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From NPR, Transcript Here:

The town for years, ever since Bowe was captured, has just been covered in these yellow ribbons and signs saying, bring Bowe home. And we miss you Bowe. And those signs are now being taken down and they're being changed out for signs that say, welcome home Bowe.

I have doubts with the stressed expression "changed out for". I thought she just wanted to say: Thoses signs are being changed to signs that say, welcome home Bowe.

Is the "out" here unnecessary? "Change something to/for something" without "out" seems to be more natural to me.

5 Answers 5

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Changed out means that the signs are being replaced by other signs.

This does not mean the same as change!

Those signs are being changed to signs that say, welcome home Bowe.

This means that I change the sign into another sign (like I can try to change a stone into a sculpture, or a wilderness to a garden).

Consider the following two sentences:

After the reports of rabies, dogs in this village are changed to cats.
After the reports of rabies, dogs in this village are changed out for cats.

The second sentence means people get rid of their dog, and get a cat. The first sentence is really strange: somehow, dogs are turning into cats!

As for the expression change out for, consider it is a translation (and quite literal!) of exchange for.

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  • Thank you. But could you give me some hints about how you sense its difference? I am just curious why the extra "out" can make "change out" different from "change". Is there any other phrase with the same usage of "out"?
    – Searene
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 9:40
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    @MarkZar: I sense it mostly throught the connection of out = ex, so change out = exchange. Although change can mean exchange, it is - in my experience - only used as such when there is no possible confusion between change to and morph into. (As in "I changed my dollars to euros at the bank").
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 11:16
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Yes, you are right, I probably would not use this formation “change out”, it’s unnecessary, and change is a perfectly, fine word.

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  • Initially, I was inclined to side with @oerkelens, and not the blogger you've cited. The blogger has a beef with WSJ's high-end models that let users swap out different lenses, arguing it should be swap. I can see where a writer might think swapping a lens sounds like it means taking it back to the store and buying a new one, while swapping out a lens means putting a new one on the camera and the other one back in the camera bag. But the dictionaries say that change can mean exchange, and I can't find change out as a phrasal verb. Interesting.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 9:22
  • @J.R. I would not say the out is superfluous when it avoids confusion between change to meaning exchange or morph into. For other verbs, like swap, there is no such possible confusion.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 11:17
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In this case:

And those signs are now being taken down and they're being changed out for signs that say, Welcome home Bowe.

Means the physical sign is being removed and replaced with a different one, they could put up the sign that was removed elsewhere (town museum).

Thoses signs are being changed to signs that say, Welcome home Bowe.

This would involve taking the original sign: "Bring Bowe home" and altering the lettering (and adding new letters) or repainting the same sign to say: "Welcome home Bowe".

In this particular case the sentiment in physically removing the old signs is to erase the past and place a positive spin on the situation.

If you read the paragraphs surrounding the quoted one that you linked to:

ROBINSON: It's been just totally excited. The town for years, ever since Bowe was captured, has just been covered in these yellow ribbons and signs saying, bring Bowe home. And we miss you Bowe. And those signs are now being taken down and they're being changed out for signs that say, welcome home Bowe.

The townspeople are focusing on being supportive and on the fellow's health. They want to shift away from him being missing, and the controversy surrounding it, and focus on his recovery.

It's symbolism, along with sparing no expense.

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If you know the definition of change it does not need a modifier of up, down, in, out or any of the added words that people keep using because we have come to accept poor speech, writing and other habits. It is absolutely irksome that we find this more and more in publications and online. I read on a nutition website:

Change out the water every 30 minutes.

Change the water every 30 minutes, was not sufficient? Noticing a change in someone is different and appropriate usage. In most cases we are just learning ways to justify poor English when every sentence needs unnecessary modifiers.

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    While I agree that much writing can be improved by removing unnecessary words, I'm not convinced that's the case in the O.P.'s example. I don't think "change the sign" and "change out the sign" mean exactly the same thing. Change the sign could mean take down a sign, repaint it or rearrange the letters, and put the same sign back up. Change out the sign means the old sign is laying around somewhere.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 17:59
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"Changed out" means "replaced," but some people just seem to think two words are better than one.

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  • I would replace "changed out for" with "replaced with". I don't think that changing out one for the other is as simple as you make it sound. ;) I think it might be helpful to explain why you would choose replace instead of just dropping the out.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 18:14
  • I don't think this has anything to do with "some people thinking two words are better than one." Change out is simply a phrasal verb; people who use phrasal verbs aren't doing so because they are fonder of two words than one.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 19:39

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