Feeling in need of a workout? Tim Bowen helps us work out the problems with this useful phrasal verb.

‘Things didn’t work out as we expected so we had to start the whole project from scratch’. This intransitive use of work out means ‘to be successful or to end in a particular way’.

If you work out, you do physical exercise as a way of keeping fit, as in ‘She works out at the gym at least twice a week’. This also gives us the noun a workout, meaning an occasion when you do physical exercise, as in ‘I gave myself a really tough workout this morning’.

Work out can also be used for saying what the actual cost or value of something is when you calculate it, as in ‘Unsurprisingly, going by train works out more expensive than taking the car’, and, used with at, it can mean to add up to a particular amount, as in ‘The total cost of the repairs worked out at about £1,000’.

As a transitive verb, work out has a number of meanings. It can mean ‘to devise’, as in ‘We need to work out a way of getting our message across more effectively’ and also ‘to calculate’, as in ‘Work out how much we’ll have left after we’ve paid for the flight’.

Often used in the negative, work out can also mean to understand someone’s character or motives, as in ‘I can’t work him out’.

If you work out a problem, you deal with it in a satisfactory way, as in ‘I think we’ve managed to work out our differences’. The phrasal verb sort out can be used with the same meaning.