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  1. I kicked out at the dog.
  2. I kicked the dog.

What is the difference in meaning between these two sentences?

2 Answers 2

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I kicked out at the dog.

This means I aimed a kick in the general direction of the dog. My foot may or may not have actually touched it.

I kicked the dog.

This means I actually kicked the dog - my foot connected with it.

See the Free Dictionary:

kick out (at someone or something)
to thrust one's foot outward at something. The ostrich kicked out at the men trying to catch her. The mule kicked out and just missed me.

Source

kick
v.tr.
1. To strike with the foot: kicked the wall in frustration.

Source

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"Kicked the dog" is a meaningful phrase. It needs a subject, like "Sally kicked the dog." But then the meaning is clear: Sally kicked something. What did she kick? The dog.

"Kicked out at the dog" has no clear meaning.

Perhaps you have heard a sentence like, "Sally kicked out the dog". That is, without the "at". To "kick someone or something out" is to force it to leave the premises. If you kick out the dog, you are forcing him to leave your house or the room or whatever space is under discussion. It is common to say that a landlord kicked out a tenant, or that a man was kicked out of the house by his wife. Note that when "kicked" is used this way it is not being used literally. When a woman kicks her husband out of the house, she does not literally kick him. (Well, she might, but that's not what the word means.)

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  • That sentence is written in Enid Blyton's novel named The Burned Cottage. I have copied from there. May 25, 2015 at 15:32
  • Kicking out at definitely has a meaning. It's similar to the "at" in "lashing out at". May 25, 2015 at 16:20
  • Well, I don't recall ever hearing "kicking out at", either as a synonym for "lashing out at" or any other way. Perhaps its a regionalism. I guess like any case of "I have never heard this word or phrase", it could be that I just happen to not have seen or noticed it.
    – Jay
    May 25, 2015 at 17:47
  • Are you from the US? It's possible it's British English - that's what I speak and what the source text OP got it from was written in. Also, I didn't mean to imply it was a synonym for lashing out at, just that it's a similar usage of "at", meaning "in the general direction of". May 25, 2015 at 20:03
  • No, it isn't just BrE. It's common over here as well. Ngram viewer has statistically equivalent usage in both BrE and AmE. However, "kick out the" is a great deal more common than "kick out at the", and "lash out at" is also a great deal more common than "kick out at". Probably because in both cases they are done a great deal more often. Kicking out at something isn't nice, after all.
    – BobRodes
    May 25, 2015 at 21:49

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