mangiamo a pranzo? = What shall we have for lunch?
  • Cosa = what
  • Mangiamo = we eat
  • A = at
  • Pranzo = lunch
  • Boh! = an informal way of saying “I don’t know” (similar to “I dunno”)
  • Non lo so = normal way to say “I don’t know”
  • Non = not
  • Lo = it
  • So = I know
  • Cosa mangiamo a cena? = what shall we have for dinner?
  • Cosa = what
  • Mangiamo = we eat
  • A = at
  • Cena = dinner
  • Boh = I dunno
  • Cosa guardiamo? = what shall we watch?
  • Cosa = what
  • Guardiamo = we watch
  • Boh!
  • Boh = I dunno
  • Bottiglia = bottle
  • Banana = banana
  • Quattro = four
  • Mano = hand

Quiz: What does “boh” mean in Italian?

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Flashcards: What does “boh” mean in Italian?

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Transcript: What does “boh” mean in Italian?

Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.

Katie: Ciao a tutti e benvenuti a 5 Minute Italian. I’m Katie. 

Matteo: And I’m Matteo. Ciao! 

K: Sono contenta - I’m happy because today’s episode is all about my favourite word in Italian, boh! Listen to this very common conversation in our house and see if you can figure out the meaning: 

M: Cosa mangiamo a pranzo? 

K: Boh! Cosa mangiamo a cena? 

M: Boh! 

K: So the first sentence you heard was: 

M: Cosa mangiamo a pranzo? 

K: What shall we have for lunch? Literally: 


Cosa = what

Mangiamo = we eat

A = at

Pranzo = lunch 

K: And the answer was: 

M: Boh! 

K: Which is an informal way of saying “I don’t know!”. The closest translation is probably “I dunno”. As a foreigner I find something really satisfying about this sound - you can shrug your shoulders in a very Italian way, make a face as if you don’t really mind and say “boh!”. What do you think, Matteo? Is it even a word?

M: No, it’s a sound - but Italians use it all the time. If you want to say “I don’t know” in a more formal way, you can say the phrase “Non lo so”. Which is literally: 

Non = not

Lo = it 

So = I know 

But if you want to sound really Italian with your friends, try this one: “boh!”

K: So the first question was “cosa mangiamo a pranzo” (what shall we eat for lunch) and the answer was “boh!” Then quite predictably, the other conversation you heard that happens a lot in our house is: 

M: Cosa mangiamo a cena? 

Cosa = what 

Mangiamo = we eat

A = at 

Cena = dinner

K: And the answer: 

M: Boh! 

K: Boh! I dunno, boh! 

Another example is: 

M: Cosa guardiamo? 

K: Boh! 

K: Cosa guardiamo, means “what shall we watch”? And this is another conversation that happens a lot in our house. Literally: 


Cosa = what

Guardiamo = we watch

K: And the answer

M: Boh! 

This word is also quite useful to start to understand some of the differences between English and Italian sounds. Because if we were to pronounce this word in English, we’d probably say something like “boh” - like the sound oh (o - h), but with a B in front. And there are two main differences. 

M: The first is that in English, the B is a lot softer. 

K: Yeah, in English, we’d say a little light “b”. 

M: The Italian B is really strong. 

K: Listen for example, in boh, bottiglia, banana. Can you say those words for us Matteo, with the strong b so that we get the native pronunciation?


Boh = I dunno

Bottiglia = bottle

Banana = which is obviously, banana. 

Practice saying them after Matteo, making the b nice and strong. 

M: Boh… bottiglia … banana

K: Then the next difference is that in English, when we pronounce the oh, we often have two sounds like an “o” and a “u”. Oouuu. For example in the word “go” or “toe”. Italians don’t do this.

M: Listen, for example, to the word “boh”. It’s just one long strong sound. Boh. 

K: Let’s listen to some more examples: 

M: Quattro 

K: Which is the number four. Listen to the last sound - it’s not quattro, with an ou sound as we’d have in English, it’s just one long o sound. 

M: Quattro. 

K: Another example is: 

M: Mano, which means “hand”. 

K: Listen carefully again to the last letter: 

M: Ma - no. Mano. 

K: Now listen to Matteo again, and try to practice making the same sound: 

M: Boh, quattro, mano. 

K: That’s it for today, if you’d like to see all this stuff written down, on our website you’ll find the transcripts for this episode and other bonus materials like a quiz and flashcards to help you remember the phrases. Go to www.joyoflanguages.com/italianpodcast and scroll down to episode 79. You can also practice chatting Italian with us in our facebook group, you can find the link in the show notes. 

See you next time, or as we say in Italian

Alla prossima!

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