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Work Out or Workout? Which is Correct, When?

As an avid exercise fan, one of the sets of most commonly confused set of words emerges when deciding whether to use “work out” or “workout” in a sentence.

What’s the difference between the two, and how can you remember which to use when? Let’s learn the tricks. Since I’ve been both an English teacher and an artist for many years, I’ve paired my hand-drawn illustrations with this lesson to help it stick in the mind.

Work out or workout
Work out or workout? Learn here…

The Work Out or Workout Difference

Time to explain the difference between work out — with two words — and workout as one word! We will start with the single word version…

The Definition and Usage of “Workout”

For the “work out or workout” quandary, let’s start by defining “workout” because it’s the more straightforward side of the duo. The word “workout” is a NOUN (thing) meaning: a session of exercise or intense physical movement.

“Workout” in Example Sentences

Here are examples using the word “workout” correctly in sentences. Notice that each time it’s used, “workout” is indicating a specific chunk of time during which the person was sweating and breathing hard from exertion.

  • It was a real workout to carry that whale up the stairs!
  • My daily workout consists of 4,000 pushups and 10,000 sit-ups, followed by a mile-long sprint around the block. It’s easy for me, and I barely break a sweat.
  • Wondering what I’m planning for today? At 3pm I’m headed to the gym to do a hard workout on the treadmill. Then I’m going to eat an entire birthday cake.
Workout definition
Remember that a “workout” is always a noun.

Definitions and Examples of “Work Out”

Moving to the other side of “work out or workout,” the phrase “work out” has several meanings, and is a phrasal verb of the word “work.” Here is each definition of “work out,” paired with example sentences to show correct usage.

1. The first meaning of “work out” is: to DO a workout or exercise! (Notice how “work out” is an action word verb, while “workout” is a noun — thing — talking about the actual exercise session.)

  • Ex1: I didn’t work out today because I was too tired to do any exercise more strenuous than sitting down, but I’ll make up for it by doing a good workout every day this week.

2. Another definition of “work out” is: for things to be figured out, solved, developing, or resolved.

  • Ex2a: Though the lesson was very confusing at first, it all worked out in the end because the students who understood the concept helped teach the kids who were still struggling to learn it.
  • Ex2b: When she asked me how my career as a chef was working out, I decided not to tell her that I’d burned down the kitchen after setting a pot roast on fire.
  • Ex2c: The schedule tomorrow works out perfectly for you to have time to hit the gym and get a workout in before dinner.
Workout or work out
Work out and workout in a sentence!

3. “Work out” can also mean: to solve, figure out, or plan something.

  • Ex3a: I can’t quite work out how I’m going to get this massive octopus through that tiny door, but maybe he’s squishy enough that I can fold him in half and push him through.
  • Ex3b: I sincerely hope you two work out your differences and learn to get along, because you’re supposed to be co-teaching a class together tomorrow!
  • Ex3c: We still need to work out the plan for your birthday. Should we invite everyone to a park, or just ask them to send us boxes full of money?
Difference between workout and work out
Can you tell the difference between workout and work out now?

Work Out or Workout? Now You Know!

Just remember: when you’re trying to figure out whether to use “work out” or “workout,” the easiest way to decide is to ask: “Am I talking about a timed period of intense exercise, like a 30-minute cycling circuit?” If so, that is a noun or thing, so use the single word, “workout.” If not, you’ll need the two words, “work out.”

One last example: Though it may be a mental workout to decide when to write the two words “work out” versus the single word, “workout,” you now have the tools necessary to work out the right answer every time.

Notice how “workout” here indicates a session of strenuous exercise (in this case for the brain), and “work out” in this context means to figure out and resolve.

I hope this illustrated English lesson has helped with this common spelling error in writing… and provided some smiles along the way via muscular cartoons!

Want to dive into the actual exercise? Check outHow to Work Out More: Workout Plans You’ll Stick To!