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The Phrasal Verb 'Come Out' Explained

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'come out', with lots of examples in context.

The sun coming out from behind a cloud

Hello and welcome to my website for English learners all about English phrasal verbs!


The phrasal verb 'come out' has a large number of different meanings in English, however luckily for learners, many of them are just variations on the theme of emerging from something used in different situations. In this post, I will explain all of these different meanings and the ways that they can be used, as well as idiomatic expressions and common collocations featuring the phrasal verb 'come out'. So, without further ado, let's make a start. Don't forget to leave a comment at the end with your own sentence using 'come out'.


COME OUT: KEY INFORMATION For an explanation of the terms in the table, click here

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

10

Separable?

No

Past tense forms

Came out / Come out

 
The letters ABC written on a blackboard with books and chalk sticks in the foreground

THE BASICS


Let's start the post by examining the individual words 'come' and 'out' and what they mean on their own.


Firstly, we have the verb 'to come', which is one of the most common verbs in the English language and is used to refer to movement towards where the speaker is, was or will be.


I am coming to your party this evening.
John came to work an hour late.

In addition to this meaning, it can also be used to mean 'to happen', 'to arrive' or 'to develop'. Moreover, it is used in many different phrasal verb constructions, with a lot of them having a meaning of coming, changing or ending.


Next, we have the prepositional particle 'out', which functions as the natural opposite of the particle 'on' and refers to being on, or moving towards the exterior of something. 'Out' can be used as a preposition, adverb, adjective, verb and even a noun in English...it is very diverse!


So, now that we have considered the basics of these two component words, let's look at what meanings they have when they are combined to form a phrasal verb....

 

MEANING 1: To emerge from an internal space

A whale coming out of the sea

CEFR Language Level

A1 - Beginner

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Synonyms

To emerge

Separable?

No

Let's start the meanings of the phrasal verb 'come out' with a nice and simple one, which means 'to emerge from an internal space'.


This meaning is purely the literal meaning of the combination of the verb 'to come', as in to move from one place towards where the speaker is, and the particle 'out', as in from an internal space to an external one. As I explained in the Basics section, the verb 'to come' is used to describe a movement towards where the speaker is and therefore for this application the speaker is always outside of the interior space that the person or thing is emerging from.


As you can imagine, this application is typically used with nouns that people or animals can physically be inside, such as buildings, holes, boxes, rooms etc. The list is extensive! Aside from this, we can also use it for nouns for physical spaces with which we use 'in' in general, such as water, meeting and hiding places. We can even also use it with 'womb' to talk about being born.


When I came out of the airport, I was amazed at how cold it was!
I am worried about my friend. She has refused to come out of her house for several days now.
Humans are extremely vulnerable when they come out of the womb.
As I picked up my shoe, a big spider came out from inside it.
Come out and face me, you coward!

A turtle walking along

IDIOM ALERT

Something else that some animals, such as turtles and crabs, can come out of is a shell. Whilst this exists as a literal meaning to describe the emergence of these animals from their protective covers, 'to come out of one's shell' is also a common English idiom, which means 'to become more socially confident and talkative'. This is typically used for people who are shy and timid and then gradually lose their shyness and become more at ease in social situations.


Lisa has really come out of her shell since she started working in the shop.
John is so quiet. Do you think he will ever come out of his shell?
 

MEANING 2: To become visible

Stars and galaxies in the night sky

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To appear

Separable?

No

Nouns commonly used with

Stars, sun, moon, flowers, birds

Our second meaning of 'come out' is very much a continuation of the first meaning that we have just looked at and means 'to become visible'.


This application of 'come out' is typically used in collocation with certain nouns for naturally occurring phenomena, many of which are found in the sky, such as the sun and stars.


The idea behind this usage is that the nouns in question are not visible all the time e.g. the stars are not visible during the day, and so for the time that they are not visible they are hidden from view until the evening comes when they come out of their imaginary hiding place.


As well as objects found in the sky, it is also common to use this application of 'come out' with flowers to describe when they bloom and their petals are visible.


The clouds cleared and the sun came out.
There was a clear sky that evening and the stars came out as soon as dusk arrived.
The birds come out very early on summer mornings in order to catch their food.
It is lovely at this time of year when all of the flowers come out.

BONUS INFORMATION

Another important sub-meaning of 'come out' that I want to make you aware of here is a medical one and is used specifically when things become visible on your skin, such as bruises, a rash, spots or hives. For this usage, we require the additional preposition 'in', giving us the construction "to come out in".


Sarah's son came out in an allergic rash all over his body.
Typical! The day before the school prom and my face has come out in spots.
For some reason my leg has come out in bruises but I do not remember hurting myself there.
 

MEANING 3: To be made available for public consumption

A typewriter typing out the words 'ready to get published'

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To be released

Separable?

