What's the difference between 'to find out' and 'to figure out'?

Are they exchangeable in any context all the time?

  • Very few things are "exchangeable in any context all the time." This one isn't even close. Assuming you've already checked a dictionary, you might want expand your question a bit. Here's why. – J.R. Feb 16 '15 at 18:02

They are subtly different. To figure something out implies the active use of intellect--the phrase derives from the use of the word "figure" to indicate a written number or character, as in a mathematical problem or puzzle. It takes work or effort to figure something out.

To find something out simply means to discover it, and the act of discovery may be passive (such as being told) or active, as "to figure out" is used.

I found out where the stairs are when Bob told me.

I figured out where the stairs are by exploring the building.


Both of these phrases have very similar meanings, but there are some implications that can be important.

To "find" something means to locate it by searching. "To find out" implies that the answer exists elsewhere, and through research or investigation, you will get that existing answer.

To "figure" something means to apply logic and reason. "To figure out" implies that you will determine the answer yourself without outside help, often through trial and error.

So, if you were asked "Does that spare part fit your engine?" you might reply:

"I'll find out," and go check the manual to see if the part will fit.

"I'll figure it out," and attempt to mount the part to see if it will fit.

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