Ask Language Log: "rained out"?

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A question from V.R.:

I was just having a conversation with a friend, and mentioned that it had "rained out last night." Do you happen to know if that use of "rained out" (as opposed to a baseball game being rained out) a Midwesternism?

I don't know — but maybe LLOG commenters will.

Among the general meanings of out as an adverb (or intransitive preposition, or whatever) are senses that Wiktionary gives as "to the end; completely" (as in "hear me out") and "used to intensify or emphasize" (as in "the place was all decked out for the holidays").

So "rained out" for "rained hard" or "totally rained" ought to work. The event-cancellation sense apparently blocks this usage for me, but I'll be interested in other people's reactions.

Update — in the first comment, Don Monroe points out that "out" could just be used to mean "outside", which seems like a pretty general usage. At least, I don't have any trouble with "It was raining out" = "It was raining outside".

Update #2 — V.R. confirms that the meaning was that it rained outside, and adds this extra dimension:

In the Midwest (perhaps elsewhere), we don't just say "It's raining" or "It rained." It's always "out." "It's raining out, better grab an umbrella."

So maybe, if there's regional variation, it's that (for some people) the "out" is obligatory with rain. Dunno yet about sun, snow, sleet, or other weather conditions.

Update #3 — Another insight from the source:

What I am realizing as I write this is that you would say this from the inside of one's house. Outside, we'd just say it's raining.

However, we would say "it's hot out" and we can be outside; in fact, we're likelier to be outside when we say that.



  1. Don Monroe said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 7:38 am

    Maybe it's analogous to saying "It's hot out"? I take this to be clarifying that the condition (hot) applies to the outdoors rather than inside (which seems unnecessary in the case of rain).

    [(myl) Good point — I should have thought of that.]

  2. DCBob said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 8:58 am

    The only thing I can think of that's vaguely similar is the Maryland/Virginia phrase "leave out" for "leave", as in "Close the door when you leave out." But a quick Google search turns up a couple of handfuls of instances of "it rained out last night" that appear to be from all over the country and that might or might not be consistent with Don Monroe's observation. Maybe there's been a gradual semantic shift from "The game was rained out" to "The game rained out" to "It rained out last night."

  3. davep said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 9:54 am

    It could be a locution specific to his friend (this seems most likely to me).

    The "out" referring to "outside" seems very unlikely (it doesn't exactly ever rain inside).

  4. mara said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 10:00 am

    I think I use "out" after "raining" pretty frequently, but somehow it doesn't sound right after "rained." Maybe because of the overlap with the baseball usage.

  5. Matt Sayler said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 10:16 am

    I wouldn't hesitate to say "it's raining out." This isn't so much by contrast with raining inside as something important when going out (where it's raining) or generally to comment on the state of the world.

    That said, "rained out" referring to something in the past doesn't feel like something I'd say. "It was hot out" would be OK, "It was snowing out" would be OK, too. "It snowed out" … feels too close to the end of a sporting event.

    (lived in SD/IN until tween years, and in TX/IL/NC since)

  6. Trogluddite said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 11:37 am

    As a British English speaker (the topolect which makes the most fine distinctions between different kinds of rain – allegedly!), confusion with the event-cancellation meaning is unlikely; "rained off" would be the usual idiom here for that.

    The 'to the end/completely' meaning could be forced when there are other contextual clues, e.g.;"that storm is all rained out"; but that doesn't seem idiomatic for British precipitation (though for a storm to "blow itself out" is idiomatic).

    I have always been a tad amused by the redundancy of appending "out" to mean "outside", and I rarely, if ever, use it myself; but it is a common BrE usage. It's idiomatic for most kinds of weather in any tense; so that was the natural reading for me, especially since the context was reported speech (it would seem a bit odd in formal writing).

  7. Bob Ladd said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

    It's probably worth pointing out that when "out" just means "outside" in these locutions, it's usually post-nuclear, i.e. the main sentence stress is on the verb (it's RAINing out; it's HOT out; etc.) whereas in a "phrasal verb" or whatever your favourite term is for constructions like "the game was rained out" the main sentence stress is on the "out" (it was rained OUT). So MYL's suggestions that "it rained out" might mean "rained completely" or "rained hard" would only work with the sentence stress on "out". If (as it appears) the speaker simply intended "out" to mean outside", they almost certainly said "it RAINED out", which would be very hard to interpret as involving a phrasal verb with the "adverbial" meaning of "out".

  8. Morgan said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

    Minneapolis MN born 1953 – 1980, working class suburb. Still living in northern MN.

    “It’s raining / snowing / sunny / foggy /cold / hot out” all were common, and sound natural to me. Past tense w/ aux was ordinary, too: “It was raining / snowing out.” Past tense w/o aux sounds a little too close to “The game was rained out,” and doesn’t work with the non-ing forms.

