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I came across this:

"Thought my old man was out back stacking wood"

I actually don't know if a broader context is needed but to my it is a straight sentence and the reason this is confusing to is the "out back" part.

I don't know if it is:

1 - Thought my old man was out(outside) back(again) stacking wood

OR

2 - Thought my old man was out(outside) back(In yard) stacking wood

also it seems like out back has a meaning of its own

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  • It's a fairly common feature of relaxed conversational English that we sometimes omit the verb subject from the initial position in an utterance. The most well-known example being the "imperative", as in Go away! (omitted subject You). It also occurs with non-imperative Didn't expect that, did you? (again, implied subject You missing from initial position). In your examples, the implied but missing subject is obviously I (first person singular). With missing definite article ...out the back. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 12:07
  • You get it right. Out means outside, not in the house, back - in the backyard, behind the house... Another meaning would be possible if back-stacking were a thing :) Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 12:15
  • @FumbleFingers, isn't the preposition "in" also needed? like "In the back" another point is: don't you think omitting things like that gives the reader the possibilit of second interpretations? like the one I gave back(again)? Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 12:32
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    The 'back again' sense doesn't really fit with out preceding it. She might say "I thought he was back out there stacking wood". Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 12:57
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    out back is so common in (US?) English that Wiktionary lists it as an adverb: "(US) Outside at the back., e.g., My car is parked out back." (Saying back out stacking wood seems very unlikely to me.) Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 13:37

1 Answer 1

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"out back" is an idiom. It means "(in) the area behind the house" i.e. "(in) the backyard."

I'm out back!

Take this out back.

My car is parked out back.

Both British and American, but perhaps more common in American English.

You might notice, if you listen carefully. A difference in the pronunciation of "out back" from "outback" (which means the Australian bushlands)

Also the subject has been omitted. The implied subject is "I".

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  • I don't think this is at all idiomatic in British English. We would recognise it, but only as an Americanism. We'd say something like "out in the back garden". Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 19:55

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