top of page

The Phrasal Verb 'Check Out' Explained

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'check out', with examples and exercises.


A person checking out of a hotel and paying by card

Hello and welcome to my blog all about English phrasal verbs. Each week, I take a different phrasal verb and look at how it is used by native speakers, with a focus on the different meanings that it has and the expressions and idioms that it is used in.


If you follow me on social media or have read many of my posts in the past, you may have noticed that I use the phrasal verb 'check out' a lot. Consequently, I thought it was about time that 'check out' had a post of its own and so in this post we will put it under the microscope and look at all its different uses. So, without further ado, let's get started....


CHECK OUT : KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

7

Separable?

Yes

Past tense forms

Checked out - Checked out

British or American?

Both

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here.

 

THE BASICS

The letters A-G spelled out in different coloured plasticine on a red background

Before we look at the meanings of 'check out', let's take a quick look at the words which make it up.


The verb 'check' is a commonly used verb in English, which has a couple of different meanings but the most common one is 'to verify something by examination'. This word can pose problems for some English learners who often use the word 'control' instead of the word' check because it is a notorious "false friend" in many languages and the verb 'to control' in English generally has a very different meaning i.e. to exert power over someone or something.

A Way Out sign with an arrow

The prepositional particle 'out' is one that has featured in many of my posts already and isused to talk about the exterior of something, or movement towards an outside space when used as an adverb.


So, with that in mind, let's take a look at the different meanings of 'check out'...

 

MEANING 1: To leave a hotel


CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable?

Yes (rarely)

Potential synonyms

To leave, to vacate, to pay up, to settle up

The first meaning of 'check out' will be familiar to anybody who has ever stayed in a hotel in an English-speaking country, as it means 'to pay the bill for your hotel room and leave the hotel or accommodation where you are staying'.

A checklist with a Yes and No box

The origins of this particular application are relatively recent (1950s) and I believe that it comes from the meaning of the verb 'to check', as in to mark something off a list, which is also linked to the noun 'checklist'. When a guest leaves a hotel, they are marked on the list as being 'out' of their room, which is now vacant for the next guests to use (after the cleaners have been in, of course). The application of 'check out' in this sense also covers the payment process and anything else that may be involved with the guest's departure. In other words, 'check out' has evolved in English to cover the entire procedure.


Normally, when using 'check out' in this way, we do not require a direct object, however occasionally it can be used in a transitive way (with a direct object) when referring to a person who is performing the action of "checking someone out" by taking the key from the guest, updating the computer system, taking payment etc. The guest is always the direct object in this case.


Moreover, it is very common to hear check out used with certain words such as 'time', 'late' and 'procedure'. Check-out is regularly used as a noun too.


Examples of usage....

Do you have any idea what time we have to check out of our rooms tomorrow morning?
There was a problem with the computers in the hotel and the receptionist had real problems checking us out.
I've paid for a late check-out tomorrow, so we can stay in bed a little longer.
 

MEANING 2: To look at something



CEFR Language Level

​B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

Separable

Yes

Potential synonyms

To look at, to take a look,

Now we come to the second meaning of 'check out', which is the one that I use a lot on my social media accounts as the central meaning of it is 'to look at something'. There are however slightly different variations within the meaning of this usage, which are dependant on the situation.


Firstly, as I mentioned, the core meaning here is to look at something and this can often be used as an imperative when we want someone to give their attention to something, especially if we think that it will amuse, entertain or shock them in some way.

Examples of usage....

Oh wow, check out what Lisa is wearing today! You are not going to believe it!
I saw this amazing video online last night, here check it out!
Check out my new shoes, they're pretty nice aren't they!

A second variation of this usage is to look at something out of curiosity, often because other people have told you about it and you want to see what it is like with your own eyes. For example, if several people tell you that a restaurant is very good, you may also want to go there to check it out for yourself and see what it is like.


Further to this however, the action of 'checking out' refers to more than simply seeing something and also includes experiencing something with some or all of your senses and this can be used with anything from music to food and books.


Examples of usage....

A few people have told me that this album is really good, so I am going to check it out tonight to see what all of the fuss is about.
When you go to New York, you need to check out this restaurant in Brooklyn. You'll love it!
We only moved to the city last week, so we are going to spend this weekend checking out everything that it has to offer.
 

MEANING 3: To prove to be true



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Separable

No

Potential synonyms

To corroborate, to confirm, to verify

The third usage of 'check out' is quite similar the second usage that we just discussed as it also means to 'look at something', however, this time in the sense of 'considering it' or 'thinking about it', with the extra element of investigating and verifying if it is true or not.


In other words, if someone makes a claim about something and you are not sure if the claim is truthful or not, you may need to check out the details of it in order to establish if what the person is claiming is indeed real. This is quite similar to the phrasal verb 'look into', but where 'look into' places maximum emphasis emphasis on investigating the details of something, 'check out' is more concerned with whether or not a claim is true or false, although some investigation is also usually required.


Examples of usage....

Can you please leave this with me so I can check out the details and come back to you.
The criminal has told the police that he wasn't in the area at the time of the crime, so they are checking out his story now to see if it is true.

A notable and frequently used variation of this usage is when we say that something 'checks out', meaning that something proves to be true following an investigation. For this, the verb form is inseparable and we do not place any direct object between 'check' and 'out'.


