What word can I use in place of the idiom "rack one's brain," which means to strain in mental effort, esp to remember something (from Collins)?

For instance, a teacher put a chalk box in the principal's office yesterday, but today he is trying his level best to remember where he put that box.

Can I use the verb remind along with a reflexive pronoun, as in: "he reminded himself... ."

  • A teacher [verb] for where he put that box.

The post (here), which was proposed as duplicate to this question, is irrelevent here. I am just asking about a verb which denotes thinking very hard to remember anything, not the verb that denotes solving problems, like in Maths.

Have a look at this image.

picture of a boy racking up his brain

  • 2
    The phrase trying very hard conveys the "strain in mental effort" part, so this would work: "The teacher was trying very hard to remember where he put the box." (No special word needed in place of remember.)
    – Lawrence
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:18
  • @Lawrence, I have edited the example sentence as well, if you are still not satisfied with that, can you please edit it further?
    – Ahmed
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:26
  • 1
    I've edited to help improve the phrasing of the question, but I've left the sample sentence alone because its phrasing is central to your question.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:28
  • 1
    You're welcome :) . If it wasn't a physical object, you could use strained/reached/stretched. With a physical object, the physical interpretation dominates.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:40
  • 3

5 Answers 5


There're several good choices.

Agonize, as Spencer mentioned, could be useful.

Ahmed agonized over where he placed the chalk box.

Mull is another one.

Ahmed was mulling over where he placed the chalk box.

Ruminate is a third.

Ahmed was lost in his ruminations over where he placed the chalk box.

You could also do something like struggle.

Ahmed struggled to remember the location of the chalk box.

  • 1
    Good first answer. To make it even better add the definitions you link as citation in the answer, that way if the links ever go dead, the information is still preserved.
    – Skooba
    Oct 13, 2018 at 19:50
  • The verb agonize has something to do with taking decisions, not remembering something. Similarly, mull also suggests the same, as agonize does.
    – Ahmed
    Oct 14, 2018 at 6:49
  • Actually, agonize could refer to either making a decision or attempting to remember. Your idiom is literally listed as a synonym. ag·o·nize verb past tense: agonized; past participle: agonized undergo great mental anguish through worrying about something. synonyms: worry, fret, fuss, brood, overthink, upset oneself, rack one's brains, wrestle with oneself, be worried, be anxious, feel uneasy, exercise oneself; informal: stew p.s. Your edit, while technically correct, is a bit pedantic. :) Oct 14, 2018 at 16:53
  • a) I agree that rack one's brain is synonymous to agonize, but both doesn't have the exact meaning. b) it's good to be pedantic sometimes :)
    – Ahmed
    Oct 15, 2018 at 7:02

agony TFD

  1. To suffer mental anguish or worry about something

Your proposed sentence using 'remind' would not be correct:

A teacher was trying very hard to remind himself of that box.


The teacher was in agony trying to remember where he had put X.

I you desire to use remember/remind, consider:

A teacher was trying very hard to remember where he put X.

  • 5
    You need a verb, so perhaps"agonize" would be better than "agony".
    – Spencer
    Oct 13, 2018 at 15:37

Try recollect:

remember (something); call to mind. (Oxford)

  • The teacher recollected where he put that box.

What about ponder?

To reflect or consider with thoroughness and care.

You could say, "All day long, the teacher pondered over the location of the misplaced chalk."


Fret or mull [over] connote more anxiety than ponder or deliberate. Cogitate is in between. You could also say you’re working or stuck on a math problem (or wherever else it’s plain from context that your effort is mental).

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