sur le bout de la langue

We wanted to tell you something, we…ummm…We forgot. Well, in the meantime, welcome to “Expressions bien de chez nous” and let’s hope we will remember what we had to tell you, we just need a little time to remember.

What does “Avoir quelque chose sur le bout de la langue” mean?

This new expression has some words that you may know. “Quelque chose” is the indefinite pronoun that means “something”, “sur” is the preposition that means “on”. Then, we have “le bout” which means “the tip” and finally “la langue” or  “the tongue” in English. Maybe you know a similar expression and English and now you know what it means.

The origins of this expression

There is not a concrete context in which this turn of phrase originated and it has always had the same meaning we know nowadays. It started being used back in the XVI century and means that we are not able to find a word or information. The image of “le bout de la langue” (the tip of the tongue) means that we know something but we just can’t remember exactly what it is.

Some examples of its use

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of your French class or just having a conversation in French you might forget a word and you go “J’ai oublié comment dire cette expression ou ce mot en français”. And if it is something you had already learnt but just forgot for the moment, you may want to say “Attendez, je l’ai au bout de la langue”.

Now think you’re in a TV game in which you make money answering questions about popular  culture. You’re about to win and the last question gets you. You know the answer but you only have one minute to answer and you’re struggling because you can’t remember the answer. You’re running out of time and you tell the host “Wait, I know what it is, I just forgot. Let me think, it will come to me” or in French “Attendez, je sais ce que c’est, je l’ai sur le bout de la langue. Laissez-moi réfléchir un peu”. Maybe the host will give you some extra time until you get the answer out of the tip of your tongue!

You can see that this expression has only one meaning. The sense is clear and simple: you can’t find a word, an expression, or information, but you are sure you know it and with a little more time you’ll find it.

We have set up some quizzes so that you can better understand this expression. Just click below to access these quizzes.