The preposition part of some phrasal verbs seem to add no additional meaning to the verb. Take as an example “out” in the following phrasal verbs;

Write out, Miss out, Test out, List out, Type out, Try out, Skip out (on sth), Write out, Rent out, Separate (them) out, Clean out, Help out, Print out.

how does the preposition “out” change the meaning or emotion of these verbs? E.g, what is the difference between the sentences in the following pairs?

a) He really helped me.
b) He really helped me out.

a) Write it!
b) Write it out!

a) I tested that idea.
b) I tested out that idea.

  • Closely related: any difference between 'testing out' and 'testing'? May 29, 2022 at 9:56
  • Most of these are essentially resultative, stressing a laying or spreading or throwing or giving out (from the original position). 'Miss / skip out' (as with 'leave out') stress separation, as probably does 'help out [of a hole]'. 'Test out' is giving me cause to wonder. May 29, 2022 at 9:59
  • @EdwinAshworth: for me, "test it out" is a synonym for "try it out". May 29, 2022 at 11:21
  • 1
    The doctor told me to cut out smoking = eliminate cigarettes // The doctor told me to cut down on smoking = reduce the number of cigarettes // The doctor told me to cut smoking = ambiguous, eliminate or reduce?
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 29, 2022 at 11:46
  • See also What's the difference between "write" and "write out"?
    – Laurel
    May 29, 2022 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


The Collins Cobuild Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs has a Particles Index. The introduction to the index makes it clear that in many cases the particle emphasises, modifies or extends the meaning of the same verb without the particle.

The index then lists the common meanings of each phrasal verb particle. It has 14 different meanings of the particle out.

For example, the main dictionary entry on help out states:

If you help out or help someone out, you do them a favour, such as lending them money or doing some of their work.

The particles index lists help out under Section 13: Supporting and helping, along with bail out and several others.

Write out, print out, type out and clean out are in Section 8: Thoroughness and completeness, with many others such as carry out and hear out. The entry to this section states:

You use out in combination with verbs which describe activities in order to indicate that the activity is done thoroughly or completely.

Test out and list out do not appear in the dictionary but could be included alongside the others in Section 8.

Skip out is in Section 1: Leaving, which includes the introductory text "leaving a work activity".

Separate out is in Section 11 Arranging, dividing, selecting, and distributing. Also in this section is rent out. But rent and rent out have opposite meanings, at least in my variant of British English.

So, in summary, it is not always true that particles "add no additional meaning".

  • 1
    Marvellous. And apparently you can get a copy for less than 2% of the cost of a new CGEL. May 29, 2022 at 13:26
  • That's quite a resource. Probly oughta add it to the lists on Meta. May 29, 2022 at 14:55

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