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The Phrasal Verb 'Give Out' Explained

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

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


The sun rising over mountains and giving out rays

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.


Are you already familiar with the phrasal verb 'give out'? Even if you are, it may surprise you that it can be used in English in no less than 6 different ways! In this post, we will examine the different ways to use it in English, from commonly meanings such as distributing something by hand to the less common and regional meaning of reprimanding someone. So, without further ado, let's get started....


GIVE OUT: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Medium

Number of meanings

6

Separable

Sometimes

Past tense forms

Gave out / Given 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 using different coloured plasticine on red background

Before we look at the different meanings of 'give out', it is a good idea to familiarise ourselves with the constituent words 'give' and 'out', as this can often apply some much needed logic to the phrasal verb's meanings.


The verb 'to give' is one that you will definitely know already and primarily means to freely and willingly transfer the possession of something to another person. This is not the only meaning of 'to give' however and another of its meanings is 'to yield under pressure', which was historically used for people who owed money and only paid it back after being pressured (or threatened). Nowadays though it tends to be used more for the physical world around us for things that can bend or break when pressure is applied to them. Furthermore, another much less common meaning of 'to give' that is relevant for 'give out' is 'to produce a sound, especially from your mouth e.g. a cough or a sigh'.


We then have the prepositional particle 'out', which is the natural opposite of the preposition 'in' and is used for external spaces and movement towards an external space from an internal one. Moreover, we can also use it to describe movement away from the speaker or the subject of the conversation. Aside from these key meanings, 'out' is a very diverse word and can be used as an adverb, adjective and verb for different purposes.


So, now we have looked at the meanings of its component words, let's take a look at the different meanings of the phrasal verb 'give out'...

 

MEANING 1: To distribute by hand

A lady giving out presents to two others

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To distribute, to hand out, to pass out, to pass around, to issue

The first meaning of 'give out' is to distribute something by hand and is normally used when talking about giving items to a group of people rather than to an individual.


This first meaning is perhaps the closest to a literal meaning of 'give out' that we have as it describes the action of giving objects away other to people, with the idea that the items in question move away from the speaker as they are passed into the hands of the recipients. It is worth noting that the usage of 'give out' in this sense is more much specific than that of 'to give' as we only use 'give out' when we talk about passing items to people by hand. Also, in contrast to the verb 'to give', 'give out' does not necessarily mean that the recipient will own the new item as it may be just temporary, for example when safety glasses are given out to people on a factory visit.


This application of 'give out' is frequently used with identical or similar items that are duplicated or mass produced for many people to use or consume, including paper documents, things to eat or drink or items of clothing. Another time that you will hear 'give out' used in this way in English is around Christmas when people talk about Santa Claus giving out presents to well-behaved children (in this case not by hand).


With this meaning, the item that is given out to people is a direct object and can therefore be inserted between 'give' and 'out' or after them.


Examples of usage....

At the beginning of the exam, the teacher gave out the wrong exam papers to the students.
John, could you please give the textbooks out to the rest of the class.
Free cakes are being given out outside the bakery. You'd best hurry though as they are almost all gone!

The word 'BONUS' spelled out with different coloured helium balloons being held up by different peoples' hands

BONUS INFORMATION

Another way that you may hear 'give out' in this sense is when talking about the issuing of punishments, penalties and fines. Although we often do not physically hand objects directly to people in this instance, 'give out' is still used to describe when these punitive sanctions are issued by an authority.


Example of usage....

The judge gave out a sentence of life imprisonment to the convicted felon.
Teachers should only give out punishment when the student really deserves it.
 

MEANING 2: To emit


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

​Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To emit, to send forth, to discharge, to release

The second meaning of 'give out' that we will look at means 'to emit' and is used primarily with non-physical nouns that are detected by our senses, such as sound, light and smell.


As a general rule, I would say that this meaning of 'give out' is used most commonly in everyday language to describe noises that we make with our voices such as screams, sighs and cries. Aside from this, we do also use 'give out' for other noises, smells, lights and gases that are emitted and produced and due to their nature, these can often feature in more conversations about more scientific and technical topics. As with most phrasal verbs though, 'give out' is slightly informal and so for very formal documents and scientific papers you are more likely to come across a synonym such as 'to emit'.


On a grammatical note, 'give out' in this sense is separable, however we naturally do not tend to separate it very much.


Examples of usage....

Helen gave out a squeal of joy when she realised that Roger had bought her a puppy for her birthday.
The sun gives out an enormous amount of light, heat and energy every second.
I bought a cheap pair of earbuds last week and I was really pleasantly surprised to discover that the sound that they give out is brilliant quality.
Plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.
 

