Why does out require an additional preposition in many cases that in does not?

For example:

I am in town this weekend. Next weekend I will be out of town.

When the lifeguard blows the whistle, everyone must get out of the water. When he blows it again, you may get back in the water.

I am in the office. At noon I will be out to lunch.

One wouldn't say "I will be out town" or "get out the water". There are also some cases where you would say "I will be in to town" or "get back in to the water", but omitting the preposition is also perfectly acceptable.

Other positional prepositions tend to require an additional preposition as well, but not "in". You go down to the river, over to the next county, up to the 15th floor and off to the races.

Why is "in" different?

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    the cases where you mention in to are likely cases with into – mplungjan Nov 15 '12 at 15:23
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    You can't say "I will be in to town"; it's not grammatical. You can say "I will be in town", or "I will get into town", but they mean different things. In this case, "in" implies a stable state of being, whereas "into" implies a movement or change of state. – Berthilde Nov 15 '12 at 15:57
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    @Berthilde "I am in to town" is a stable state of being. And you certainly can say "I will be in to town". ex: "I will be in to town next week". – Marcus_33 Nov 15 '12 at 16:04
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    I think this, though very interesting, is Not A Real Question. We could spend volumes discussing prepositions and their classifications and compoundings; but Why any of them is used the way it is is a question to which there is no answer except Because it is.* – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 15 '12 at 16:48

Out of is a complex preposition and merits its own entry in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), separate from the entry for out. It has numerous uses, but in your first two examples it means the opposite of in. In your third example, the use of to is rather different, and not really relevant to the main question.

Out of has a long history, but this extract from the OED’s etymological note may help to answer your question more fully:

The history of out of is partly parallel to that of in to, with the differences that the latter is now written into as one word, and that out of is the opposite, not only of into, but also of the static in. One reason why out of has not needed to be written as one word may be that the distinction now made between into and in to is in the case of out expressed by out of and out from: thus ‘they came in to me, into my house’, ‘he went out from me, out of my house’.

There has been discussion in the comments on another answer about the use of out followed immediately by a noun phrase. Out is used in this way with two main meanings. The first (1) is ‘from within, away from’, as in this 1992 citation from Toronto’s ‘Globe and Mail’:

When you become useless, you're out the door.

The OED describes this use as being formerly poetical and now regional and nonstandard.

The second main meaning (2) is ‘outside, beyond’, as in this 1977 citation from J P Donleavy:

A thrush chirping its evening song in the first darkness just out the window.

The OED describes this use merely ‘now nonstandard’. This 1991 citation seems to me to confirm this view:

He spent too much time boozing down the pub. Too much time out the house.

It may be that out + noun phrase is Standard American English in sense (1), but nonstandard, as in British English, in sense (2).


Research in 1997 into the use of out the door and out the window, reported in ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’, ‘found ample evidence of their use in spoken discourse and in published fiction, though this doesn’t yet guarantee their place in British written style generally.’

  • Thanks for summarizing this, Barrie. All I would add (as I mentioned in my answer) is that complex prepositions are generally analyzed as consisting of adverb + preposition, and not preposition + preposition. – Berthilde Nov 15 '12 at 18:00
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    Excellent roundup (we can see you're a professional!). To be honest, what I like best is that later edit. I know "out the door" is a bit "iffy", but how to convince anyone else of that? Answer: look to ‘The Cambridge Guide’. – FumbleFingers Nov 15 '12 at 19:10
  • Out by itself is used in AE as a preposition in the sense through in order to get outside. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 15 '12 at 19:28
  • You mean saying "he threw it out the window" is considered informal in the U.K.? That's surprising! Actually, sense 1 is standard in the U.S. only for a very small class of nouns. For example, "he went out the office" sounds clearly wrong to me, where as "door" or "window" are fine. – Peter Shor Nov 15 '12 at 19:38
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    @BarrieEngland: I made a comment under the question, mentioning that out is often used by itself in AmE when it means out through, so, doors and windows, yes, but also similar constructs, like "I crawled out the hatch while water flowed out the nozzle." – J.R. Nov 16 '12 at 10:53

This is because "out" here is not a preposition, it's an adverb. According to the OED's entry OUT, prep., "out" is no longer used as a preposition in Standard English, though it is in widespread use in nonstandard and regional varieties, and it is apparently now seen as a standard use in American English. For example, in American English you might hear

I took it out the closet

whereas in most varieties of British English we would say "I took it out of the closet".

The other examples you give are also all adverbs followed by prepositions, not two prepositions linked together. "Down", "up", "over", and "off" can all be prepositions in standard English, but not with the same meanings as they have in the examples you quote. For example, "I went over the river" (over is a preposition) is different in meaning from "I went over to the river" (over is an adverb). However, as with "out", you may see them in non-standard varieties being used prepositionally with the same sense as the adverb-preposition construction. For example, my grandmother would have said

I went down my friend's house

meaning the same thing as

I went down to my friend's house.

So, in summary, "out" requires "of" because it is not functioning as a preposition, but as an adverb, and therefore cannot take an object. "In" is a preposition, and therefore can take an object.

Edit: see also Barrie's answer, where he points out that the combination "out of" functions as a kind of compound preposition - it has a single meaning which is based on the meanings of the adverb and the preposition.

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    "He ran out the door" is a perfectly fine example of out as a preposition in standard English. Why does he run out the door, but out of the house? – Marcus_33 Nov 15 '12 at 16:00
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    @Marcus_33: "He ran out the door" is not standard English, although it's very commonly heard, particularly in American varieties. Perhaps it's starting to become a standard usage in the U.S.? I'm in the U.K., and I can tell you that you would never see "he ran out the door" in standard written English, though it's not uncommon in the spoken language. But I'm going to amend my answer to make clearer what I mean. – Berthilde Nov 15 '12 at 16:15
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    @tchrist - do we mean the same thing by "standard"? If a British student wrote "He ran out the door" in an academic paper, it would be marked as poor grammar. It's not standard in written British English. The OED marks all uses of "out" as a preposition as "regional", "nonstandard", or "obsolete/rare", so it seems that it's not considered standard in any variety. – Berthilde Nov 15 '12 at 16:54
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    Ran out the door, looked out the window, threw it out the porthole are perfectly acceptable in the US, and I believe in any formal discourse, to indicate the path followed rather than the destination departed. Other prepositions serve similar uses: down the mountain, for instance, or even more interestingly, across the bridge (which is distinctly different from across the river). – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 15 '12 at 16:56
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    What @PeterShor said. Another way I'd explain it is that, here in the U.S., out can be used on its own when it means out through – which is why you can run out the door but you run out of the house. Also, I found this note at Macmillan: "In American English and spoken British English out itself is commonly used as a preposition, but many British people consider that this use is not correct: I looked out the window." – J.R. Nov 16 '12 at 0:45

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