Can you explain to me what do " as if on cue " and whole sentences mean please?

As if on cue, research from the Duke Cancer Institute, publishing in the journal Urology, revealed that classical music can indeed diminish anxiety.

And as if on cue, hundreds of migrants swarmed to a plush London suburb for their share of the spoils

The Oxford Online Dictionary says that the meaning of "on cue" is "at exactly the moment you expect or that is appropriate" but all example sentences which are related to on cue begin with "as if".

So when I put together these four words, it seems to have the meaning of "as if planned to happen on a right or same time"..and this meaning fits the second sentence but doesn't fit the first one.. In the first sentence it adds a meaning like, for me, it seems like everybody arranged a time to get and meet there..

Can I say

After I got out from the airport, I got to the train station and as if on cue the train was due to move on(I mean it moved on just after I had gotten on it).So I didnt waste any time by waiting.

  • About your airport-sentence: on cue can be used there, but that train was ready to leave, not "due to move on". First, if it was due to leave, it may not have left (it was scheduled to do so, but we don't know if it did.) And trains depart, or leave, they don't usually move on.
    – oerkelens
    Dec 1, 2014 at 13:20
  • @oerkelens thanks.I meant the train was scheduled .I assume all trains are scheduled actually.I think we can catch a scheduled train( as if cue on) even though we don't know its departing time when we arrive in a new city.
    – Mrt
    Dec 1, 2014 at 13:47
  • Then the catching of the train happens as if on cue, not the fact that the train was scheduled. But I think that it then becomes a bit hazy. "As I arrived at the station from the airport, my train just pulled in, as if on cue" seems absolutely fine. But trying to indicate that planning appeared planned is a bit much, I think: replace on cue with planned, and scheduled by planned, and you will end up saying that as if it was planned, the train was planned to leave. Not a contender for a style-prize.
    – oerkelens
    Dec 1, 2014 at 13:51
  • I think I got you.But to make it clear , I didnt mean or stress as if the train was planned because I assume trains are scheduled.I mean more like as if I bought ticket for a scheduled train and as if I know its departing time and planned to catch the train when I say " as if on cue". It implies it was very nice coincidence for me.
    – Mrt
    Dec 1, 2014 at 14:23
  • 1
    A train doesn't leave 'as if on cue' it actually leaves 'on cue' - even if not on time. it doesn't go before it is told to. Dec 1, 2014 at 14:35

6 Answers 6


Inherited from the theatre/film industry

A cue is any signal that an actor should begin something, walk on, say the next line etc.
He begins that 'on his cue' or 'on cue'

"An off-stage door slam was his cue to enter."

See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cue

So 'as if on cue' relates to the seemingly perfect timing of the event, as though someone has designed it to be that way, in advance.


I don't see why your derived meaning (which seems correct) cannot be applied to the first sentence. Of course, without further context, this is always a guessing game, but let's add some context and replace as if on cue by as if it had been planned to happen at this exact moment:

I was engaged in an ongoing discussion about the effect of music on anxiety with some of my friends. As if it had been planned to happen at this exact moment, research from the Duke Cancer Institute, publishing in the journal Urology, revealed that classical music can indeed diminish anxiety.

It is highly unlikely that the folks over at the Duke Cancer Institute had actually planned their research (and the publishing of it) to coincide with my discussion on the subject. However, their timing did so neatly coincide with my discussion, that it seemed as if someone had indeed planned it!


I can't agree with the definition as presented. At least, that definition should be marked as a metaphor. A cue is a prompt, a signal for action. The phrase "on cue" means in response to a prompt, especially in timely response to a prompt.

"At the exact moment that it is expected or that it is appropriate" seems to be a good definition for "as if on cue". When the precise timing of events is intentional, those events probably did happen on cue. When the precise timing is accidental, those events happen as if on cue.

I take that phrase in the first sentence to mean "as if the timing had been planned". In the second, I take it to mean "as if in response to an arranged signal". These two different interpretations of the one phrase make sense, given that a cue is an arranged signal used to manage a planned timing.

I wouldn't say that the train moved as if on cue. The train should move on cue. If it moves at an established time, it moves on cue. If it moves in response to a signal from the station, it moves on cue. The "as if" doesn't makes sense, because some cue is bound to be literal. Even when the train misses its cue, the cue remains literal.

I might say "As if cued by my arrival, the train was ready to depart." The train's departure is cued, but not by my arrival. However, it might seem to be cued by my arrival if I find the timing to be convenient.

On the other hand, I might say "on cue" when I mean "as if on cue" if no literal cue makes sense in context.

Jan and I were in the kitchen, talking about her clumsy new boyfriend. Right on cue, we hear Steve crash into the coffee table.

This "right on cue" is clearly a metaphor. There is no literal cue. This is just an example of accidentally perfect timing.


It means something like apropos; on cue serves as an idiom meaning it happened on the right time.

on cue - as if planned to happen exactly at that moment

I searched the first sentence and found out Forbe's article. There, it says that the research just followed one research.


The first sentence is a pun. An orchestra performs complex music, and individual musicians will wait for their cue to begin. Since the research involved orchestral music, the author used "As if on cue" as a joke. There is no real or implied "cue" for the research.

Your sentence about the train is correct, but the phrase "as if on cue" is unusual enough to sound poetic. If something is happening on cue, the entire scene is dramatic and cool. For example:

"After getting the job I felt unstoppable. I strode into the subway like I owned it, and the train pulled up and opened its doors for me as if on cue. I didn't even have to break stride. This was my day."

  • 1
    yes you understand me.I used it the same way in my sentence in terms of meaning.Thanks for the example.
    – Mrt
    Dec 1, 2014 at 22:03

Others have given background and a bit of explanantion about the phrase, but not really a clear answer to your question.

The answer is no: your proposed sentence doesn't work, the phrase "as if on cue" needs to be followed by an action that appears coordinated but wasn't, "due to move" is not an action of any kind.

You are saying that the train was scheduled (due) to move if that is taken as an action, it is one that was done hours at the least prior to your arrival at the train station, possibly years.

After I got out from the airport, I went straight to the train station and boarded the train to X, which as if on cue, began to move as I sat down.

Note that this would work better with a subway station, where it could start moving as you step through the door.

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