MEANING 3: To stop functioning


A paper sign saying 'out of order for repairs'

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To break down, to fail, to collapse

The third meaning of 'give out' is 'to stop functioning' and can be used for both people and equipment alike.


When talking about equipment and devices, we can use 'give out' to mean that something has stopped working and this is often (but not always) used when the malfunction is permanent and the equipment will not work again, for example because it is old or overused. You may hear this being used with such items as an engine, batteries and household devices.


As I mentioned above, we can also use 'give out' in this way for people, however it is not used to talk about an entire person, but rather a specific body part such as internal organs or legs. In some cases, such as a heart or a liver, we will say that the internal organ 'gave out' and we infer directly from this that the person died as a result. When talking about other parts of the body e.g. legs, we know that the person probably didn't die as a consequence, but it may nevertheless have had some other negative ramification for them.


This form of 'give out' is not separable and does not take a direct object and the device or body part in question is the subject.


Examples of usage....

I had my car for 22 years before the engine finally gave out and I had to replace it.
The batteries are about to give out on our remote control and will need changing soon.
The doctor says that my grandfather doesn't have much time left until his heart gives out, but he refuses to accept it and carries on like he did before.
John's legs gave out just before the finishing line of the 10km race and his friends had to help him finish.
 

MEANING 4: To be completely used up



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To run out, to exhaust

The fourth meaning of 'give out' is used to describe supplies of something and means 'to be completely used up or exhausted'. This sense is very similar to that of the phrasal verb 'run out' and if you want to refresh your memory on that, click here.


As I mentioned above, this is used for supplies of something and so therefore is typically reserved for nouns for objects that we store and which can be depleted over time until we have none left such as grain, food, fresh water and gas. This is not the a particularly commonly used meaning of 'give out', however it does still exist in everyday English and therefore you may come across it somewhere.


Examples of usage....

After three days of trekking through the jungle, our food gave out and we had to hunt for our own food for the remainder of the trip.
The farmer doesn't expect his grain supplies to give out any time soon, but he always buys extra just in case.
 

MEANING 5: To broadcast


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American

British

Potential synonyms

To broadcast, to make public

For the last two meanings of 'give out', we are going to be focusing on usages that are more specific to the British Isles and this fifth one, meaning 'to broadcast', is one that is primarily used in British English.


In addition to this usage being localised to British English, it is also quite old-fashioned, however I want to make you aware of it as there are still some vestiges of it that continue to exist in modern English.

So, the construction 'to give out that...' is a slightly archaic construction to mean 'to make something public' but we do not really use it much in that way anymore. We still do use 'give out' with nouns such as 'news' and 'information' though as a way of saying that they were communicated to people and in this sense this meaning still lives on in modern British English.

Examples of usage....

Cheers of joy could be heard from every corner of the city when it was given out that the war had ended.
I had to give out the terrible news that jobs were being cut in the business and that there would be redundancies.
 

MEANING 6: To reprimand someone



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Neither - Irish

Potential synonyms

To reprimand, to scold, to criticise, to complain

The sixth and final meaning of 'give out' that we will look at in this post is an informal Irish usage and means to reprimand, scold, criticise or complain to someone.


As you can probably work out from the different meanings, it is generally associated with being angry or annoyed with another person and is frequently accompanied by the additional preposition 'to' when specifying the recipient of the person's anger.


Examples of usage....

My schoolteacher used to give out to me all the time for talking in class.
Lisa's teenage daughter got home later last night and so she's been giving out to her about it all day.
 

Question marks in different coloured overlapping speech bubbles on a black background

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

  1. The local restaurant was offering passers-by free samples of their food earlier.

  2. These new speakers that I have bought emit a high quality sound.

  3. John was lifting a heavy box and he strained his back, meaning that he had to take a month off work.

  4. The farmer estimates that he has about a week until his grain stock is used up.

  5. The local aid agency is providing information about how to help with the rescue efforts.

  6. Lisa's teacher was always scolding her for being late to class.

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

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'PUT UP' (other variations may be possible)

  1. Have you ever PUT UP a tent?

  2. The company has PUT adverts UP around the city as part of their new marketing campaign.

  3. Roger will not PUT UP WITH his children being cheeky for long.

  4. The house is going to be PUT ON the market in the next week.

  5. I am PUTTING my friend UP until his apartment is ready to live in.

  6. We PUT our prices UP on 1st April this year.

 

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 'give 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




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