Figure Out – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that you’re busy solving a problem? If that’s the case, you could say to them that you are trying to “figure out” a solution to the issue. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The meaning of the expression “figure out” refers to problem-solving. If you’re trying to solve a problem, you are “figuring it out.” The saying can refer to clearing up the details surrounding an activity or request. Or, it can refer to solving a situation or problem through the use of reasoning.

To figure out may also mean to understand why something behaves or acts in a specific manner. It can also mean casually applying your mind to something or using all of your concentration on solving a problem.

Figure out” is a slang or colloquial saying, and it’s not common for the phrase to appear in a formal conversation.

Example Usage

“I’ve been trying to figure out this darn TV remote for the last hour, and I’m getting nowhere with it.”

“It took me years to figure out how the global financial system works, and no, I wish I never looked into it.”

“How did you figure out that he was the serial killer? That’s some impressive detective work.”

“I’m not sure if I have the brainpower to figure out advanced calculus problems. Math was never my thing.”

“Are you going to figure out who did this? Or do I have to step in and find the culprit?”

“There’s no way anyone will figure out what we did. It was a decade ago, and we were careful to cover our tracks.”

“If there’s anyone that can figure out what to do, it’s you. We all have complete faith and confidence in your abilities to lead us out of this mess.”

“Let’s put our heads together and figure out what to do about Annie.”


The origin of the expression “figure out” seems to come from the early 1900s. It’s a relatively new saying, and there is no written reference to the first use of the expression.

However, language experts believe it came into being during the late 1800s concerning problem-solving.

It seems to relate to modern problem-solving in a corporate environment, where people new to a job had to figure out the procedures to settle into their workplace position.

Phrases Similar to Figure Out

  • Flesh it out.
  • Knock it out.
  • Think about it.
  • Rack your brain.

Phrases Opposite to Figure Out

  • Let it be.
  • Forget about it.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Figure out.
  • Figured out.

Ways People May Say Figure Out Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase as a way to say they are in a formal conversation. If that’s the case, you will do better using an expression like “analyzing the issue.”

Using the term in the boardroom might not be a good idea. Still, around employees or low-level managers, it helps you relate to the employee experience on the employee level.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Figure Out

You can use the phrase “figure out” when you’re trying to tell someone that you’re busy with solving a problem. The saying suits social and professional use in a wide variety of situations.

For instance, you could tell your boss that you’re trying to figure out a solution to the supply chain problem. Or, you could say to your partner that you’re trying to figure out how the new TV remote works.

The saying applies to many circumstances and situations where you’re trying to express that you’re in the middle of attempting to find a solution to the issue at hand.

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