In the following sentence as an example : "He sweated it out until the lab report was back", What does "it" refer to in "sweated it out"?

I have just seen the example "if it wasn't for Amber…" whose meaning is "Without Amber…". How could we change "I sweated it out" so as to make its meaning more obvious like Amber's example?

English is a foreign language for me and I have no problem understanding the Amber's example. The example "I lost it" could be understood as I lost control or composure. In the same way, how can I understand the sentence in my question which sounds very alien to me as a French and Arabic speaker? I'm interested in the etymology or grammar of it, or in which way could it be transformed.

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    According to Merriam-Webster "Sweat it out" is an idiom So, the dummy "it" substitutes "anxiety" "worry". There are many phrasal verbs and idioms that use "it" e.g. feel it in your bones, pack it in, take it easy etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 29, 2023 at 13:06
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    I believe the French "S'il vous plait" relies on a vague "it" or a situational one: If this pleases you = please. Dec 29, 2023 at 13:07
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    Does this answer your question? What does “it” refer to in this sentence? Dec 29, 2023 at 23:29
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    @Lambie The U in ELU stands for (established) usage. It's the distinctive of the site as compared with almost all other popular EL sites: the possibility, the requirement even, of offering valid data supporting the idiomaticity of various usages. If you wish rather to discuss inventive / questionable usages, there are many other sites far more suitable. Dec 30, 2023 at 14:17
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    @EdwinAshworth Writers trust what they know and have internalized. I took the idiom: "sweat it out" and gave it a direct object. This is allowable under English grammar rules. ELU stand for English Language Usage. Always counting on the "other" for what is "established" is a big problem on this site. Sometimes, "the other" is just one of us.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2023 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


As Huddleston & Pullum (2002) state, the word it "appears with no identifiable independent meaning in a large number of generally colloquial idioms," like hit it off, play it safe, and cool it (p. 1483). Sweat it out is one such idiom; the word it there doesn't refer to anything, but just acts as an object without contributing anything to the sentence's meaning.

  • It refers to a pre-existing situation or condition. And I have to say that that's obvious. Otherwise, there's no point in even saying it....
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2023 at 16:27
  • @Lambie So why can't we say "He sweated the situation out"?
    – alphabet
    Dec 30, 2023 at 17:20
  • You can. I see no reason why not.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2023 at 17:21
  • Unlike the pronoun, which is required to split the phrasal verb (sweat it out not *sweat out it), the noun phrase can go in between or after. Where sweat out is figurative, He sweated out the situation is more natural. But if we are talking about literal sweat, then He sweated the alcohol out is perhaps more natural. Dec 31, 2023 at 20:58

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