    The phrase would take a simple modifier, too: “It’s really raining out,” etc but NOT “It’s raining cats and dogs out,” and NOT “It’s raining really hard out.” “It’s too cold out to go swimming” and “It’s too could out to swim,” sound a little odd. Like the emphasis has shifted from “cold” to “out.”

    My speculation is that “out” lets the speaker place emphasis on the state. As I recall, it was used to describe the weather as a piece of new information: “Take a coat. It’s cold out” or “Is it still raining out?” Or “You should leave early. It’s foggy out.” I’d agree that it was more oral use than written.

    I prefer my wife’s BrE, “It’s pissing down.”

  9. Jim Ancona said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 1:15 pm

    I grew up in northern New Jersey. I would understand the "out" in "rained out last night" to mean outside. I think I'd add the "out" in normal conversation, but now I've thought about it too much to be sure!

  10. Chas Belov said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 2:38 pm

    I grew up in Pittsburgh and still have some Pittsburghisms in my speech. I'm pretty sure I used to say "It's raining out," said from inside, only in the present tense. I think now I say "It's raining" without the "out" but I'm in California drought country so it's hard to remember the last time it rained during the day.

  11. Michae said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 3:55 pm

    You can say that it's raining out — but not that it rained (or will rain) out.

  12. JPL said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 4:38 pm

    It appears that what is happening is that, for most speakers, "out" as an adverbial in weather event descriptions requires "imperfectivity" in the aspect of the verb phrase, i.e., that the reference point, either the speech event or a past reference point, should be inside the situation (rain, heat, etc.), as opposed to outside the event, as it would be with the aspectually perfective "simple past" verb form ("it was raining out" vs. ?"it rained out"). Apparently some speakers do not have that constraint.

  13. Viseguy said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 8:55 pm

    I'm often "TV'd out" (and only occasionally "LL'd out"). After 24 hours of Hurricane Henri, I'm unquestionably "rained out" ["rain'd out"?] (but not in the sense that the New York Yankees experienced today). But this mid-century Brooklyn native would never wait for a hurricane to "rain out" or even "rain itself out" (though the latter is within the realm of possibility, given the right context). Barring the extraordinary, "It's raining out" means "It's raining outside" — even though, NASA VABs aside, it rarely if ever rains inside>.

  14. Josh R. said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 9:44 pm

    Speaking as another Midwesterner (born in Chicago, raised in the Twin Cities), I agree with Morgan's experience (not surprisingly). I don't know if I can explain this right, but I feel as if the "out" constructions indicate not merely the action of raining, but also a) a continuing state, and b) adding a positive or negative valence. One might say there's an implication of some sort of environmental effect on the topic and/or the participants of the discourse.

    Like, if someone asked "How's the weather?" I'd simply say, "Sunny." But if I was noting the weather while attempting to persuade someone to go outside with me, I'd say "Let's go. It's sunny out," with an implication of a beneficial effect. Likewise, if I wanted to use rainy weather as an excuse not to leave the house, I'd use "It's raining out."

    Morgan's example usages all seem to agree with this. It's cold out (so take a coat). It's foggy out (so you should leave early).

    With regards to JPL's suggestion of a requirement for "imperfectivity," I think it's definitely on the right track, but I think the most salient point is that "raining" in these constructions is a participle adjective, not the continuous aspect of the verb "rain." Thus it can only be used with "is/was" (and ostensibly "will be," though I don't think this is so common). I think that's what throws us about the statement "It rained out last night."

    Like all good grammar points, though, that just raises further questions. Why use a participle adjective (raining) instead of the perfectly serviceable adjective "rainy?" And indeed, at least in my idiolect, "It's raining out" is acceptable, while "*It's rainy out" sounds off. Go figure.

  15. djw said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 1:10 am

    In central Texas in the 50s, I'm pretty sure I said things like, "It's raining out" and "It's sunny out," although I think my default would have been "It's X outside." I know the out/outside is extraneous, but what else are idioms for, anyway?

    I can imagine myself telling someone a story and explaining that something didn't happen because "it rained/was raining out," but I'd be more likely to have used "rain out" in discussing, say, a storm: "The storm's about to rain itself out" (and I *know* I said and heard that a lot as a kid; I assume it referred to the fact that the clouds were about out of rain to dump on us).

  16. cliff arroyo said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 2:25 am

    Native American English speaker: It's hard to imagine how acceptable this sentence is (or what it actually means) without knowing more context and even more crucially without hearing the intonation.

    With no further context but "rained out last night" my inclination is to assign primary stress to 'out' which precludes out being a synonym of 'outdoors' and makes 'rain out' a phrasal verb which probably would mean "to rain heavily and intensely, possibly for an extended period of time".

    More context or actually hearing what was said (or just knowing what was stressed) might alter that.

