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Flush Out or Flesh Out? Learn the Difference

When do you use “flush out” or “flesh out” in a sentence? You’ve come to the right place to learn the difference between these commonly confused words in the English language through easy-to-understand examples — and cartoon drawings!

My name is Lillie, and I’ve been an ELA teacher for 18 years, teaching every level from elementary, to middle and high school, to adults. I’m also an artist, and I delight in hand-illustrating lessons such as “Whose vs. Who’s,” and the ever-confusing “Everyday vs. Every Day.” Now let’s dive into today’s tutorial!

"Flesh out" or "Flush out?"
Should you use “Flesh out” or “Flush out?” It depends!

“Flesh Out” Meaning

The phrase “to flesh out” means to add more fullness, volume, or details. This makes sense because the word “flesh” is literally defined as the “meat” that goes around the bones of a person or animal, so “fleshing out an idea” means to add more “meat” to the skeleton of a concept.

For example, “To flesh out a plan” means to expand on it with whole lot more specifics so that the plan is as clear as possible. “Fleshing out details” means to add in many additional parts to an idea, elaborating fully.

One way to remember this definition of “flesh out” (illustrated by my drawing, below) is to imagine a skinny little monster with not much meat on its bones. Visualize the monster saying, “I want food.” This fellow is literally not fleshed out (because it’s skinny), and its ideas are also not fleshed out, since they lack details.

Now, picture a nice round monster with lots of fluffy flesh and fur on its bones. (Clearly this rotund monster has been snacking at night!) Imagine this round fellow, giving a LONG and detailed plan about food: “I’d like to eat three slices of turkey with melted brie on rye at 11:30am!” Now THAT’s a fleshed out idea for noshing.

To flesh out meaning and example
Fleshing out an idea, illustrated.

Using “Flush Out”

In contrast, “to flush out” means to push something from one place to another so that it’s cast into the open, or washed away — like a toilet flushing waste down the drain. For example, “We flushed out all the cute frogs from the pool because they were scaring the swimmers” means that all the creatures were pushed out of the water to another place.

In addition to its use in bathrooms, the term “flushing out” is often used with eyes. For example, if you get something in your eye like a piece of dust, you may need to flush it out with water or a special eye drop solution to push out the foreign body so you can see well again. As you can observe from my illustration below, tears can also flush out emotions like sadness by helping them be released from the body.

Flush out example sentence
“To flush out,” illustrated.

Flush Out or Flesh Out

To conclude, let me leave you with some tricks to remember whether to use “flush out” or “flesh out.” First, the “U” in “flush” looks like a toilet bowl (a modern invention for which I’m truly grateful), so you can imagine the water gushing out the bottom of it, washing anything inside the bowl to the outside. This helps remember that “flushing out” is about pushing something out into the open or to another place, as with a bathroom flush.

Meanwhile, the “E” in “flesh” has three different lines coming out of it, which can be a reminder that “flesh out” means to add more detail — aka, put more fleshy meat on the bones of an idea. (Want more about the letter “E?” Check out “Truely or Truly.”

I hope this “flesh out” vs. “flush out” tutorial has been helpful. Which English lessons would you like me to illustrate next? Feel free to leave a comment below!