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A1. I stuck my head out the door just to check that the place wasn't burning down.

A2. I stuck my head out of the door just to check that the place wasn't burning down.

B1. There may be some changes in migration, but people really like to seek out the city as a destination to live.

B2. There may be some changes in migration, but people really like to seek out of the city as a destination to live.

Can anybody explain if "of" is mandatory just after "out" in sentences like ones above? If not, is there a rule governing this kind of "of" usage?

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In A1 and A2, of is optional. In Standard English you can say I stuck my head out the door, or I stuck my head out of the door.

B uses the phrasal verb seek out. B1 is grammatical, but in B2, seek out of the city is ungrammatical. (This is because you cannot add of in between seek out and the thing the people are seeking out. You could write seek the city out.) So, since it is mandatory not to use of in B, B may not be the easiest example to compare to A. Let's try a different set:

C1. I got some sunshine earlier, when I went out the house to get groceries.

C2. I got some sunshine earlier, when I went out of the house to get groceries.

C1 is ungrammatical in Standard English. When we talk about going out of the house, of is required.

The difference may be that of is optional for looking or going through small openings, but required for big things and containers. If you are in doubt, use of.

A Language Log entry has more to say:

You can walk — or run, crawl, scurry, roll, etc. — out the gate, out the back, out the exit, etc. You can look — or stare, peer, gaze, squint, etc. — out the window, out the porthole, out the viewport, out the sunroof, etc.

But you can't (standardly) walk out the house, or out the plaza, or out the village, or whatever — all of those need "of". Nor can you (standardly) peer out the box, or stare out the car, or shoot out the bushes — though you can perfectly well shoot at someone out of the bushes, etc.

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    In your list beginning with walk, you include roll. Roll out can also be a phrasal verb, as in roll out the red carpet, and in that case, of is distinctly unwanted. (Roll out the barrel is something entirely different; it's possible to roll out of a barrel if by some mischance you got into one, but it's not at all the same thing as the expression without of.) Also, with those verbs, I'd usually use through if I felt a preposition was needed after out. Feb 11, 2013 at 19:48
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    About two screens down from the top, the Language Log entry that you cited says, “Apparently out as a transitive preposition has something to do with transiting from within an enclosed space through a limited aperture of some kind.” I.e., you can move out an opening or portal (like a door), but you must move out of a container (like a house or a city). Putting it another way: If out through makes sense, then you can probably say out. If out through doesn’t make sense, then you probably should say out of. Feb 12, 2013 at 16:52
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In US use, at least, of is not required in the 'A' sentences. Out, out of and outside will all work.

In the 'B' sentences, however, seek out (likewise search out) is a distinct idiom; it's roughly equivalent to seek by itself, but it implies the search is carried out among a group or population:

He sought out the most respected authority he could identify.

Accordingly, you really need out of rather than simply out here; and outside would be even better, since the out in out of will give the reader momentary pause.

Further, in informal use you are far more likely to encounter look than seek. Seek has a literary ring today.

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  • Indeed, Look out! is a rather common warning; its impact is usually conveyed by intonation. If it's extended to anything more specific, then it would be look out for ... Feb 11, 2013 at 19:51
  • @barbarabeeton Very good point. I may have to rewrite this altogether. Feb 11, 2013 at 20:04

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