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Someone said:

The brakes went out on me.

(to mean that the brakes had gone out).

Is the use of "went out on me" natural?

3 Answers 3

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Yes, it's natural. "Go out" is a phrasal verb that means (among many other things) "to fail". Example:

I was raking leaves in the garden when suddenly my back went out (on me) and I dropped to the ground in pain.

Although it seems perfectly ordinary to me, I can't seem to find a dictionary that validates this use. So perhaps it's a kind of informal variation on the use of "go out" as in "the fire went out". In the same way the brakes "went out" as in "stopped doing what they were supposed to be doing".

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  • So @Andrew , why is "on me" used? Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:50
  • @It'saboutEnglish "on me" is just an adverb phrase to explain who is the target of the action. You could just as easily say "the car had the brakes go out on it as it was going down a steep hill", but "on me" makes the consequences more personal.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 17:40
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There are two idioms being employed:

"Went out/go out" - to cease functioning, turn off, or fail in some way. "On me" - to me, toward me, at me, me.

A more literal way of expressing this sentiment is, depending on what they're trying to convey, "The brakes of my car failed," or, more dire, "The brakes of the car I was driving failed while I was driving it."

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What is and is not idiomatic depends on several factors, so I’m not completely disagreeing with @Andrew. But with that in mind:

To my ears (native British English, specifically from Central Scotland) “the brakes went out on me” is not at all natural. I would always say simply that “the brakes failed on me”, or if the context was clear, just, “the brakes failed”.

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    Maybe it's an Americanism. As someone born and bred in Southern California, "the brakes went out on me" would if anything be the preferred way to say it.
    – user33415
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 22:57
  • That’s perfectly plausible. Especially from California. You guys do appear to have a pronounced gift for synthesizing new English from old 😉
    – tkp
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 23:02
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    Dude, like thanks for the totally awesome response.
    – user33415
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 23:07

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