fill in / fill out (questionnaire)

Gizmao

Senior Member
French France
What's the difference between "fill in" and "fill out" ? Is there any difference ?
Would you say "Please fill in the questionnaire" or "Please fill out the questionnaire" ?
 
  • Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Great question! There is very little difference, but, and perhaps only to me, it seems that "filling out" something focuses more on getting it done and out of the way, while "filling in" something focuses more on the items being entered. The first connotes something that has to be gotten through, while the second is more likely to be something in which you care more about the content. So I might "fill in" or "fill out" a questionaire, depending on whether I cared very much, but I would only ever "fill out" a form, because a form is virtually always something you complete only as a means to another end.

    That said, I think you could use either one in almost any context. "Fill out" is more frequently used in the U.S., in my experience.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I believe "fill out" refers to the entire form (although "fill in" could be used for the entire form.)

    "Fill in" refers to a particular field on the form. I don't think I've ever seen "fill out the blank"; it's always "fill in the blank."

    So, at the overall level, "fill in" and "fill out" are interchangeable. When talking about a specific field, "fill in" is the only one used, as far as I know.
     

    marget

    Senior Member
    JamesM said:
    I believe "fill out" refers to the entire form (although "fill in" could be used for the entire form.)

    "Fill in" refers to a particular field on the form. I don't think I've ever seen "fill out the blank"; it's always "fill in the blank."

    So, at the overall level, "fill in" and "fill out" are interchangeable. When talking about a specific field, "fill in" is the only one used, as far as I know.
    I agree with the distinctions you've made. I say "fill in th blanks" as on a test, but I say "fill out the questionnaire". Interestingly enough, my dictionary states the following difference: Fill in - (informal) to provide with information that is essential or newly acquired. Fill out - to complete (a form, for example) providing required information.

    I've never thought about it that way!
     

    Gizmao

    Senior Member
    French France
    Thanks a lot, it's interesting...

    In my particular case, I'm sending a questionnaire to all the managers of my company for some reason (it's not intersting :eek:!)(but it's very important :cool: ).

    I think I will use "Fill in"...
     

    Gizmao

    Senior Member
    French France
    marget said:
    I agree with the distinctions you've made. I say "fill in th blanks" as on a test, but I say "fill out the questionnaire". Interestingly enough, my dictionary states the following differences: Fill in - (informal) to provide with information that is essential or newly acquired. Fill out - to complete (a form, for example) providing required information.

    I've never thought about it that way!
    Ooops I'm not sure now...
     

    Aoyama

    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    Fill in and JamesM are both right , if the said questionnaire has blanks to be filled in . If you have to write down lengthy answers (but then it's not really a questionnaire anymore, more like a form), then it should be filled out .
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Gizmao said:
    Ooops I'm not sure now...
    I think "fill in" in the dictionary definition quoted refers to giving information to someone, not to completing a form. You may "fill in", "bring up to date", or "brief" someone about recent information they need but don't have.

    So you can use either "fill in" or "fill out" for the questionaire, as you wish, without running afoul of this particular definition.
     

    petereid

    Senior Member
    english
    Fill in - (informal) to provide with information that is essential or newly acquired.
    This is related to canversation not form filling "Can you fill me in on the decisions made last night" = Provide me with the information concerning the decisions made last night.
     

    difficult cuss

    Senior Member
    English England
    I take the difference to be traditionally one of geography, in the UK it was always the case that one would "fill in" a form, whereas in the US one would "fill out" a form. Now of course, with the influence of instant media "fill out" is accepted and often used in the UK.
    From a distinctly pedantic viewpoint however I find the notion of "filling out" to be oxymoronic. One could not "fill out" a hole and as a form has places which require "filling" it would seem apparent (perhaps) to follow the same convention.
    Further "to fill out" in UK English is to grow. I.E. "he was a slight lad, but filled out as he reached adulthood".
     

    Celador

    Senior Member
    English / Scotland
    I don't think any native speaker could tell a non-native speaker from whether he/she said <fill in> or <fill out>.

    In any event, you could always use <complete>.
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    And as a Canadian, I would say fill in the blanks, but fill out a questionnaire or a form. I would NEVER say fill in a questionnaire.

    Just another point of view!
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    Celador said:
    I don't think any native speaker could tell a non-native speaker from whether he/she said <fill in> or <fill out>.

    In any event, you could always use <complete>.
    I second Celador. When in doubt, find another option. Complete is very commonly heard... and works on both sides of the Atlantic. :)
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    I'd agree with difficult cuss, except that I think that he/she means that "fill out" is being more frequently used in the UK.
     

    wishuponastar

    Senior Member
    English, Northern Ireland
    You nearly always say fill out a form. Fill in is really only used with details.

    I will fill in my details for you on this form.

    Fill out is best with form and questionnaire etc.
    Can you fill out this form?


    If in doubt use complete, but 90% of time fill out is best!!
     

    difficult cuss

    Senior Member
    English England
    Stating that "fill out" is best, is a step too far. I would suggest that it is certainly an option, but "best" is simply misleading. Unless of course, you have some background material to confirm your view? I should be most interested to see it. Please note that I am British and would therefore be refering to UK English. This is not to disparage US English in the least, both are entirely valid, but they are often different.
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    Stating that "fill out" is best, is a step too far. I would suggest that it is certainly an option, but "best" is simply misleading. Unless of course, you have some background material to confirm your view? I should be most interested to see it. Please note that I am British and would therefore be refering to UK English. This is not to disparage US English in the least, both are entirely valid, but they are often different.
    Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary corroborates your statement re: fill in. "to add what is necessary to complete, e.g. a form." Webster's International Dictionary does not give useful information on the subject.

    Having thought this through, as a native speaker of Canadian English, I would say fill in for "what is missing," which would not apply to a form or a questionnaire, neither of which is missing, only the information. I say fill out a form or a questionnaire. Whether or not this is standard across the country, I cannot say.
     

    Pepan

    New Member
    Czech - Czech Republic
    Can I ask an additional question, please? Is it correct to say "Can I ask you to fill in it"? Given that "it" stands for a questionnaire.

    Thank you very much!
    Pepa
     

    Soleil_Couchant

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I think this thread is dead and buried...but like others stated....to fill out or complete an entire form or questionnaire...I would use "fill out." "Fill in" is used more specifically for filling in the blanks, filling in bubbles on a sheet, filling in certain lines, filling in missing answers/information.

    So, fill out a questionnaire. "Can I ask you all to fill out these questionnaires?"

    It's not the end of the world to say "fill in"....they'll know what you mean....but I think "fill out" works better.
     

    Pepan

    New Member
    Czech - Czech Republic
    Yeah, thank you very much. This explanation is nice and comprehensive. Still, my previous question aims at choosing a correct structure of the sentence.

    Which of the following sentences is/are correct?
    Can I ask you to fill in it?
    Can I ask you to fill it in?

    Let's suppose that it is a questionnaire containing just couple of the blanks to be filled in.

    Thank you very much for your reaction.
    Pepa
     
    Last edited:

    Soleil_Couchant

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Like c_zenii said....definitely use the second one. No question on that!

    "Can I ask you to fill it in?" That's the correct one. "it" goes before "in" here.

    you wouldn't ever say the other one...
     
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