I have read in http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/figure-out that Figure out contains two meanings:

1.to think about a problem or situation until you find the answer or understand what has happened. figure out how/what/why etc Can you figure out how to do it? If I have a map, I can figure it out. Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out (=find a way to solve the problem).

2.to understand why someone behaves in the way they do SYN work out Women. I just can’t figure them out

According to http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/figure-sth-sb-out figure out contains one meaning:

1.to finally understand something or someone, or find the solution to a problem after a lot of thought: [ + question word ] I can't figure out why he did it. I find him really odd - I can't figure him out at all. Can you figure out the answer to question 5?

According to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/figure%20out Figure out means:

1.discover, determine

2.solve, fathom

According to https://www.google.com.np/amp/www.macmillandictionary.com/license/amp/dictionary/british/figure-out Figure out contains two meanings they are:

1.to be able to understand something or to solve a problem**

We had to figure out the connection between the two events. figure out how/what/who etc: I couldn’t figure out what the teacher was talking about.

2.figure someone out to understand what someone is like and why they behave in the way that they do.

So,What's the actual meaning of 'Figure out'and how many meanings does it contain?

  • Don't you think that every description you've collected from various online dictionaries conveys the same definition for the phrase 'Figure Out', in one way or the other?
    – Varun Nair
    Jan 12, 2017 at 9:31
  • consider also that "figures" can be "numbers" or "diagrams"
    – Vorsprung
    Jan 12, 2017 at 10:21
  • I'm only talking about 'figure out'
    – yubraj
    Jan 12, 2017 at 12:48

1 Answer 1


As has been mentioned in the comments, although you have gathered together quite a few definitions and examples of usage, a common thread runs through them all in terms of what 'figure out' means.

In a broad sense of the word, to figure out something means to understand something clearly, however, what differentiates it from similar expressions such as to realise something or to find out something is the process involved in coming to that conclusion.

When we realise something or find out something, we are able to comprehend something that we couldn't comprehend before, but that may not have been our intention. Realisations can often happen by chance - something may spark a connection, and you then see it in a new light.

For example:

I just realised that there's an arrow hidden between the E and the x in the 'FedEx' logo!

enter image description here

Similarly with 'finding out something' - we may have come by the information passively.

I just found out that my girlfriend was cheating on me.

Figuring something out, on the other hand, implies a conscious effort to study a matter or situation and actively search for the answer or understanding of it. Rather than by chance or happenstance, it is normally done with a specific goal in mind.

For example:

  • We need to figure out what went wrong.
  • It took them ages to figure out how to assemble the chest of drawers.
  • When you've figured the answer out, put your hand up.
  • They spent 20 minutes figuring out how to open the box.

There is a broad range of examples above, but all of these exhibit intent to come to a conclusion.


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