What's the Difference Between FIND OUT and FIGURE OUT?

Written by
Tony Kaizen

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English learners confuse these phrasal verbs all the time. Allow me to teach you the difference between them.

Find out and figure out are two phrasal verbs that many English learners confuse all the time, mainly because they have similar ideas, but we use them in different contexts.

So first, let me explain the phrasal verb find out.

The phrasal verb find out means to discover some information or to become aware of some fact. So whenever you hear find out, think discover information

Also remember that we don’t use find out when we discover objects. For example, I wouldn’t say, “I found out my car keys.” I would say, “I found my car keys.”

So let me give you some examples of how we use find out to say that we have discovered or become aware of some information.

Mom is gonna kill you when she finds out you broke the window.
(Mom is gonna kill you when she discovers you broke the window.)

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A: What time does the mall close?

B: I don’t know, let me find out.


A: What time does the mall close?

(B: I don’t know, let me discover that information.)

(B: I don’t know, let me learn that information.)

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Now, some examples of using find out to say that you have become aware of some fact.

I just found out that I’m going to be a father!

(I just became aware of the fact that I’m going to be a father!)

(I just learned that I’m going to be a father!)

(I just discovered the fact that I’m going to be a father.)

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I found out that my girlfriend speaks Russian today.

(I became aware of the fact that my girlfriend speaks Russian today.)

(I learned that my girlfriend speaks Russian today.)

(I discovered the fact that my girlfriend speaks Russian today.)

So remember, to find out means to discover, or become aware of some new information or fact.

Now, let’s talk about the phrasal verb figure out.

This is a transitive verb which means that it needs an object. So you will figure it out or figure her out or figure something out. We don’t use the phrasal verb figure out without an object.

To figure out means to come to understand someone or something.

To figure out also means to determine something.

So let’s look at examples of these definitions one at a time, starting with coming to understand someone or something.

Hey, can you help me with this math problem? I’m having a hard time figuring it out.

(Hey, can you help me with this math problem? I’m having a hard time coming to understand it.)

(Hey, can you help me with this math problem? I’m having a hard time solving it.)

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A: What do you think about the new boss?

B: I don’t know, I just can’t figure him out.

A: What do you think about the new boss?

(B: I don’t know, I just can’t understand him.)

A: What do you think about the new boss?

(B: I don’t know, it’s hard for me to know what type of person he really is.)

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Now, let’s look at some examples of using figure out to say determine.

The police are having a hard time figuring out who killed the victim.

(The police are having a hard time determining who killed the victim.)

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Have you guys figured out what you want for dinner?

Have you guys determined what you want for dinner?

Have you guys decided what you want for dinner?

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A: I just don’t know what to do about this problem.

B: Well, figure it out!

A: I just don’t know what to do about this problem.

(B: Well, determine what you’re going to do and solve the problem!)



So in summary, just remember that find out and figure out have similar ideas. 

However, to find out is to discover or become aware of some information. 

To figure out is to solve some problem or determine something.

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