Drown out

“Drown out” means that the sound something makes is covered up, or obscured, by a louder sound.

Today's story: Return of sports
Explore more: Lesson #266
Keywords:

Be your best self in English

Move confidently through the English-speaking world

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptQuizYour turn
Simple TranscriptEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

Drown out

Today’s phrasal verb is to “drown out.” First of all, to drown is to die from being underwater and unable to breathe. That’s drown. But “drown out” is something different. Drown out means that the sound something makes is covered up, or obscured, by a louder sound.

When I wrote this lesson, I had my windows open and I could hear the sound of birds chirping outside. A nice, wonderful sound after many long months of having my windows closed. But soon after, the sound of a lawnmower drowned out the sound of the bird chirping. Yes, the birds were still chirping and making their delightful sound. But I couldn’t hear that because all I could hear was the sound of the lawnmower. The lawnmower drowned out the sound of the birds. The lawnmower was so loud that I couldn’t hear the birds.

And so it is in many professional sports. Not all of them. The spectators are nice and quiet in golf and tennis. But in football, the fans are noisy. They yell; they cheer; they use vuvuzelas in some countries—noisemakers. The typical sounds on the field of play like a player’s foot striking a ball or even the players talking to one another—these sounds are typically drowned out by the noise of the crowd. That means, most people in the stadium can’t hear a player’s foot actually kick a ball. The crowd noise drowns it out.

Sometimes this is a strategy. I don’t know how it is in soccer, but in American football, the home crowd sometimes purposely cheers to distract the visiting team. There are times in American football when the visiting team needs to communicate verbally with each other. They talk to each other on the field in code. The fans at the stadium know this, so they purposely start screaming as loud as they can to drown out the players on the visiting team who are trying to talk to each other.

If you go to a popular bar or club, the music might drown out all conversation. The music might be so loud that you can’t hear other people talk. That could be good if you went there for the music; it could be bad if you went there for the conversation. The opposite could happen, too. You might go to a restaurant with some music playing in the background, but as the restaurant gets busier and busier, the noise of the patrons drowns out the relatively softer music playing in the background.

You might purposely put music on to drown out an unpleasant sound. Perhaps your roommate inconsiderately leaves his alarm ringing in the morning, while he’s off doing something else. You might turn on some music to drown out the sound of the alarm coming from your roommate’s bedroom.

When you go for a long run, you might put music on to drown out the rest of the world, to drown out the world around you. Why would you do that? You would do that if you didn’t want to hear anything else from the outside world, temporarily, while you concentrated on your run.

Quote of the Week

Today’s quote of the week comes from the journalist Malcolm Gladwell. It’s from the book called “Outliers,” which I recommend. Here’s the quote: “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Keep that in mind as you work on your English; I’ll keep that in mind as I navigate this new web site I somehow managed to create!

See you next time!

That’s all for today’s Plain English lesson. Remember to check out our brand-new web site, PlainEnglish.com, new look, new feel, new organization. And if you’re considering joining Plain English Plus+, this is the time to do it! Prices are going up on July 1, but only for members who sign up after July 1. If you join this month, your price will always, always be only $15. You can get more information and sign up at PlainEnglish.com/plus.

Use realistic expressions like a native speaker

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

Test your knowledge

Take a 4-question quiz to make sure you understand today’s Expression

Plus+ feature

Write a sentence with this Expression

Get personal, human feedback on the examples that you write. Build the confidence to use this Expression in the real world

Story: Return of sports