Laying It All Out: To Flesh Out or to Flush Out?

Posted on Apr 24, 2019


Flesh out and flush out are phrases useful in extracting more information out of anything or anyone. In daily conversation, they can be fun to use because they’re easier to pronounce and understand than their formal one-word counterparts (i.e., explain, expound, reveal, etc.). However, daily conversation is also where these two phrases are often used mistakenly in place of the other. Only one letter differentiates them, but stay tuned—this difference will be helpful later.

Flesh out Flush out

Out is the common denominator of flesh out and flush out. And true enough, their meanings are similar in that they both imply outward movements. However, the first words in either phrase mean completely different things.


“To flesh something out” is literally to add flesh to bones. Think adding layers of muscle to a skeleton. Or when one accidentally says, “Hey, can you flesh out those chickens?” they actually mean coating the poultry with meat.


This phrase is also used figuratively—it’s the more popular usage actually—and it means “to give it substance or to make it fuller or nearly complete.” For example, if someone in a conversation shares a particularly interesting anecdote, the other person can ask them to flesh it out more so they can get more details. This also applies to concepts as in the case of project proposals when someone might say, “Can you flesh out that idea more? I’d like to see how it works.” Incidentally, this article is an excellent example—it fleshes out the meaning of flesh out.


On the other hand, “to flush out” is to drive something out of hiding. This comes from cases when hunters go after their game, and then their prey goes into the safety of its hiding place. Hunters would flush out their target by setting fire to it or with the help of hunting dogs. Here’s when one might properly say, “Can you flush out those chickens?”


Flush out can also be used metaphorically, in which case it will mean “to reveal” or “to clear out.” For example, the government is hiding a potentially deadly weapon, and it would be the goal of the rebels to flush out their secret. They may also attempt to flush out the suppliers of the said weapon.


Here are a few more sentences for review:

  1. Fleshing out the details of this party is the top priority of the organizers.

  2. The wolf pack successfully flushed out the stag from the thicket.

  3. Sabrina fleshed out the skeletal remains of the long-dead soldier and commanded it to wreak havoc with its newfound life and body.

  4. The werewolf retreated into its den, and the hunters planned to flush the beast out with silver-laced smoke bombs.

  5. The presenting team didn’t fully explain the action plan for their Christmas charity drive, so the panel asked them to flesh out the project further.

  6. The mission was difficult enough for the infiltrators without having to flush out the castle’s inhabitants.

  7. The mission was difficult enough for the infiltrators without having to flush out the castle’s inhabitants.


Here’s one more trick to distinguish the two phrases: to flesh out is to explain and expand something, and to flush is to unveil or uncover it. Use that one letter of difference to set them apart effectively, and there will be no need to worry about confusing them again.


That’s it for today. Hopefully, this article has sufficiently fleshed out the differences between these two phrases and successfully flushed out every secret that helps in understanding them. If you’ve got any other questions regarding grammar and writing, just drop a line and we’ll do our best to respond as soon as possible. Until next time!




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