off the top of my head: meaning and explanation

We say off the top of my head when you need to think of something or remember something without any time to think, prepare or do research.

If you can answer someone’s question from memory, but you want to warn them that you haven’t thought carefully about the answer, you might introduce your answer with ‘Off the top of my head’.

e.g. A: Which street was that nice old antique shop on?

B: Off the top of my head, I think it was George Street.

A useful way to use this phrase is to tell people that you can’t answer a question from memory.

e.g. A: Do you remember what time the film starts on Saturday?

B: Not off the top of my head. You should look it up on the cinema website.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: Ireland

I anything of my – can I you tomorrow?
I can’t of anything the top of my – can I get to you tomorrow?

…Can I get back to you tomorrow?…

The phrasal verb to get back to someone means ‘to call or reply to someone at a later time’, or ‘to answer a question at a later time’. e.g. She’s not available at the moment. If you leave your number, she’ll get back to you tomorrow.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Can you remember a situation where you were asked a question that you couldn’t answer off the top of your head?
  • Try to answer one of these questions from memory: What is the population of your town or city? How many books have you read so far this year? How many countries have you visited in your life?

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

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