Q: Which of these is correct: (1) “I leaned out the window” or (2) “I leaned out of the window”? And which of these: (3) “I looked out the window” or (4) “I looked through the window”? I often see #1 and #3, but I prefer #2 and #4.
A: All of those are correct, though some usage commentators have objected to the “of” in #2 as redundant. However, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage pooh-poohs the objections.
“A few commentators observe that the of is superfluous most of the time, or sometimes—depending on whose opinion you are reading—when out is used with verbs of motion,” Merriam-Webster’s says.
However, the usage guide adds that this observation “is not especially useful, for out and out of are interchangeable only in a few very restricted contexts; out simply cannot be substituted for out of in most cases.”
“Out” is generally an adverb (“Get out!”), but it’s sometimes used prepositionally as a substitute for “out of.”
When used as a preposition, according to M-W, ”out” seems “most often to go with door or window” (“She looked out the window, then ran out the door”).
Merriam-Webster’s notes that “out” and “out of” are “about equally common” in constructions with the word “window.”
The dictionary gives this “out” example from the February 1969 issue of Harper’s: “He stares out the window.”
And it gives this “out of” example from “A Summer’s Reading,” a 1956 short story by Bernard Malamud: “as he read his Times, upstairs his fat wife leaned out of the window, seeming to read the paper along with him.”
The usage guide says “out of” is more common with “nouns that designate places or things that can be thought of as containing or surrounding.”
Here’s an example from And More by Andy Rooney, a 1982 essay collection by the 60 Minutes commentator: “A bathtub is, at best, a makeshift place to take a shower. It’s hard to get into and out of gracefully.”
M-W says “out” is sometimes used this way too, “but it sounds not quite part of the mainstream.”
This is an example from “The Heart of the Park,” a 1949 short story by Flannery O’Connor: “The woman came out the bath house and went straight to the diving board.”
If you’d like to read more, we had a post a couple of years ago about the use of “out” by itself in such constructions, a usage heard mostly in the South and the Gulf region.
Check out our books about the English language