Examples of usage....

Following their investigation, the police confirmed that the criminal's alibi checked out and he was definitely not in the area at the time of the crime.
I've looked into what Lisa is saying about the fraud claims in the company and it checks out.
 

MEANING 4: To ogle someone



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

Separable

​Yes

Potential synonyms

To ogle, to leer, to give someone the glad eye, to perv on

The fourth meaning of 'check out' is yet another extension of the 'look at' meaning that we have already covered in the post and it means 'to ogle someone', which means to look at someone with sexual interest.


You will note in the potential synonyms section above that we have many ways of describing this in English and in comparison with some of its synonyms, I think that 'check out' is more light-hearted and socially acceptable than others such as 'leer' and 'ogle', which carry more sinister and negative connotations. As such, you may hear this form in English song lyrics and upbeat movies etc.


Examples of usage....

That guy over there in the white and blue t-shirt has been checking you out for the last 15 minutes! He's really into you!
I was on a date with a guy last week and I noticed that he was checking out every single woman that walked past, so I went home and left him there.
 

MEANING 5: To enter into a cash register


An open cash register with notes and coins inside

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Rare / specific

Separable

Yes

Potential synoyms

To ring through, to serve

The fifth meaning of 'check out' is a meaning that tends to be used in American English and means to operate a cash register in a shop, store or supermarket. This usage is used specifically to talk about the complete action of a cashier entering the goods to be purchased into a cash register, calculating the price to be paid by the customer and taking payment from them accordingly. The best equivalent of this in British English would be 'to serve'.


Furthermore, 'check out' is also used in American English when talking about borrowing books from libraries and refers to the action of registering with the library that you are taking the books for limited period of time, at which point the books in question will be marked as 'out' on the library system, in a similar fashion to checking out in a hotel.


Examples of usage

I am so tired as I have been checking out customers all day and the store was so busy!
Lisa checked out five library books last week and has read them all aleady!
The word 'TIPS' spelled out using wooden blocks

EXTRA TIP TO HELP BOOST YOUR ENGLISH

A smiling lady paying another smiling lady at a shop checkout

I imagine that many of you will already know this, but the noun 'checkout' is one which is derived directly from the phrasal verb and refers to the part of the shop in which payment for goods is made.


 

MEANING 6: To die


A cemetery on a hillside with the sun setting and mist in the background

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare / informal

Separable

No

Potential synonyms

To die, to pass away, to pop your clogs, to kick the bucket

Meaning number six of 'check out' is a very informal meaning used in American English and is a slang form used to mean 'to die'. As a native British English speaker, this meaning is quite alien to me and is not one that I would personally use, however if you prefer American English then is certainty one worth knowing.

 

MEANING 7: To stop paying attention to something



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare / informal

Separable

No

Potential synonyms

To lose interest, to zone out

Now we have come to our seventh and final meaning of 'check out', which is another informal application, once again used primarily in American English, and means to lose interest in something and to stop paying attention to it. This is often used for situations in which people need to concentrate on something but they get bored and start thinking about something else, in other words they 'mentally check out of the conversation or situation'.


Examples of usage....

Sorry, what did you just say? I'm afraid I checked out about five minutes ago.
Roger looked at his pupils and could see some who had clearly checked out and were playing on their cellphones.
 

The word 'BONUS' spelled out using different coloured helium balloons held up by different people's hands

EXTRA TIP TO SOUND MORE LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER

If you spend time with any native speakers, you may have heard them use the expression 'check you out!'. This is a common informal expression that is used to say that you are impressed either with something that somebody has done or with a skill that the person has acquired. For example, if someone shows you a new skateboarding trick that they have learned and you find it impressive, you might say to them "wow, check you out!".


Examples of usage....

You've had your hair cut, check you out!
Check you out! You've passed all of your exams and are off to Cambridge university. Im very impressed.
 

Question marks in different coloured speech bubbles on a black background

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to check out'....

  1. What time do we need to leave the hotel tomorrow morning?

  2. Oh wow, look at what John has written about you on Facebook!

  3. Please let me look into this and come back to you.

  4. I've investigated Lisa's alibi and it doesn't prove to be correct.

  5. John was tired after a day at work spent taking payment on the cash register.

  6. Sorry, I stopped paying attention to the debate ten minutes ago.

The answers will be available on next week's post.

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'CARRY OUT' (other variations may be possible)

  1. John was not able to lift CARRY the sofa OUT on his own.

  2. The mechanics CARRIED OUT the work on my car last week.

  3. We are CARRYING OUT the financial audit in the first week of September.

  4. Sadly, I was not able to CARRY OUT my plans as I became ill.

  5. The CEO wasn't really going to CARRY OUT his threats to fire his staff.

  6. Angus and Morag sat at home and ordered CARRY-OUT food from the Chinese CARRY-OUT.

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'check out' below. I really love reading them. If you want to receive new blog posts directly email every week, please sign up on the form below. See you next time! James



Comments


JOIN THE MAILING LIST TO RECEIVE NEW POSTS DIRECT IN YOUR INBOX!

Thanks for submitting! A new phrasal verb post will be emailed to you every Friday!

bottom of page