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Consider these two sentences:

  • I have used up all my pencils.
  • I have run out of pencils.

Which one, if either, is better? What is the difference? In what context should I use each one?

  • I think they're pretty close synonyms. 'I have used up all my reserves' is one example where the alternative is far less natural-sounding, and would probably only be used with say substitute players. Of course, 'I have almost used up this battery' cannot be substituted. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 16 at 20:09
  • "Pencils" are strange objects to use as an example. Edwin says the two are close, and IMO "used up" could be said when the object is not replaceable, for example "I have used up my free data allowance". But "I have run out of data" might imply you can buy a top-up. – Weather Vane Feb 16 at 20:15
  • @Weather Vane It's tricky; 'run out of X' can be applied to non-concrete items like 'run out of credit / time / energy', but not all such. '... used up this battery' is obviously a broadened usage; it's the battery's energy that has been used up. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 16 at 20:28
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To be honest with you, they both mean similar things. But, in my opinion, they should be used in two distinct ways.

When you say 'I have used up all my pencils', it is definite that you have used all of the pencils for the specific purpose.

But, when you say 'I have run out of pencils', it is not really definite that you have used them. Maybe your sister used them? Maybe your mother? Maybe a monster? We don't really know.

Hope that helps,

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    Also, if you 'use up' something it is all gone; this might or might not be a bad thing. If you 'run out of' something this is definitely a bad thing; you still need more of whatever it is, it means you have not yet achieved a goal. – Michael Harvey Feb 16 at 21:36

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