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December 27, 2019


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Hello, May I ask you to explain a difference between fill in and fill out? Thank you in advance.
Best wishes and Season's greetings!


:) I see this mistake all the time as I live in Germany and the term in German is "Rueckseite" which means...backside!

Business Writing Blog

Hello Elena,

"Fill in" and "fill out"--good question. "The American Heritage College Dictionary" suggests that both are correct. It contains an entry for "fill out," which says "to complete (a form, for example) by providing required information." That seems the better match for your situation.

However, one of the dictionary's definitions for "fill in" is "to provide with information that is essential or newly acquired"; I believe that definition could be stretched to match your needs. Normally, though, people use it in sentences like these: "Fill me in on the details" and "Please fill in the team on what happened."

Although I prefer "fill out," I don't think you would be wrong if you filled in the forms. Just be consistent.


Business Writing Blog

Kathryn, thanks for the information! I enjoyed learning that "backside" appears incorrectly in more than one language. I wonder whether we will learn about more examples.



Hello Lynn, thank you very much for your attention to my question and your explanation. Now it’s clear!
Have a nice day

Business Writing Blog

Elena, you are welcome. I was happy to learn something along with you.


Maria Soininen

In Finnish, the reverse side of a sheet of paper is "takapuoli", and that is also a colloquial expression for buttocks/rump. However, in more formal contexts, "kääntöpuoli" is usually used, this word doesn't have a double meaning.

Fill in seems to be more common in British usage, while fill out is the American expression, but both seem to mean essentially the same thing, at least in the context of filling in/out a form. There might be a distinction between the two in American English, in that fill in might mean to fill in a mostly completed form with missing details (e.g. date and signature), while filling out means completing an empty form from scratch. As far as I know, there's no such distinction in British English. (A bit of background: Br.E. is the version I grew up with in school, including a year's stay in the UK when I was a child. I mostly use British English professionally, but switched to American in private communications online more than 20 years ago.)

Business Writing Blog

Maria, thank you for sharing your expertise in several languages. I appreciate the details.


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