  17. VVOV said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 4:55 am

    Midwesterner here – similar to JPL I have the following intuition:

    It's raining out: fine

    It was raining out: fine

    *It rained out: very strange, I don't say this

  18. Scott Mauldin said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 5:00 am

    Another anecdote to add up into data: born in raised in Oklahoma City; this "It's [weather] out" sounds much more natural in the present tense than in the past, and also seems much more natural to describe temperature than precipitation. So in my native topolect:

    It's hot out
    *It was hot out
    *It's raining out

  19. Bob Anderson said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 7:09 am

    I've been listening to the Weather Channel coverage of Tropical Storm Henri, as I'm in the path of its exit toward the North Atlantic. On more than one occasion I've heard the on-air meteorologists state that the storm will "rain out," which I have taken to mean that the water being carried along in the storm clouds will be wrung out as rain. Stephanie Abrams has more than once spoken of "precipitable humidity," the amount of water in a defined column of air, and then uses the phrase "rain out."

  20. Coby said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 10:19 am

    Is cliff arroyo a [Native American] English speaker or a native [American English] speaker?

  21. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 10:43 am


    The correct pronunciation, of course is, "'Sraíninàht".

    When I compare my reaction to hearing "It's raining out" to "It's raining", I think the latter might create some ambiguity that would cause a moment or two of additional cognitive processing. I would wonder if the speaker meant "It's raining somewhere in the general area" or "it's raining outside the door right now". I work with people who live anywhere from Pittsburgh to Greensburg, so the statement, "It's raining" could potentially mean "It's raining at my home (i.e. in Greensburg), which wouldn't necessarily mean that it's raining _here_, i.e., in Pittsburgh.

    So, long story short, I think there's some semantic benefit to "out".

  22. cliff arroyo said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 11:16 am

    the latter

  23. Chas Belov said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 1:47 pm

    @Benjamin E. Orsatti

    Alas, it's been long enough since I lived in the 'Burgh that I don't remember how I would have pronounced it.

    If I were talking on the phone to someone in another location, I would say "It's raining here."

  24. Terry K. said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 2:10 pm

    Bob Ladd, makes a good point about how it's stressed. It doesn't seem to like the rained-out baseball game meaning should interfere with it's use with the meaning "it was raining", in speech because they don't sound the same. In writing it's a different matter.

    As for something being a "midwesternism" that seems like a bit of a misnomer, since the full area known as the Midwest doesn't correspond to any one type of American English. In my corner of the Midwest "it rained out" seems an oddity to me. While it would be odd to say just "it rained", I'd add on when it rained, not "out".

  25. Alexander Browne said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 4:19 pm

    Terry K: I agree about "midwestern(ism)". Here in Minneapolis, "midwest" seems to mean the "upper midwest" ( as often as not.

    Until at least the 30s this region was called the "northwest", which explains both some old names of companies from Minneapolis – Northwest Arlines (now part of Delta) and Norwest Bank (merged with Wells Fargo) – and my suspicion of why the Washington/Oregon(/N Ca/BC) region is called the Pacific Northwest.

  26. Universal Rundle said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 9:14 pm

    @ Josh R. I'm a Western Canadian English speaker – for what it's worth, "It's raining out" sounds fine to me, and "It's rainy out" does too. (*"It rained out" is unnatural and hard to interpret for me, like it does for most others in the comments.)

  27. Anthea Fleming said,

    August 24, 2021 @ 2:56 am

    As an Australian, I would say that an event was 'rained out' – meaning that it could not be staged because of heavy rain, either before or during the event. Not the kind of rain that just stops play for a bit, as in cricket, but results in cancellation.
    I might say 'It's raining/wet out there' to comment on current weather conditions. Appropriate today.

  28. Andrew Usher said,

    August 24, 2021 @ 7:12 am

    We've agreed that the 'out'='outside' meaning is meant here, and therefore, as Bob Ladd indicated, the stress is on 'rained'. My feeling about that usage is that the 'out' is added to stress the location's being outside, even though that's obvious. So we will say "it's raining out" to someone inside and about to go outside, because of the immediate relevance of the rain being outside. Likewise "it's hot out" can be said in that situation, or when outside and implicitly making a contrast with inside. But if I am just looking out the window and commenting on the rain I observe, I would feel silly to add 'out' though apparently that's not universal.

    Following that, the reason "it rained out" is rare compared to "it's raining out" is that that element of relevance is rarely there. An example where it is, is if the topic is something left outside that might be harmed by the rain – then "it rained out (last night)" might be justified.

    Why can we use 'out' for 'outside' but not 'in' for 'inside'? Frequency, for one, and that 'outside' is reasonably (especially in the context of weather) conceived of as one location, while 'inside' is not. We can say in the context of a leaky roof "it's raining in" or "it rained in", but 'in' likely has a shade of its 'into' meaning there; "it's hot in" is impossible.

    Of course there is the meaning of 'rained out' that applies to an event being canceled; there the stress is on 'out' (and I don't think I'd use 'rained OUT' with any other meaning). This sense is used in the passive: the ball game 'was rained out' or maybe 'got rained out' – I initially though this post would be about an active use of the phrase i.e. the game 'rained out'. I would not be completely shocked to hear that but can't remember ever having done so.

    k_over_hbarc at

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