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Sometimes I find phrasal verbs "turn out", "play out" and "work out" quite close in meaning. I know that in general they have a few different meanings. According to dictionaries, as I understand, there is a common meaning that they share which is "to happen or develop in a particular way".

In the sentence "She assured him that everything would turn out all right" can we substitute "work" or "play" for "turn"?

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As idioms, "work out", "play out" and "turn out" may sometimes be interchangeable but they do have their own inferences.

"Work out" and "play out" are largely interchangeable. They both can be used to refer to the result of events, or outworkings. The only difference is that "work out" is more literal, referring to outworkings, whereas "play out" is a sporting analogy that would literally refer to the end result of a sports game but is used to refer to any situation in which an end result is anticipated.

"Turn out", of the three idioms in question, can uniquely be used to refer to a discovery. For example, "my teacher turned out to be nicer than I imagined".

can we substitute "work" or "play" for "turn"?

These words have very different meanings in isolation and are not usually interchangeable, except perhaps for in other idioms, for example, "close of play" is another idiom referring to the end of a working day. The literal meaning of 'work' and 'play' could not be more different.

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These three are not exactly the same. They have small differences in meaning (and as Astralbee implies, they may have larger differences in contexts other than your example), and small differences in register (play out is slightly more informal). Play out might be more US English; I haven't heard it that much in the UK.

To me, "everything will work/turn out alright" suggests that there were problems in the situation, and the speaker expects them to be resolved. With "play out", you are starting from a slightly more neutral situation, waiting to see how things develop.


Linguistic note: You are right in your intuition that the phrasal verbs with "out" share some sort of abstract meaning. Compare also come out, find out (be found out). This is the case in many languages. There is a cognitive reason for this: we can conceptualize moving towards a goal as moving from the inside outwards. See the work of George Lakoff on metaphor if interested.

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    play out has more of a "passive observer" connotation, IMO. Dec 10 '20 at 15:44
  • Yes, I agree: Let's wait and see how this plays out.
    – legatrix
    Dec 10 '20 at 16:28
  • How about "let's wait and see how this works/turns out?"?
    – Vova
    Dec 12 '20 at 1:50

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