Phrasal Verbs – The 7 Meanings of ‘Make Out’ Phrasal verbs often have more than one meaning, and “make out” is no exception. In this lesson, I cover the seven idiomatic meanings of this important phrasal verb, with definitions and clear examples. I promise that you’ll make it out of this lesson a better and more fluent English speaker! Take the quiz here:


Hi guys. I’m Alex. Thanks for clicking, and welcome to this lesson on seven ways to use: “Make out”. Today, we’re going to look at seven different ways that we can use this very common phrasal verb.

So, let’s look at the top. The first sentence says: “I can’t make out what you’re saying.” In this situation: do you think you can understand what the person is saying or you can’t understand what the person is saying? Well, if you look at the negative, it means that you can’t understand. So one meaning of “make out” is to hear or see what a person is saying. Or if you see an object in the distance and you can’t really tell very clearly what it is, this means that you can’t make it out or you can make it out. So imagine you’re watching a YouTube video and there’s a person speaking in the background, and maybe they’re speaking very low and you have to listen very carefully to understand what they’re saying. So you listen, listen and you say: “Oh, I don’t… No, I can’t make out what he’s saying, like I can’t hear it.” Okay? Also, if you’re looking at a picture and in one corner of the picture, maybe there’s a small little object and you don’t know what it is. And somebody tells you that it’s maybe a laptop, and you look at it, you say: “No, I can’t make it out. I can’t… I can’t see it properly.” Okay? So this is one meaning.

The second sentence says: “I made the check out to the president.” Now, a check is a piece of paper that you give to someone when you want to pay for something. Right? You write your name, you write the amount of money you’re going to give to the person, the company, the organization. So in this situation, you can make a check out to a person which just means you make the check payable to a person. Okay? So this means to make a check payable – okay? – to someone. And you always… Usually we make out a check to a person. Okay?

The next one says: “Don’t make out like you know the answer!” So imagine you’re in a math class and you have a student who thinks that they know the answer to a difficult question so they pretend like they know the answer, but they really don’t know the answer; they’re just trying to look smarter than the other students. So don’t make out like you know what I’m talking about or don’t make out like you know the answer; don’t pretend.

Okay, the fourth way we can use “make out”: “How is your son making out at school?” So we can use this to mean: how is your son progressing? Okay? So “make out” can also mean to progress or: “How is he doing?” as well. Okay, so to progress, do or perform. So for example, I can ask you: “Hey, how did you make out on your driving exam?”, “How did you make out on your final exam for history?” So: how did you do, how did you perform, how did you progress? Here you notice we’re actually using it in the progressive tense, right? So how is he making out, how is he progressing or performing?

Okay, number five: “I saw them making out at the party.” Now, in this situation… This is usually the most common way that we use “make out”, and if you’ve seen it taught in schools, if you’ve seen it taught in other videos, basically it means to kiss passionately. Okay, so to kiss with lots of passion. Not just a normal, regular, soft kiss, but really passionate with the other person. Okay?

Number six: “I can’t make out what it says at the bottom.” So this is actually similar to number one where you can’t hear or see or understand, but this refers to very small details. So you’re reading, you’re reading, you’re reading and maybe you need glasses so at the bottom…You look at the bottom and you say: “No, I can’t make out what it says on the bottom”, if you’re reading a document or a book or something like this. Okay? So in this situation, “make out” means to decipher small details. Okay, to notice a very small detail. “Like I can’t make it out, I can’t see it”, in this situation.

Okay, and: “We can’t make him out.” So if you can’t make a person out… Again, it’s not very, very common to use it in this way, but basically it means you can’t understand this person; you can’t figure out what type of personality they have. Okay? So this means to understand someone’s character or someone’s personality. Okay guys, so as you can see, there are many ways that we can use just one single phrasal verb. Today, that phrasal verb was: “make out”.

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