I'm looking for an expression/phrase which is common for when in a discussion somebody points to the exact issue / cause of the problem or named an argument which corresponds perfectly to your own opinion. It also expresses that the argument is formulated very straightforward without any reservation and might even make others uncomfortable.

For comparison in German one would say "Den Finger auf die Wunde legen", word-by-word translation would be "You put your finger on the wound".

I only found "put your finger on the weak spot" and "to bring up the painful subject", but I guess there might be way better expressions?

  • 12
    "Hitting the nail on the head" is very commonly used in British English.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:13
  • @JHCL If you put it in an answer with a reference it certainly would get an +1 ;-)
    – fiscblog
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:15
  • 3
    @JHCL - A common expression in the US as well.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 12:12
  • 1
    In a very informal situation, sometimes a person will touch the tip of their index finger to their nose, which is an expression to mean "you got it", or "exactly right". Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:28
  • 1
    @Darthfett - That motion means "on the nose", which means about the same as "hit the nail on the head".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 2:34

16 Answers 16


You've hit the nail on the head - this is very widely used in British English, at least.

  1. Fig. to do exactly the right thing; to do something in the most effective and efficient way. You've spotted the flaw, Sally. You hit the nail on the head. Bob doesn't say much, but every now and then he hits the nail right on the head. (-- from idioms.thefreedictionary.com)

Also from Cambridge Dictionaries Online

to ​describe ​exactly what is ​causing a ​situation or ​problem.

Although I should say that I tend to use a variation I picked up somewhere: "put the hammer on the nail."

  • 12
    Perfect, widely used in American English as well. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 10:33
  • 17
    And I'd guess that this also evolved into "nailed it".
    – Samthere
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 12:31

to put your finger on something

In English we have the same expression but without 'wound'. For that reason it may be more flexible than the German version because you can 'put your finger' on other things as well. Note that the expression usually refers to a problem or a solution to a problem. Note also that the English version of the expression pre-dates the German one by half a century or so.


There's something wrong here but I can't quite put my finger on it.

I have been trying to solve this problem for weeks but I can't put my finger on the correct solution.

That's it! You've put your finger on it, exactly!

put your finger on sth

to ​discover the ​exact ​reason why a ​situation is the way it is, ​especially when something is ​wrong: There's something ​odd about him, but I can't ​quite put my finger on it.

Definition of put one's finger on something in English:
Identify something exactly: he cannot put his finger on what has gone wrong


The following Google ngram: put * finger on shows that the expression entered the language in the late 1700s. You can read examples by following the links at the bottom of the page. enter image description here

It might be presumed that the expression came into English from German and lost the word 'wound' on the way. However that is shown to be false by examining the corresponding German Google ngram: Finger auf die Wunde which shows that that version entered the German language in the 1800s.

  • 4
    Actually this is very good, especially (as shown) in the negative, when you can't identify the problem. (A more common case, in my experience). +1.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:54
  • 1
    A slight difference between the English phrase and the German is that apparently the German could mean that it "might even make others uncomfortable" (from the OP's question). The English phrase "put your finger on it" definitely does not carry this connotation. In fact none of the answers here carry that connotation.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 9:13
  • @AndyT "point out the elephant in the room" has the connotation of uncomfortableness, but less of a connotation of precision.
    – stannius
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 16:22
  • Agreed with @JHCL—I tend to use this one exclusively in the negative. The expressions involving nails seem to me to fit better when someone has found the problem|argument|etc. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 19:57
  • 1
    @AndyT - Maybe "hit/struck a nerve" would do that job? (Without quite meaning "identify a problem".)
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 9:38

I'd say 'spot on' or 'bang on':

  • exactly correct : completely accurate.



(right) on the money

: exactly right; in exactly the right place; in exactly the right amount (of money). That's a good answer, Bob. You're right on the money. This project is going to be finished right on the nose. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

I think your argument is right on the money, with the caveat that there are circumstances where states have no choice but to go to war Sage Pub

(right) on the button

: (mainly American informal) if a remark is on the button, it is exactly right Your remarks about Tim were right on the button. He's arrogant, rude and selfish Cambridge Idioms Dictionary

(right) on the nose

: perfectly placed; exactly as desired.Random House

  • And, depending on the context, on the nose Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:14
  • @GeoffAtkins Yes, that was one of my first suggestion along with the others, but I had a change of heart because the way it is defined on freedictionary.com doesn't seem to fit very well with the context here.
    – Elian
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:35
  • Strange, dictionary.reference.com defines the phrase as Perfectly placed; exactly as desired; on the money: Your guess was right on the nose Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 12:26
  • @GeoffAtkins Thanks for the link. I updated my answer accordingly.
    – Elian
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 12:49

You nailed it. Bingo. Jackpot. Bull's eye.

  • 7
    Please provide e definition and possibly a dictionary link to the expressions you are suggesting.
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:49
  • Just so. Quite right. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:28

A lot of excellent answers have already been posted.

You can consider using "Hit the mark" as it means:

to be correct or accurate [The Free Dictionary]

"The writer hit the mark in saying that the military contributes $400,000 a month to the local economy."


You got down to the nitty-gritty:

The most important aspects or practical details of a subject or situation


"Cut right to the heart of a matter."

Discussed as the second example in deadrat's answer here: "...cut right to the heart of French society".


A common phrase in British English is 'to get to the crux of the matter'

Crux of the matter: The basic, central or critical point of an issue

dictionary.com - there's some interesting detail there about how this phrase emerged.

The crux: The decisive or most important point at issue: the crux of the matter is that attitudes have changed



In Bulgarian we also use a similar expression and it corresponds word by word to the German one. However, i think that hit/ touch a raw nerve is a good expression in English corresponding to the one you ask - put a finger on the wound.

  • Pinpoint the cause is something we often say in engineering.

I realize you're looking for a colloquialism, but here are a few one word interjections which fit the question:

  • exactly
  • precisely
  • quite
  • indeed

"To put a finer point on it..."

This indicates sharpness, directness and precision. It's also related to "directly on point" or "directly on target."


The only phrase of all those suggested so far that suggests any level of discomfort to some parties is the elephant in the room for example "I'd like to address the elephant in the room; followed by whatever that thing is.

It basically is used to say "here's something we can all plainly see, so we know it to be true, but no one wants to point it out for fear of being rude or just plain stupid for stating the obvious"

Miriam-Webster defines it as:

Definition of ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM : an obvious major problem or issue that people avoid discussing or acknowledging


The phrase rain on your/the parade is also commonly used when but has less of a connotation of people feeling uncomfortable about it as more of a ruining everyone's fun connotation.


The responses so far fit what fiscblog asked for but, strangely enough, the German expression (I am German) "den Finger auf die Wunde legen" in my understand means something different: "Wunde" ist essential in this idiom and it means that by your statement you not only hit the nail but your are touching a painful aspect, maybe the most painful aspect. So I still wonder whether there is good English equivalent.


On the Internet, where brevity is valued, many people use


A mention of this term on Urban Dictionary is http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=This , but it's hard to search for "this"...

  • This. (And, moreover, what he said.)
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 9:17
  • Can you please at least explain where it comes from / how it evolved?
    – fiscblog
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 12:56
  • I've spent some time trying to find something fitting, but it's not a particularly useful search term :-(. Maybe later. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 14:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.