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According to Word Reference, "to point" may mean "to direct the finger at something/somebody" and "to point out" may mean "to direct the finger at something/somebody in order to show its/his/her presence or position".

Is there any other purpose of pointing sth/sb besides showing its/his/her presence or position? If not, is there any difference of meaning between these two verb phrases? For instance, could they be used interchangeably in the following examples?

A. In some cultures, it is rude to point at / point out a person.

B. She pointed at / pointed out an object in the sky.

C. She pointed at him to me / She pointed him out to me.

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It depends on the context, if they can be used interchangeably.

A. In some cultures, it is rude to point at / point out a person.

If, by the above sentence, you are referring to the action of raising or directing the index finger at someone/something, then it should be

In some cultures, it is rude to point at a person.

Examples: She pointed [with her finger] at the map (one can also point with a stick, knife, or gun). He pointed in the direction of the town center. These examples are from Online OXFORD Collocation Dictionary, with some edits.


B. She pointed at / pointed out an object in the sky.

This one depends on the context. If there is an object in the sky, then the following is valid:

She pointed at the object in the sky. OR She pointed at an object in the sky (if there are multiple objects).

These are both equally correct:

She pointed at her favorite star in the sky (with her finger). She pointed out her favorite star in the sky (by describing it - the brightest one).


The phrasal verb "point out something" or "point something out" can be used in a number of ways.

Cambridge says to point something out is

  • to tell someone about some information, often because you believe they do not know it or have forgotten it. Example: I pointed out that his visa would expire in 2 months and that he needed to apply for an extension asap.

  • to direct attention toward something [or someone]. Example: Angela pointed out some spelling errors in my paper.

MW provides this example: He pointed his girlfriend out (to me) in the crowd.

C. She pointed at him to me / She pointed him out to me [may be by describing some characteristics].

We don't say "pointed at him to me". Just like the example from MW, it should be

She pointed him out to me (guy in a cafeteria - the one eating like a pig, guy in a group photo - the one with the silver smile, guy in the soccer field - the one who is always flopping). Example: John, eleven o' clock, the redhead, she is the one! Here, no finger is pointed, but characteristics are described to point out a person in a crowd.

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  • Thanks for the answer! So "to point out a physical object" does not necessarily have to be done with the finger. To be fair with Word Reference dictionary, it has an additional meaning of "to point out": "to direct attention to", which fits those cases. Before, I had (wrongly) thought that meaning would only be used with abstract objects. It is clear now. I am not sure if I understood right your explanation about the example of the object in the sky. Can't I say "She pointed out an object in the sky" ? If not, why? Sep 27, 2019 at 2:28
  • @AlanEvangelista yes you are correct that "pointing out sth" does not require a mandatory physical movement (raising a finger). "She pointed out an object in the sky" When we are pointing out something (i.e., we are directing someone's attention to sth), that "something" is specific (man, object, idea, a set of something, a group of something). "Pointed out an object in the sky" is not directing attention at sth particular. And therefore we say "pointed at an/the object in the sky" (star, bird, etc).
    – AIQ
    Sep 27, 2019 at 3:13
  • You could say this "She pointed out that the object in the sky was gradually becoming bigger". Here, it means she directed attention to the fact that the object was growing.
    – AIQ
    Sep 27, 2019 at 3:13

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