- I kicked out at the dog.
- I kicked the dog.
What is the difference in meaning between these two sentences?
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:
"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.)