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A particular verb phrase has puzzled me for a few days. What is the precise meaning of:

To look out over something

I could provide example sentences, but based on my previous experiences, I would prefer not to so as to avoid misleading you.

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Not every verb+preposition collocation is an idiom. This one is not—its meaning is literal and 'compositional', derivable from the meanings of the individual parts:

  • look is the ordinary intransitive verb, to cast your sight in a particular direction.

  • out is the ordinary intransitive preposition, as in go out or throw out. Its basic sense is approximately "beyond the boundary within which one is enclosed", but it need not imply a literal enclosure; here it it indicates that you are looking beyond your immediate viewpoint.

  • over is the ordinary transitive preposition. It acts as the head of a preposition phrase designating the 'path' traversed by your sight—for instance, over the countryside beneath, over the crowd.

Out and over together imply that you are looking from an elevated position which allows your sight to travel a fair distance above the terrain or features which surround you.

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If you are standing on a mountain top, you can look out over the valley below. If you are in a bell-tower, you can look out over the town square. It means to see something (an area of some kind, an expanse, or something occupying it) from a vantage point which allows you to see the thing in its entirety.

If you are standing, you can look out over your garden. You could not look out over your garden if you were lying prone on your belly. If you are snorkeling in the ocean, with your eyes at the level of the water, you cannot look out over the waves.

From atop his horse, the rancher looked out over his herd of cattle.

She looked out over the neat rows of her vegetable garden.

The sea-captain looked out over the rolling waves from the poop-deck.

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