10 North American Expressions to Talk About Ideas
You might be looking for ideas, getting ideas, or forgetting ideas all the time, but do you know how to talk about your ideas in English?
This might be an obvious statement, but the need to share our thoughts and ideas with others is why we communicate with each other. Without the ability to talk about our ideas, it would be impossible to make progress in our relationships and work.
And just as in any language, in North American English, we have so many different and creative expressions that we use to talk about our ideas. We use them to show how an idea “comes” to us, how we discover an idea, how we lose an idea, how we process new ideas with others.
That’s why learning how to use some of the most common expressions to talk about ideas will not only make you sound more natural in English: it will also help you communicate with others more effectively.
So, today we’re going to look at 10 of the most common North American expressions you can use to talk about ideas:
Lose your train of thought
Have a clue
Take a hint
It hit me
Come up with
Get the juices flowing
An “a-ha!” moment
Bounce something off of someone
Dawn on someone
Hold that thought!
If you’re ready to learn and practice these expressions, let’s get started!
10 ENGLISH EXPRESSIONS TO TALK ABOUT IDEAS
1. Lose your train of thought
We lose our train of thought when we forget the point we were trying to make to someone. So, this usually happens when we’re talking to someone, and we’re not just thinking to ourselves.
What often happens is that we’ll be telling a story or trying to get to the point, and we get distracted by something else or we get lost on a tangent, which is a story or idea that is not directly related to the main point. When we lose our train of thought, we usually have to go back to the beginning, or ask the person we’re talking to, “What was I saying?”
Sorry, I lost my train of thought. What was I saying?
I was trying to make a point, but I lost my train of thought when she called me.
2. Have a clue
We usually say that we don’t have a clue about something when we have no knowledge or understanding about it or when we can’t even imagine a reason behind something. We never say that we have a clue, but only that we don’t have a clue.
So, if our friend asks us to help them fix their computer, we can say that we don’t have a clue about computers. And if your mother sends you a strange text message that she wouldn’t normally send, we can say that we don’t have a clue why she would send that.
I’m sorry, but I don’t have a clue what that sign means.
They didn’t have a clue why she would leave the party like that.
Don’t have a clue + about —> I don’t have a clue about mechanics.
3. Get/take the hint
We say that someone can’t get or take the hint when they don’t receive the subtle or sarcastic messages that we’re trying to send indirectly. We use this a lot in the context of communication between romantic partners.
So, for example, we might be trying to tell our partner that our birthday is coming up, but we don’t want to say, “My birthday is coming up. Here’s what I want.” If they can’t take the hint, they can’t understand what we’re really trying to say.
I left my wishlist on the table for him to see, but he didn’t take the hint.
If she doesn’t get the hint, you’ll just have to be more obvious.
4. It hit me!
When we feel inspired, or when we have a sudden idea or a thought, we can say that it hit us. If you have a problem you’ve been trying to solve for a long time, the answer might finally hit you, almost out of nowhere.
We can also use it to talk about the emotional impact of something, as well. So, when you’re talking about world issues for example, you can say that it really hit you how serious a certain issue is, which means that you responded emotionally as well. We usually use this expression in the past tense, and you’ll often hear English speakers using it in conversation.
It hit me that I had been doing it all wrong.
When I saw that story in the news, it really hit me how bad the situation is there.
It hit me + that —> It hit me that I should just start over.
5. Come up with
We say that we come up with something when we think of an idea or concept. We use this a lot to talk about new innovations and ideas.
You might hear an interviewer ask a famous novelist how he came up with the idea for his latest novel. Or you might wonder how Nikola Tesla came up with his design for the alternating-current electric system. And you might ask your friend how he came up with the idea for the prank he played on his coworker.
He came up with that idea all on his own.
I could never come up with something like that.
6. Get the juices flowing
If you need to get the juices flowing, it means you need to find some creative energy to inspire you. When you get the juices flowing, you might not have an idea yet, but you know that an idea is coming, and you can feel your brain working in a creative way. You might have a specific routine that helps you get the creative juices flowing, such as going for a walk, sitting in silence, or taking a shower before you sit down to create something.
Journaling every morning helps me get the juices flowing.
I need coffee before I get the juices flowing.