No

Nouns commonly used with

Book, album, song, product, newspaper, magazine

If you have a favourite author, then you will surely get very excited when you hear they are releasing a new book, or in other words that they have a book 'coming out'. That is because the next meaning of 'come out' is 'to be made available for public consumption'.


This application refers to anything that is created and released to the public to be consumed and ranges from books, songs and albums to new products that are made available on the market.


This meaning has developed from the usage of 'out' as an adjective to mean 'available to buy, see or consume', with the verb 'to come' here being used to add the idea of being or released or made available.


The next edition of the newspaper is coming out tomorrow morning.
When this song first came out I hated it, but I have grown to love it since then.
My company's new product is going to come out next year, so we are working hard on our marketing and advertising strategy.

On a grammatical note, as you may have noticed from my initial example, a commonly used construction with this application of 'come out' is 'to have something coming out' and this is something that I see and hear a lot in everyday spoken English. Also, note that 'come out' cannot be used in an active way, i.e. you cannot say that an author is coming out a new book'. Instead, you would use 'bring out' as a phrasal verb in this instance.


Coldplay have a new album coming out next year and I am really looking forward to listening to it.
I've checked my favourite author's website and apparently she has a new book coming out in December.

Are you looking forward to any albums, books or creative works coming out? Tell me in the comments section here.

 

MEANING 4: To become known

A woman speaking into a loudspeaker

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To get out, to leak, to come to light

Separable?

No

In the last section, I explained how if something comes out, it is made available for public consumption and this next meaning of 'come out' is very similar to this as it is means 'to become known'.


For this usage, the primary focus is on information, or more specifically information that was once secret or confidential. If this information comes out about a famous person, then it becomes public knowledge, or if the person involved is a mere mortal like you or me, then we would say that it is well-known.


When the news first came out about the Queen's death, I was really shocked.
If it comes out that I was involved in this, my career will be over!
The information first came out in the newspapers and spread around the globe like wildfire.
 

MEANING 5: To reveal your sexual identity

A person standing up holding a rainbow flag behind them

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To reveal

Separable?

No

Let's stay with the theme of revealing previously secret or confidential information for this next meaning of 'come out' as this one means 'to reveal your sexual identity'.


This application of 'come out' is most commonly used to talk about someone who is gay or lesbian and who decides to make the information public to the people around them, or for celebrities, the public in general.


This usage is in fact a shortened form of the expression 'to come out of the closet', which describes gay people no longer hiding their true selves or feelings in a fictional closet and whilst this expression can still be heard today, 'come out' on its own tends to be used much more. Moreover, if you use this form of 'come out' on its own without any reference to an internal space (except for closet), then it will be generally understood that you are referring to someone's sexuality.


Due to the increasingly relaxed attitudes around homosexuality in many English speaking countries over the past 50 years, this usage of 'come out' has become more widespread in usage. Aside from sexuality, it is also used to talk about when someone reveals any sort of sexual preference or gender status such as transsexual, non-binary or asexual.


John came out to his friends and family when he was 16.
When Sarah came out as gay, nobody was really surprised or shocked, much to her relief.
Coming out can be a very stressful and worrying process for many people.
 

MEANING 6: To say something

People saying hello to one another in different languages

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To say, to blurt out, to spit out

Separable?

No

For our next meaning of 'come out', we are going to stay with the same theme of something emerging from an internal space. This time though we are talking about words emerging from your mouth, as this next meaning is 'to say something'.


Firstly, this is not an exact synonym of 'to say' as it is not possible to 'come out a word', however it is more used to talk about your ability or inability to say something. One common way that this is used is for when you are unable to speak or say something or when you don't say something properly or how it was intended.


When it was time to give my speech, I was so nervous that the words didn't come out.
Every time I try to pronounce his surname, it comes out wrong.
I am so sorry if I offended you, it came out wrong and i did not mean to say it like that.

Secondly, if we want to use 'come out' to specify particular words or things that we have said, then we can add the extra preposition 'with', giving us the construction 'to come out with something'.


We use this particular construction when someone says something unexpected, unusual or surprising. This can also often be something that may considered rude or may be a confession or revelation of some sort. It's essentially the kind of comment or remark that surprises or shocks the other people in the conversation.


In the middle of our conversation last night, my husband suddenly came out with the fact that he wants a divorce. I feel so shocked!
My brother told me he is moving to Australia. He just came out with it as if it wasn't a big thing.
She came out with it mid-conversation and nobody knew what to say to her.

Lastly, as I mentioned previously, the construction 'to come out with something' can be used when somebody confesses something or reveals something secret. Consequently, people often use this in an imperative form when they want someone to confess or reveal some secret information...


Come on, I know that you know who committed the crime. Just come out with it.
John, stop beating around the bush* and come out with it. What do you want to tell me?

