Word Confusion: Work Out versus Workout

Posted June 22, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

The difference between work out and workout is simple: verb versus noun. One is action and the other is a thing.

Either one can be physical or mental — the work out tends to be more along the mental lines while workout is usually more physical. An odd juxtaposition considering that a verb is about action while nouns don’t appear to move. Unless some verb comes along to throw it…!

A work out is quite broad and primarily encompasses mental exercises in figuring things out, whether it’s understanding, solving, devising, or… It does involve the physical as well, as you do have to work out on your workout!

A workout is limited, for the most part, to a schedule of exercises in which the exerciser engages. In a workout.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Work Out Workout
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: work out and workout

Pencil sketch of a character proposed for WikiJunior

Image by Risk at meta Wikimedia Foundation (transferred from meta.wikimedia to Commons). [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Kiki is busy thinking, working it out.

Stick figure animation jumping over a floating tabletop

Image by Lorhamix, done in Pivot Stickfigure Animator [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Short animation showing King Kong Vault, a type of parkour workout.

Part of Grammar:
Phrasal verb Noun
Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result

Verb, intransitive:

[Of an equation] Be capable of being solved

To prove effective, practicable, or suitable

  • [Used with at or to] To amount to a total or calculated figure

To engage in a workout

Understand someone’s character

[Literary] Accomplish or attain something with difficulty

Verb, transitive:
To bring about by labor and exertion

To solve (as a problem) by a process of reasoning or calculation

  • Solve a sum or determine an amount by calculation
  • Solve or find the answer to something

To devise, arrange, or achieve by resolving difficulties


To discharge (as a debt) by labor

[Usually be worked out] Work a mine until it is exhausted of minerals

A session of vigorous physical exercise or training

A test of one’s ability, capacity, stamina, or suitability

An undertaking or plan intended to resolve a problem of indebtedness especially in lieu of bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings

Verb, intransitive:
I don’t know how this will actually work out.

She works out regularly at the gym.

A compromise between the warring factions was worked out.

My coach has got me working out like a son of a gun.

Things don’t always work out that way.

Verb, transitive:
“…much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” – Philippians 2:12

I couldn’t work out whether it was a band playing or a record.

Can you work out some kind of seating plan?

Malicious fates are bent on working out an ill intent.

We worked out a solution to keep the business running.

I need to set up a workout schedule.

The team had a good workout at practice today.

My workout lasts one-and-a-half hours three times a week.

I have to alternate my weightlifting exercises with my aerobic workout.

Phrasal Verb
work out at

work someone out

work something out

History of the Word:
First known use: 1534

Old English cald is of Germanic origin. It’s related to the Dutch koud and the German kalt, also to the Latin gelu meaning frost.

First known use: 1894

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?