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Is it correct to say "When it started to rain, I was in the open air"? Or should I say "I was not inside a building"?

In Chinese there is a phrase that can be literally translated as "in the streets", meaning "being out doing something outdoors". Just wondering if there is an equivalent in English.

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    What the answers below don't say is that, while neither of these are the first thing a native speaker would think of, both of them are correct English and would be understood. – Hearth May 13 at 14:30
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    If you do want to use the word "open", which is fair enough, the usual phrasing there would be: ".. I was caught out in the open". "open air" is correct but it's not the usual idiomatic word choice. normally you'd simply say "outside" or "outdoors." – Fattie May 13 at 23:50
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    Do note that "When it started to rain, I was out on the streets!" would be perfectly normal and common in English. – Fattie May 13 at 23:54
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You could say:

When it started to rain, I was outdoors.

or

When it started to rain, I was (caught) outside.

Outdoors is an adverb and means out of doors (not in the building), in the open air.

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    You don't even need the word "caught". When it started to rain, I was outside/outdoors. I use outside more for near a building, and outdoors more for away from buildings. – CJ Dennis May 14 at 4:49
  • Good point about outside being somewhere near the building. – Jan May 14 at 6:19
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    You don't need "caught" but it makes the point that you'd rather not have been there (for example, getting soaked to the skin in skimpy summer clothing). "I was outdoors"is a simple neutral statement. – nigel222 May 14 at 11:55
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    Someone strongly suggested "caught" and said he never heard it without it. – Jan May 14 at 11:58
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In connection with bad weather, rain, snow, hail, etc, we can say we are, or were, "in the open" and this is understood to mean "not in a building".

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Is it correct to say "When it started to rain, I was in the open air"?

This is fine, though being "in the open" implies being "in the open air". (This is Earth, not the vacuum of space, or under the water, so it would sound odd.)

Or should I say "I was not inside a building"?

Only if you specifically want to tell them that you weren't in a building.

This is because there are other places you could be when it started to rain besides in the open or in a building. For example, you could be:

  • on the porch,
  • under an overhang,
  • in a car port,
  • any other place that shelters you from the rain which aren't in doors.

In all those cases, you are outside, but definitely not "in the open".

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    Exactly. Say this takes place in the skycraper area of a city, Manhattan or Hong Kong. And you were outside at the time, on the streets. You don't really describe being in a tall major city in the "canyon of buildings" as being "in the open". You're just "outside" or indeed "out on the street". – Fattie May 13 at 23:57
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The phrase "open air" is more used:

to distinguish different "degrees" of being outside.

For example, say we were having a cigarette, on the verandah at the rear of a house. We might say something like "let's go stand over there in the open air to enjoy our cigarette, rather than here under the porch".

The other way you use the phrase "open air" is in the sense: "exposed to the open air". So an engineer (on an aircraft or such) might say "These bolts are exposed to the open air, whereas these bolts are covered by a fairing."

The phrase "open air" is pretty specific. You wouldn't generally use it to mean "outside".

I hope that helps!

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It is common to say "Don't get caught out in the open during a thunderstorm." or "Don't get caught outside during a thunderstorm."

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