Draw a Blank – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Draw a blank can have a literal meaning, like if you draw an actual blank line in a quiz you’re creating. But the phrase is more commonly used as an idiom. Where did it come from? And what’s the correct way to use it in speech and writing? I’ll break it all down right here in this handy grammar guide!

Draw a Blank Idiom Meaning

Draw a Blank Idiom Origin Meaning

We use the idiomatic expression “draw a blank” to refer to failing to find or remember something, to have no result or response, or to being unable to provide an answer to a question or problem. So, it’s a loose term that can be applied to a wide variety of contexts, kind of like “ring a bell” or “for all the marbles.”

  • I’m drawing a blank on ideas.
  • I’m trying to remember the details, but I’m drawing a blank.

Basically, in short, it means you can’t remember or can’t think of something.

Past and Present Forms of the Phrase

The past form of the phrase is “drew a blank,” the present participle form is “drawing a blank,” and the past participle is “drawn a blank.”

  • I drew a blank when the teacher was explaining the new math equation.
  • Look, I know you want some ideas, but I’m just drawing a blank right now.
  • This girl looks familiar, but I’ve drawn a blank on her name.

Where Does “Draw a Blank” Come From?

It’s got a unique origin, actually. The phrase “draw a blank” dates back to the 16th century in Tudor England, when Queen Elizabeth first ran a lottery for the people. Names would be written on slips of paper and put into one box, and a second box would be filled with a mix of prizes and blanks. Two slips would be selected, one from each box, and you’d be paired with a prize or a blank, hence the phrase “drawing a blank.”

Draw a Blank Synonyms

  • Come up empty
  • Hit a blank wall
  • Strike out
  • Get nowhere
  • Be at a loss
  • Have no luck
  • Zone out
  • Fizzle out
  • Be stumped
  • Be clueless
  • Be in the dark

“Draw a Blank” Examples in a Sentence

Draw a Blank Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • I tried so hard to remember where I had put my keys, but I drew a blank.
  • I could see him drawing a blank as I gave him the direction he asked for.
  • It’s killing me. I tried to remember her name, but I was drawing a blank.
  • The detective interviewed all the witnesses, but he drew a blank on any new leads.
  • He told me to come up with an idea for our next date, but I always draw a blank when it comes to that stuff.
  • Even though I studied for hours, I still drew a blank during the exam.
  • The team tried everything to come up with a new idea for a movie, but they just kept drawing a blank.

Are You Still Drawing a Blank?

This versatile expression can be used in any situation where you can’t remember or think of an idea. I’ve explained everything you need to know and even showed you the past and present versions to use. So, the next time you’re wondering about the phrase “draw a blank,” don’t draw a blank!

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: