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I know I have to use out of when I'm speaking about position:

I took the beef out of the fridge.

I took your trousers out of the closet.

Also, I know it's used when speaking about more abstract concepts like "this situation is out of control" and so on.

On the other hand, there is another way of using "out of", which I personally don't entirely understand:

  1. She called you out of curiosity.

  2. He only did it out of duty.

  3. Five out of ten students took the final exams twice.

  4. Ten out of fifteen kids liked my apple pie.

  5. She made a shirt out of old fabric.

  6. She made a cake out of passion fruit.

According to the dictionary I use,

  • in sentence 1 and 2 "out of" means "because of"

  • in 3 and 4 it means "from among"

  • in 5 and 6 it means "made from".

Because of, from among, and made of are terms I understand and can deal with, but I need to know if "OUT" can be left out in any of the sentences above or if they could even be rewritten keeping "OF" but leaving out "OUT"?

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  • The numbers examples (3 & 4) are better without out. The materials examples (5 & 6) are grammatically correct with or without out, but the sense changes somewhat. In the reasons examples (1 & 2), out is integral to the sentences.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 26, 2017 at 1:04
  • @Lawrence - I contend that 3&4 mean something different with and without ’out’. With it they more easily convey a ratio- there could have been 100 students with 30 taking the exam twice. Without it, 3 of ten is more likely interpreted as an absolute number: 10 students took the exam. 3 of them twice.
    – Jim
    Jul 26, 2017 at 1:11
  • @Jim I think both versions (with out and without) can be read both ways (ratio or absolute numbers). If ratios are intended, I'd suggest starting the sentence with the word 'every'. On reflection (and separate to ratio vs absolutes), I think it's better to include out with the given wording, though.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 26, 2017 at 2:09
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    @Lawrence I'd consider 'Five of ten students took the final exams twice.' at best awkward; I'd expect 'Five of the ten students / Of the ten students, five took the final exams twice.' (or some rewrite specifying which ten kids are being referenced). Jul 30, 2017 at 0:55

2 Answers 2

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"Out of" is often used to show a derivation or extraction.

"Out of the fridge" is actually describing an extraction process.

"Out of control" uses a different meaning, indicating going outside or beyond.

"Of" by itself can show an inclusive or sometimes possessive (genitive, really) relationship.

In the expressions, "out of curiosity" or "out of duty", we see the derivation as a causality. But there is no clear inclusive relationship. We could say, "from (a sense of) duty". Some people say, "from curiosity".

We can talk about "doing something of curiosity" or "of duty", but it feels awkward, ambiguous, or unreasonably abbreviated. We feel as it the thing being done should be owned by or included in the curiosity or duty, but the thing being done is included among things which are done because of (out of a sense of) the duty or curiosity, not the duty or curiosity themselves.

Clearly, a small number of a larger is both extractive and inclusive, the five are included in the ten, etc. This is why you can use either "out of" or "of", but the meaning underlying the use is different. The end result is the same even though the prepositions are not.

Making "a shirt out of old fabric" shows both the extractive and the genitive meanings, so either "out of" or "of" is correct. The shirt was once part of the old fabric.

Making "a cake out of [nothing but] passion fruit" is a little bit hard, but we say it in the vernacular anyway. The other ingredients are implicit. Making "a cake of papaya" is also somewhat of an abbreviated expression, but it shows both derivation and the genitive relationship. What was once the papaya is now part of the cake.

Consider making a cake [out] of nothing but papaya and wheat flour. "Out of" shows where the cake came from. "Of" shows what is in the resulting cake.

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phrasal verb

NOUN

Grammar

An idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element typically either an adverb, as in break down, or a preposition, for example, see to, or a combination of both, such as look down on.

Example sentences

‘English has a daunting inventory of phrasal verbs, such as break in, break out, break away, break into, break through, break up and break down.’

‘Every word is explained with the related idioms and phrasal verbs and there are ‘Help’ notes all along, to ensure that you do not use the word incorrectly.’

‘It is sometimes possible to match the elements of phrasal verbs and Latinate verbs: climb up with a/scend, climb down with de/scend.’

‘For this, the dictionary has 80,000 words and phrases with over 10,000 phrasal verbs and idioms highlighted.’

‘The lesson had been about phrasal verbs, and I wondered where this had come from.’ ODO

EDIT

To answer your question you can always rephrase a sentence to eliminate a phrasal verb. If you want to check that you are using a phrasal verb correctly check out this Extensive List of Phrasal Verbs.

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  • The question has little to do with phrasal verbs. Jul 30, 2017 at 0:59

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