Example with a context (an excerpt from "The Art & Science of Java: An Introduction to Computer Science" by Eric Roberts):

If you put a silver dollar into a slot machine and pull the handle on its side, the wheels spin around and eventually come to rest in some new configuration. If the configuration matches one of a set of winning patterns printed on the front of the slot machine, you get back some money. If not, you're out a dollar.

What does that actually mean? Can out a dollar be thought of as some sort of adverbial phrase?


9 Answers 9


It means that, where you once had a dollar, you are now without a dollar.

"Out" here is used in the same way as "paid out" or "laid out" or even "without" implies that something you once had, or might have been expected to have, is not in your possession any more.

There is an added implication, if you use the phrase this way, that you have received nothing in return for the object that you no longer possess. If you want to imply that the amount is trivial, you might say "out only a dollar" or "out only twenty pounds" or whatever your local equivalent might be.

The word "out" can also be used with non-monetary items, like "out twenty bucks and an evening" for a wasted night at the cinema.

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    +1 for etymology, although you could stand to emphasize that still more. Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 17:50

From context, it seems to mean you lose a dollar (the dollar you put into the slot machine).

Other places use the same sentence in a similar sense:

You're just buying a dollar item. If you screw-up, you're out a dollar.

...the perfect place to buy a record just because you like the cover. If it sucks, you're out a dollar.


As the other answers suggest, you're out a dollar literally means you've lost a dollar and gained nothing of value in return.

Something the other answers don't mention: this phrase is typically used in a way that suggests the loss of a dollar is a trivial risk compared to the potential gain, i.e. that whatever you're paying a dollar for could be worth far more than a dollar to you, but if that doesn't end up being the case your loss is minimal.

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    I don't think the phrase is always used only for "trivial risk". For example, I might say to my friend, "I could buy this item on clearance, but if it doesn't work well, I'm out $50!" Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 18:37
  • @Darthfett I agree, that's why I said "typically". I imagine the context would make the triviality of the risk apparent, e.g. $50 is probably not a trivial amount.
    – talrnu
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 19:25

It means that you've lost a dollar.

Just to be clear, as the other answers don't mention this, this is not a set phrase with "a dollar" - it can be used with any amount of money, or to a more limited extent for anything else of value.

For example, a search for the phrase "you're out ten bucks" finds "If you go to a bad movie, you're out ten bucks and an evening." Note that ten bucks is ten dollars.

  • This seems more like a comment to the question than an answer.
    – talrnu
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 19:26
  • @talrnu I intended it as an answer to "Can out a dollar be thought of as some sort of adverbial phrase?".
    – Random832
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 19:28
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    Your answer doesn't answer that question. It just helps to indicate that the phrase isn't limited to any particular amount of dollars. You mention nothing about grammar.
    – talrnu
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 19:30
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    Hmm, it's not a complete answer, but he had relevant information to add. It seems pointless to say that if someone else has already provided the basic answer, that you are not allowed to provide additional information unless you re-state the other person's answer so that your answer is "complete".
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:20

Money comes in when you earn it. Money goes out when you spend it.

It's probably more common to talk about being "out a dollar" when you've lost the money in exchange for little in return as with a non-winning pull on a slot machine. In that case it's clear that you pretty much got nothing for it.

I think you'll also hear it used in settings like this:

I had a great lunch over at that restaurant and I'm only out three dollars!

I wouldn't say it always has to take a negative connotation. Oddly we don't have this as a matching expression:

I'm in $1000 after a great day at the casino. (*)

Here's one that you might still hear (if somebody got lucky):

I'm ahead $1000 after a great day at the casino.

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    Additionally, when talking about casinos people may use "up" or "down" to describe their winnings/loses.
    – Vlad274
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 21:46

If you're 'out a dollar' then you've experienced a net loss of a dollar.

This phrase is often used when you've lost or spent an amount of money and received nothing in return, as in your example where a dollar was inserted into a machine and nothing came out.

Alternatively, you may receive something in return, but not value it as highly as what you lost. If I put ten dollars in a slot machine and get two dollars in prizes, then I'm "out eight dollars".

The phrase can also be used with other amounts of money, e.g. "I'm out ten dollars", or sometimes something else of value, e.g. "I'm out 10 cases of beer". The usage without money is less common and could sound awkward.

This is an adjectival phrase, not an adverbial phrase. In the sentence "I'm out a dollar", "out a dollar" is modifying "I", the same as "stupid" in "I'm stupid" or "faster than you" in "I'm faster than you".

  • It's not used that often and when it is used, it is incorrect English. Just a heads up for people who are learning.
    – iyrin
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:26
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    @iyrin You're the first person I've ever heard even suggest that this is an improper phrase. It's not super formal, but it's perfectly grammatical and well understood. Learners should ignore your poor advice, which they probably will after seeing the downvotes on your answer. We all appreciate you're trying to help, but you're wrong.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:58
  • It is informal. You would not use this in a formal setting. What's wrong with that?
    – iyrin
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 15:23

Yes, it is an adverbial phrase. Out is an adverb here:

Oxford English Dictionary:
Out, adverb

II. Senses relating to position.
** In figurative uses expressing a state arrived at or result achieved.

26. In debt (by a particular amount); without a sum of money to which one is entitled; having spent or invested (an amount of money), esp. with little prospect of return.

