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What's the difference between "They are goofing" and "They are goofing off"? I have heard both, but I don't know the distinction.

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    Be aware that the word "goofing" is primarily US / North American English slang and is very informal (i.e. don't write it in formal emails).
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 20:50
  • I do not know what goofing means without the off after it. It is not grammatical to me.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 21:46
  • @tchrist: Perhaps it's uncommon, but you can find it here and there.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 23:57

2 Answers 2

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I think sometimes they can be used interchangeably, at least informally.

The verb goof has several meanings, none of which are particularly flattering. It can mean:

  • to make a blunder (as in, "Oops! I goofed...", also sometimes called goofing up),
  • to joke around with in a teasing way (as in, "I'm just goofing with you...", also sometimes called goofing on, or goofing around with),
  • or to waste time idly (as in, "We were just goofing at the mall", also sometimes called goofing around, or goofing off).

According to many dictionaries, the phrasal verb goofing off adds to a measure of irresponsibility to the simple act of fooling around – it implies loafing, particularly when one should have been doing something else. However, I'm not convinced most native speakers give much thought to that subtle distinction very often.

According to strict dictionary defintions, then, a group of teenagers hanging around on their skateboards on a Friday afternoon might be said to be goofing or goofing around. However, on a Thursday evening, that same group of teenagers might be said to be goofing off (assuming there's unfinished homework due on Friday).

Here's an Ngram you might find interesting:

enter image description here

As you can see, there's not much distance between the green line and the gold line, showing that, more often than not, the word goofing is used with another word, as in the expressions goofing off or goofing around.

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As verb, goof means "spend time idly or foolishly; fool around"; goof off means "evade a duty; idle or shirk."

I was goofing around and broke my arm.

She was goofing off from her math homework.

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    No, to goof is to make an error: “He goofed” means that he made a mistake.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 21:47
  • Isn't that goof up?
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 21:53
  • Same thing, yeah.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 21:54
  • Where I live, kiamlaluno is quite right. Yes, "goofing off" is always avoiding what you're supposed to be doing but straight "goof" or "goofing" has two very different meanings. kiamlaluno's "I was goofing…" meaning "fooling…" is one, often expressed as "goofing around." tchrist's “He goofed” meaning "made a mistake" is the other, often given as "goofing up." Commented May 24, 2020 at 22:00

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