*To beat around the bush is a common English idiom that means 'to avoid talking about what is important or necessary'.

 

MEANING 7: To declare a side

A person giving a thumbs up

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To support

Separable?

No

Our seventh meaning of 'come out' means 'to declare a side' and is all about whether you are for or against something.


The idea here is all about declaring or announcing that you are either in favour of something or in opposition to something, when your preference has never previously been made public or made known.


This is usually used when talking about high-profile, famous or well-known people and their stances on political parties, political or social movements, conflicts, disputes, and arguments.


Commonly used collocations that you are likely to come across with this application of 'come out' are 'to come out in favour / support of' for those who are for something and 'to come out in opposition to' for those against it.


The well known media personality came out in support of the oppressed people and urged others to do what they could to help.
The politician came out in opposition to the proposed deal with the nationalist right wing party.
A large number of church ministers yesterday came out against the plan to cut funding to their charities.
 

MEANING 8: To be removed (of a stain)

A person looking down at a stain on her white top

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To be removed

Separable?

No

There are many benefits of wearing white clothes; they provide coolness in hot weather, look clean and smart and they go with pretty much all other colours. However, one major drawback of them, especially for messy eaters like me, is that it is easy to stain them and is often quite difficult to remove the stains. That is what this next meaning of 'come out' can be applied as it means 'to remove a stain'.


Now, of course this application of 'come out' does not just apply to white clothes and can be used for any colour of clothes, or indeed any stain on material or fabric such as a sofa, carpet or sheet.


For other harder surfaces such as floors and walls, 'come out' can be used however, I think 'come off' is perhaps used more. I think that the reason for this is that for materials and fabrics, the stain is caused by a substance that sinks into the material and is not just sitting on the surface of it. When we remove the stain, we therefore make it come out of the fabric, whereas on hard surfaces such as a wall, the stain is more on the surface rather than inside it and 'off' would sound better here as the natural opposite of 'on'.


Red wine stains will come out if you pour white wine onto them and leave it for a while.
I've washed this white shirt several times on different temperatures and this stain will not come out.
Oh don't worry about those pen marks on your coat, they will come out in the wash.
Roger dropped some mustard on the cream sofa but luckily he scrubbed it and it came out straight away.
 

MEANING 9: To go somewhere to socialise

People socialising and drinking wine in a pub

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

British

Potential synonyms

To go out, to socialise

Separable?

No

If you've ever spent much time in the UK or with British people, you will know that they like to go 'out' at the weekends. In other words, to go to a pub, bar, restaurant or nightclub (or a combination) with their friends to socialise, have a drink and relax. This next meaning is a British usage that is very much connected to this as it is simply 'to go somewhere to socialise'.


Often this is used in the form of an invitation, where one persons asks another to join them when they go out or it can be used as a response to the person to say that they will join them. Remember that the verb 'to come' is used to refer to movement towards the speaker or a specified place where the speaker will be and in this case it is 'out'.


Additionally, as a child before the days of internet and smartphones, I remember knocking on my friends' front doors and asking them if they "were coming out to play", which I guess is just the children's equivalent of the adult's socialising.


Are you coming out tonight? If so, meet us in The King's Head at 8pm.
Sorry for my late reply. I've managed to get a babysitter, so I will come out.
Do you know who is coming out tomorrow evening?
 

MEANING 10: To finish in a particular way

A lady crossing the finishing line of a long distance race in first place

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To end up

Separable?

No

We have now come to the final meaning of the phrasal verb 'come out' and rather appropriately, this one is all about finishing something. Now, it doesn't in fact mean to end something, but rather to be in a specified state or way when something finishes or at the end of an experience.


Firstly, this one is often used with competitions, sporting events and polls to talk about who won or lost something, i.e. once the competition or poll has ended.


The United Kingdom came out as the winners of the 1997 Eurovision song contest, following a very close vote.
Tyson Fury came out as the eventual loser in his heavyweight title boxing match against Oleksandr Usyk.
The votes have been counted and we are pleased to announce that the third design option for the new park came out as the most popular among local residents.

Further to this, this application of 'come out' can also be used when referring to experiences and situations that people go through in life.


I came out of the experience a much better and more well-rounded person.
Helen came out of it feeling like an idiot.
Sarah came out of her relationship with a new sense of self worth.
 
'Thank you' written on a note with a heart underneath

We have now reached the end of this post and I just want to say thank you for clicking on my post and reading it. I hope that you've enjoyed it and have been able to learn something new and that you've come out of the experience with more English knowledge than before.


Now it is YOUR turn. Can you think of a sentence yourself using 'come out'. Write it in the comments section below if you can, or alternatively any comments, suggestions or feedback that you may have....don't be shy!!!


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Also, if you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media. See you next time! James 😊


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