1636 R. Sanderson Serm. II. 59 But the thing he stuck at most was the moneys he was out.

a1640 P. Massinger City-Madam (1658) ii. i. 116, I am out now Six hundred in the Cash.

1889 Boston (Mass.) Jrnl. 7 Feb. 1/2 Alleges..he is $5000 out, owing to the dishonesty of..an employe.

1906 U. Sinclair Jungle xxvi. 315 The game continued until late Sunday afternoon, and by that time he was ‘out’ over twenty dollars.

1928 P. G. Wodehouse in Strand Mag. June 535 Looking at the thing in one way, taking the short, narrow view, I am out a lunch. Possibly a very good lunch.

1977 Rolling Stone 19 May 40/5 That left the U.S. companies..looking at enormous losses. Westinghouse and General Electric are out more than $500 million apiece.

  • 1
    Bravo! Given the erroneous sentiments above, I think your OED answer adds much. We can glean a number of things from it: (1) a nice, concise definition of this adverbial use of the word out; (2) the realization that, far from "improper" usage, this usage stretches back for centuries; (3) a very witty example from Wodehouse, which gave me quite a chuckle.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 9:30
  • I think this also shows that the phrase is not limited to trivial amounts.
    – user6951
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 14:36

The meaning is "You've lost a dollar." This meaning is standard English, as shown by the definition and examples in the OED (provided in this answer).

"Out a dollar" is an adverbial phrase modifying the subject "you."

There seems to be some confusion about this, so let's examine the sentence structure of "You are out a dollar." The subject of the sentence is "you". The verb is "are," which is a linking verb. What follows the verb is the subject complement: "out a dollar."

  • I've donated this as a community wiki because there is obviously a lot of confusion around this. I would like to encourage others to help explain the poor sentence structure that led to OP's confusion. Happy learning!
    – iyrin
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 16:04
  • out of is not an idiom, it is a compound preposition.
    – user6951
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 1:08
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    The reader does not have to "fix" the sentence. The phrase out a dollar is natural English.
    – user6951
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 1:09
  • Only informally. Please see the references or cite something that shows otherwise.
    – iyrin
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 1:49
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    See The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language pages 624-625 for evidence against treating out of as a compound preposition. Calling it an idiom (as in this answer) is probably more accurate.
    – user230
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 2:16

It seems nobody has answered the question yet and I think it is an interesting one. What does it actually mean to say "You're out a dollar?"

Is there any definition of "out" that could make this sentence make sense? "Out," used as an adverb, makes reference to a place. "Out here. Out there. Where are you going? Out a dollar." No. That's obviously not right.

The adjective almost makes sense, except that the subject of the sentence is you. "You're out." Makes sense so far. That's like saying "You're gone." So let's apply that. "You're gone a dollar." That doesn't make sense to a native English speaker. Why doesn't it?

We don't write it this way in English because if we want to convey that it is the dollar that is gone, not the person, then we must make the dollar the subject of the sentence.

You could say "Your dollar is out." Although, this requires further explanation to specify from where your dollar is out: "Your dollar is out of your possession." Of course, to a native English speaker, that feels a bit cumbersome and redundant since we know it can be conveyed more succinctly by simply saying "You've lost a dollar."

"You're out a dollar" sounds like poor English for poor people. If you wish to say something like this in the future, just say "You've lost a dollar" like a grammatically correct English speaker.

Edit: English learners - I maintain, do not use this phrase if you intend to speak English properly. Go ahead and search for the phrase with quotes "out a dollar" and you will quickly discover that this is not a common phrase. In fact, this question is currently the top search result for me because it's such an uncommon, incorrect use of English.

Edit: After a lot of discussion and downvotes, I am still not convinced that the phrase "You're out a dollar" is grammatically correct. Please be aware that this is in fact a slang phrase and, while you are welcome to choose to use it, you deserve to know that is slang. It is not recommended if you are going to be using it in a formal setting.

I'm sorry people are having trouble understanding this, but the phrase is slang. I'm astonished that anybody familiar with the English language would insist that it is grammatically correct. It's not.

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    This answer spends a long time discussing what the phrase doesn't mean, and then ends with an extremely judgemental conclusion based on obnoxious socioeconomic stereotypes. And what is "normal" English, anyway? Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:05
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    I think it would be better characterized as informal or colloquial rather than "incorrect". (I think it's important not to conflate correctness with formality.) I found some examples in COCA and quoted them in chat, and there were plenty more I didn't quote, so we can see that English speakers certainly do use this phrase, even in published writing.
    – user230
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:29
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    -1, This answer is wrong from beginning to end. "Out a [amount of currency]" is a perfectly normal phrase, at least in America. In this context, 'out' can be looked at as an adjective with a meaning close to 'without'. "I am out a dollar" ~ "I am without a dollar", except you may still have some dollars, you're just without the dollar you lost.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:55
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    The reason "out a dollar" doesn't return many hits is because you're searching for an exact amount. Try searches like "I'm out * dollars". I did, and found several hits, including this one from an Encyclopedia Brown book: "I was supposed to feel like Hercules. Instead I feel like a fat slob. And I'm out two dollars!" This is normal, idiomatic speech.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 13:51
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    If you accept "You're up a dollar" as being grammatical, it's very hard to argue that "You're [any other preposition] a dollar" is ungrammatical. This isn't an issue of grammar. Commented May 1, 2015 at 13:43

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