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 these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: Ireland

I anything of my – can I you tomorrow?

About the sentence

…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.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: North America

, $ .
my head, I would storm caused about $5000 .

About the sentence

…$5000 worth of damage…

We can use the structure x worth of something to communicate the value or cost of something, usually in a financial sense. e.g. Supermarkets throw away millions of pounds worth of edible food every year.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: England (RP)

I’ve to come ideas off the like some .

About the sentence

…I’ve never been able to come up with ideas…

The phrasal verb to come up with something means to have an idea. e.g. This is such an original design. How did you come up with it?

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • 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