Is there an idiom that means "look familiar"? I am pretty sure there's a handful of expression that means "look familiar" or something similar? Do you know any such expression?

For example:

Does this piece of painting ____ the police chief asked?

  • 2
    What's wrong with just looks familiar? Why are you looking for something else? Commented May 14, 2019 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


(Note that piece of painting isn't normally idiomatic in English.)

A very common idiomatic usage in this context is:

The police chief asked "Does this painting ring a bell?"

ring a bell (also ring any bells)
to sound familiar

Don't take that sound too literally though. The expression can just as well be used in contexts where it might be directly replaceable by ...seem, look, smell, taste, feel familiar.

In much the same vein there's also touch / strike a chord, which could (just about) be used in OP's context. But that one often has stronger allusions to strike / hit home which usually conveys particularly, often painfully relevant. As in His story about being mugged struck a chord with me (because I myself had been mugged, so listening to him brought back disturbing memories).


You can use "ring a bell", as in "that does ring a bell", though that phrase usually refers to ideas or discussions, rather than visuals. Does that help?

  • 3
    I can't see any reason to suppose that to ring a bell is particularly associated with (abstract?) "ideas or discussions". To me at least, there's nothing unusual about usages such as That painting rings a bell. Didn't you have it on the bedroom wall when we were roommates at college together? Commented May 14, 2019 at 17:21
  • Valid point; I've only ever used it in the context of a thought or idea, never a physical object (such as in this example).
    – OtterJohn
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 0:55

With a slight rewording the police chief could ask

Do you recognize this painting?

As given by the Oxford Dictionaries

(British recognise)

1 Identify (someone or something) from having encountered them before; know again.

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