Presque vu

If you are an avid reader of my blog, you might have read a post I wrote on déjà vu, and how there were other types of “vu” that I might explain in the future. Well today’s post introduces the second instalment in the “vu trilogy”; Presque vu. Much like déjà vu, presque vu has a number of theories that try to explain it and a few of them will be highlighted throughout this post.

Key facts

  • Presque vu, also known as “tip of the tongue”, is a phenomenon where a person knows the name of something i.e. a film, an actor, a place etc but for some reason, they can’t remember it. It’s said to be on the tip of their tongue.
  • Presque vu comes from the French for “almost seen”.
  • It’s experienced by all ages and ethnicities. A majority of people will experience it as it’s very common.

The blocking hypothesis

One theory explaining why this momentary lapse in memory occurs is the blocking hypothesis. This theory suggests that in order to help remember the word, the brain blocks all other words that are similar. For example:

  • You’re trying to remember Tom Cruise’s last name. Therefore the brain will block words similar to Cruise i.e. Cook, Campbell, Chris etc.

However in doing this, the brain actually blocks out the word you’re trying to remember. So in the case of our example, the brain blocks similar words, AND the word Cruise, hence why it can’t be recalled.

This theory explains why this phenomenon happens in a group environment. People will start shouting out similar blocking words, meaning everyone in the group will start blocking the word they are trying to remember so nobody can recall it. It also demonstrates how leaving the subject for a minute helps recall the word. Not thinking about it or shouting out blocking words helps to distract the brain and then BAM. The word you’re looking for is unblocked and you’ve remembered Tom Cruise.

Direct access view

The direct access view is linked to the blocking hypothesis. It suggests that memory strength for an item is strong enough to create a tip of the tongue phenomenon, however not strong enough to actually recall what is necessary. This leads to a feeling of knowing you know something, but not being able to fully remember it.

Having some access to the item you are trying to remember but not full access, allows a person to recall the blocking words (similar words to the one you’re trying to remember) which will induce the blocking mechanism described in the blocking hypothesis.


It might not get the attention that déjà vu does, but it’s just as interesting and in many respects, far more common. So the next time something is on the tip of your tongue, forget about it. Change the subject, and it’ll come to you sooner for later. In a future post, I will explain the third “vu” in this family, jamais vu so stayed tuned for that.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my post. I hope you learned something,



Stevens, M. (Vsauce). (2011, November 05). What is Déjà vu? Retrieved from


4 thoughts on “Presque vu

  1. I have been experiencing something similar to presque vu, but other people describe t better than this. In my case, I don’t simply have a name or other snippet of information at the top of my tongue. I have a persistent sense that I’ve almost remembered a dream or tv show. It periodically happens for several days 10+ times an hour. It is very distracting. Do you think this is related to presque vu?


    • This could possibly be related to presque vu in its extreme form. As I’m not a clinical professional, I would advise that you go to your GP who might transfer you to a neurologist and describe your symptoms to get a full diagnosis if this persistent and distracting. I hope this helps!


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