Community Tutor
Fun with American English: The Verb "To Run Out Of"

So today, I want to discuss what it means if you run out of something. This verb means that you have used up or consumed all of something. For instance, if you buy a tube of toothpaste on August 1st and two weeks later, the tube of toothpaste is empty, we say that we have ran out of toothpaste. Of course, you can also say "I used up all of the toothpaste."


This verb can basically be used with anything tangible that you can possess. For instance, gasoline, toilet paper, Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream, toothpicks, salmon filets, paper plates, corn on the cob, magic markers, paper, etc. It also can be applied to non-tangible things, such as time, luck, patience, words, etc.


Suppose you go to a casino with a friend and for the first hour that you are there, you keep winning on the cheap slot machines, but then your winning streak ends. This is the perfect time to say, "Damn it! I was hitting the jackpot on these slot machines left and right, but now it seems like I have run out of luck." Note that you could also end this sentence with "but now it seems like my luck has run out."


In the case of patience, this verb means that you can no longer deal with someone or something and are completely fed up. In other words, you have used up all your patience and only have irritation and anger left for whatever or whomever is bothering you. Suppose your two friends are arguing and you try to get them both to settle down. After a few hours, you might get totally fed up with both of them because they are still fighting. This would be the perfect time to tell them both, "Look. Quit it ALREADY! I have run out of patience with the both of you!!!! If you don't stop arguing, then I am going home!"


When you say that you have "run out of time" it means that you must switch to some other activity now due to your schedule or some obligation, because you are tired, etc. Suppose you schedule an hour long American English lesson with a teacher on italki. When the hour has finally completed, your teacher might say "Well, we have run out of time today, but I will send you homework to work on over the week and I'll talk to you at our next lesson. Take care."


If someone does something extremely shocking which you have no clue how to respond to, you might say that you have "run out of words." Say you are on the subway and you and your friend see some naked guy in a bee costume dancing through the crowd of people. He is making a total scene of himself. Your friend might say "Wow. Look at that. Talk about awkward, huh?" and you could say "I just don't know what to say about that. I've totally run out of words."


Similar Words


"To run out of" can also mean to physically run out of something like a building, office, cave, fort, etc. Be sure to not confuse "to run out of" meaning "to consume all of" with this expression. A sentence using this different verb is "He was so pissed off at his manager that he ran out of the office and went home."


"To run out to" looks similar but notice the preposition "to" at the end. This verb typically means to leave your home to go someplace to do an errand such as picking up paper plates or checking on someone. Some example sentences are: 1. I ran out to Walmart to get paper plates for the party., 2. I ran out to the hospital to see how he was feeling., 3. He ran out to the gas station.




1. We ran out of soap so I ran out to Walmart to get some.


* Note that the first "ran out" means "to consume all of something" and the following "ran out to" means that you went someplace to do an errand.


2. Example Dialog


Mark: Can you get me a bowl of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream when you go to the kitchen?

Steve: We don't have any more of that flavor left.

Mark: I thought we bought 3 cartons of that and two of Karamel Sutra.

Steve: We did but we ran out of the Chunky Monkey.

Mark: Seriously?

Steve: Yeah. You are kind of a glutton. Hahaha.

Mark: Hahaha. You are such an ass!

Steve: I try. Hehehe.


3. She wants us to go to the store to pick up some freeze pops for the birthday party because we ran out of them.


4. I don't know whether they ran out of hot dogs but I can pick some more up on my way to the campsite. I need to pick up hamburger buns anyhow.


5. (to a stuborn child) My patience has just about run out with you! Now get the hell over here and brush your teeth!

Jul 17, 2014 6:28 AM
Comments · 17

This is how native speakers speak. I think it is a gross inaccuracy to say that someone is merely learning idioms and not learning the actual language too when dictionaries, even the Oxford dictionary, recognize such verbs and phrases as being part of the actual language and catalog them in their dictionaries. I mean, the OED even lists the following for "to run out of": "to come to the end of the available supply of (something); to exhaust, have no more of." If it weren't part of the English language, it wouldn't be listed there.


In my opinion, at least, it sounds better to say "When I run out of grain, I buy three to four bags at a time from Tractor Supply." than to say "When I have no more grain, I buy three to four bags at a time from Tractor Supply." Literal expressions can also sound so dry, boring, and outdated at times.


Anyhow, the whole point of this discussion isn't to debate the validity of the use of idioms in languages but to define a commonly used verb in American English and give examples using it so people on here can improve their English and learn how to speak more like a native. :)

July 17, 2014

I see your point, Bruce, but I wouldn't agree that idiomatic expressions are harder to learn. I also wouldn't agree that, unlike idiomatic expressions, literal words can be learned easily without examples which demonstrate their use or the contexts in which they would be appropriate to say. Give a middle school student, or even some adults, a list of words like "aeriform", "frondiferous", "sapponify", "nonplus", "pluvial", "nascent", "subnascent", etc. and let's see how easy it is for them to use these words right away without any examples.


Speaking with nothing but literal expressions is not how languages work either and the English language is, by far, not the only language which makes use of idiomatic expressions. Take, for instance, "tomar el pelo" which literally means "to take the hair" in Spanish but actually means "to kid or trick someone" or, if you want an idiomatic expression in English for this, "to pull someone's leg". Another Spanish example is "tirar la casa por la ventana" which literally means "to throw the house through the window" but in reality means "to spare no expense". Even still, "echar agua al mar" which literally means "to throw water into the sea" and conveys the meaning that something is pointless. German also has a number of idiomatic expressions including "Ich werde dir die Daumen drücken." which literally means "I'll squeeze my thumbs for you." but actually means "I wish you luck." Italian too, with "mettere una pulce nell'orecchio" which reads as "to put a flea in someone's ear" but actually means "to raise doubt or suspicion about something."


July 17, 2014



   "Speaking with nothing but literal expressions is not how languages work either"---Shawn


 That is logically absurd my friend.  If it is true,  that English Language is not  a process of LITERAL communication,   then the appropriate conclusion is that English Language means something other than what the words communicate.


 That  being the case with your argument, you cannot fault anything I just wrote  as comment on your discussion topic, because you commit the error of not recognizing  NON-LITERAL meanings in what I wrote. 



July 17, 2014



"I ran out to the hospital to see how he was feeling." = "I (left home, work, etc. and) went to the hospital to see how he was feeling."

July 17, 2014

2. I ran out to the hospital to see how he was feeling. -would you explain the meaning of this sentence ? Couldn't get it

July 17, 2014
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