he is onto something


Senior Member
Hi Folks,

How the below the differs

he is onto something ( I heard this in a movie)

I am onto something (My answer to a person who asked me what I am doing)..:confused:
-Mark shane
  • The "onto something" part means the same thing in both cases.

    "I am onto something" means "I have found a clue and am investigating." It does not mean "I am doing something".
    Welcome to the forum Mark,

    "he is onto something" is an affirmative idiom meaning the person has just said something which opens a new way of understanding or dealing with a problem.

    To say this of one's self, in the first person, is to miss out the affirmative action. It implies you are very confident about your action. We would usually modify the phrase in the first person to:
    "I might be onto something" - this prevents us sounding over confident or dismissive towards the person who has asked us what we are doing. It leaves the subject open to further inquiry, inviting affirmation from the inquirer.
    It implies you are very confident about your action

    I agree with Aardvark with everything except this, I don't think it needs an action.
    You can say this without doing anything...

    Like you've just dived onto your computer to try and find something, let's say someone else has just given you a clue to something, and they might say, "Mike, what are you doing?" and he could respond "Hold on! I am onto something....."

    I'd only go as far as saying that it implies someone thinks / is confident they themselves have the ability to find something out..

    But on second thought, if they have just done something and someone asks what they are doing, I suppose what you said does make sense!

    So I guess what I mean is, if someone has done something then I agree, but generally the phrase doesn't mean you have done something.

    I hope this message doesn't seem as pedantic as it seems to me!
    ... he could respond "Hold on! I am onto something....."
    Adding "hold on" or "just a minute" does the same job as adding "might be" in that it makes the statement "I am on to something" less abrupt. It suggests that you will say more when you have the information you are looking for.
    I believe you can make a parallel to a hunting dog being "on the scent". That is he is following a scent trail to locate some person or animal.

    So being "onto something" is akin to being "on the scent"; that is the person is following some sort of lead to a conclusion or destination.