7. An “a-ha!” moment
We say “a-ha!” when we have a helpful idea or a thought all of a sudden. So we can say that we’re having an “a-ha!” moment when we’re feeling inspired. We can also say it when something finally “clicks” in our brain and makes sense. So, when a difficult English grammar concept finally makes sense to us, we can say that we’re having an “a-ha” moment, and that we get it now.
I had an “a-ha!” moment this morning: Why don’t we throw him a surprise party?
She had an “a-ha!” moment when she figured out the answer to the question.
8. Bounce something off someone
When we ask someone if we can bounce something off them, we’re asking them to give us some feedback or input about a particular idea. We usually ask this as a question.
So, we might ask our coworker if we can bounce a new idea off him, and if he says yes, that means we explain our idea, and he’ll tell us what he thinks.
This is a really helpful informal expression to use if you’d like to ask someone for advice or their opinion about anything.
Can I bounce a new idea for a project off you?
She just wanted to bounce an idea off me.
9. Dawn on someone
You can say that an idea dawns on you when it finally comes to you, but not as quickly as it should have. And when English speakers use this expression, they’re usually expressing their frustration that the idea or concept took so long to come to them, so they’ll often use this phrase with an impatient tone.
When is it going to dawn on you that she’s growing up?
It finally dawned on me that he must be lonely.
10. Hold that thought!
When we’re in the middle of a conversation with someone, and we’re listening to them speak, but we need to take a brief pause to do something else, we’ll nicely interrupt and say, “Hold that thought!” This lets them know that the conversation isn’t over and that we’ll be right back.
In an informal conversation with friends in English, it’s okay to interrupt them sometimes, but in North American culture in general, we usually apologize when we interrupt people. So, we tell someone to hold that thought as a kind gesture to let them know that we’re aware of our interruption and that we’re listening, but that we have a quick, unavoidable distraction to deal with, such as an important phone call or a need to run to the bathroom.
I’m sorry, but they called my coffee order. Can you hold that thought?
I have to answer this. Hold that thought, okay?
How can you use these new expressions?
You know that practice is necessary for any new phrases or expressions you learn. And with these expressions, practice is especially important because it will help you get more comfortable with communicating your ideas in English. So, how can you practice them? Here are some creative ideas:
1. Write a short dialogue
When people share ideas with each other, they often do so in the forms of narratives or stories, right? Think about it. When you catch up with your friends over coffee or over the phone, you tell each other “stories” about things that have been going on in your life, and you have a dialogue.
A dialogue is just a written conversation between two or more people, as you might see in the script for a play. So, imagine that you’re talking to a friend over the phone or coffee, and write a “script” for a dialogue about how your conversation would go. Try to use at least five of these expressions in your dialogue. And, of course, you can’t stop there. You should try to share it with a friend or an English teacher. “Acting” it out loud with someone will really help you retain the expressions.
2. Write a short report about a famous inventor or innovator
Who are some of your favorite innovators? Or who comes to mind when you think about some of the greatest ideas in history? Even if you can’t think of anyone who inspires you, think about what makes an idea great, how we get ideas, or how we lose ideas. Or think about some of the best ideas you’ve ever had.
Then, write a short essay or report about what you come up with. Be sure to use the new expressions if you can!
3. Record yourself giving a short “Ted Talk”
Why do you think TED Talks are so popular? They’re all about sharing innovative ideas and new ways of approaching modern problems. And I’m willing to bet that, if I asked you to talk about something that you’re passionate about, you could talk about it without stopping for at least five minutes.
So, why not give it a try? Use the expressions from this article and start outlining your 5-minute talk. You don’t have to write yourself a complete script, but give yourself main points and notes, and practice your speech a few times. Then, give your speech to an English teacher, or record your speech and put it on YouTube or social media. You can also just keep your recording for yourself as a memorable accomplishment.
4. Get creative!
I still remember the first song I learned in Spanish because our Spanish professor forced us to sing it out loud as a class. It was a completely new idea to me, and it made me uncomfortable at first, but in the end, I loved that she pushed us to sing together, and, ten years later, I still remember every word of that song.
My point is: Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will help stimulate your memory, and trying something you normally wouldn’t try can help you remember new words and expressions. If you’ve always loved the idea of writing fiction, write a story. If you’ve always fantasized about giving a speech in front of people, write a short speech. If you get creative, and challenge yourself just a little, it will pay off.
About the writer
Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.