Penny for Your Thoughts - Meaning, Origin and Usage

"Tell me, Sam, that new proposal by the marketing department, a penny for your thoughts?" If you're looking to extract information from someone, then you can use this idiom as a way to entice them to give you the best reply possible.

You're not going to pay them for their thoughts, but you will pay attention to what they have to say. Let's look at the origin, meaning, and use of this idiom in language.

Penny for Your Thoughts Idiom Meaning

"A penny for your thoughts?" means "What are you thinking?" It's a polite way of interrupting someone's thoughts to ask them what they are thinking about. The expression is a positive reinforcing statement placing value on the other person's opinions and ideas.

You're attaching a monetary value to their thoughts, and even though a penny isn't worth what it was a few hundred years ago, it's still emphasizing that you would offer money to hear what the other person has to say.

You can use the phrase when interrupting someone's train of thought or when you want to get their opinion of something. The term is still in use today, and you probably hear it all the time in media and your social circles.

Penny for Your Thoughts Example Usage

"You look lost in your mind Gavin, a penny for your thoughts?"

"What do you think, Kim? A penny for your thoughts?

"Hey Tom, a penny for your thoughts?"

"We're going to go to the football and the bar for a drink, a penny for your thoughts?

"This business strategy might just work if we find the right supplier. Reg, a penny for your thoughts?"

"Was that the way it always was? A penny for your thoughts."

Penny for Your Thoughts Idiom Origin

Back in the 1500s, a penny was a significant sum of money. Back then, you had more purchasing power in your money before inflation eroded it away over the centuries. The origin of the phrase "a penny for your thoughts" implies that thoughts are valuable and worth a material reward if they are high-quality thoughts.

Sir Thomas More penned the work "Four Last Things" in 1522. A sentence in the book reads as follows.

"It often happeth, that the very face sheweth the mind walking a pilgrimage, in such wise that other folk sodainly say to them a penny for your thought."

In this sentence, More describes a person lost in thought, with the look on their face that they are thinking about a complex subject. Other people want to know what they are thinking, so they ask, "a penny for your thoughts?"

Phrases Similar to Penny for Your Thoughts

  • Say something.
  • What are you thinking about?
  • What's on your mind?

Phrases Opposite to Penny for Your Thoughts

  • I don't care what you think.
  • Your thoughts have no value.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Penny, for your thoughts?

Ways People May Say Penny for Your Thoughts Incorrectly

Using "penny for your thoughts" doesn't mean that you're actually going to pay someone a penny to hear what they have to say. There is no monetary value in the phrase. Instead, you're placing the weight on the person's thoughts or their attention.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Penny for Your Thoughts

You can use "penny for your thoughts" when you're intruding on someone that looks deep in thought or if they look distracted. It's a way to grab someone's attention or ask them what they are thinking about or ask them what they think about something you have to say. You can use "penny for your thoughts" in social and professional conversations.


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