Friday, March 18, 2011

Q & A   Is 'outwith' a word?

It most certainly is, although you might get funny looks if you use it outwith Scotland. A detailed description of its usage would be outwith the scope of this Quick Answer, and might well be outwith my area of knowledge. And should my employers happen to stumble on this blog, I would like to assure them that it is written totally outwith my contracted hours.
You're probably beginning to get the picture. Most dictionaries, if they list outwith at all, usually define it as meaning outside, but it's a little more complicated than that. I think Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has hit it on the head:
outside of something; not within something
It's usually this 'not within' or 'not part of', that we are stressing when we use this expression. I wouldn't say that this is a dialect word, being used rather in educated language, also known as Standard Scottish English. It is most often used in Scotland in quality newspapers, on serious programmes on TV etc.
In register I would say it is neutral to formal. You can see a selection of examples at the British National Corpus, link below, and I wrote a rather longer piece about it a few months ago, also linked to below.

Update - "outwith Scotland" etc

I've seen someone comment on one discussion board that this example is rather forced, and that he wouldn't use outwith in a geographical sense. I would tend to agree with him, neither would I, but it is used like this, especially in relatively formal contexts. Just google outwith Scotland, outwith Edinburgh, outwith Glasgow or outwith Aberdeen. See 'Further Update' below for more links.

Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer

You can also check outwith in Google Books, eg:
Hat tip to And here's a historical timeline of the use of outwith in a selection of Google Books, courtesy of Google Ngram Viewer - one of the best toys on the Internet.

NB. It is only used as a preposition.

It should also be stressed that outwith is only used as a preposition, whereas outside can be a noun, adjective and adverb as well as a preposition. So in Scotland we'd say:
  • Archie's outside in the garden with the dog. (adverb) Not he's outwith ...
  • Ewan's painting the outside of the house. (noun) Not he's painting the outwith ...
  • Senga's got an outside chance of winning. (adjective) Not she's got an outwith chance ...

Update - collected quotes

I thought it might be a good idea to collect examples of outwith from well-known writers, where possible linking to them in Google Books. I've also included a section with more historical use, often using facsimiles from the books themselves. These can be found on a separate page - Outwith

Further update - "outwith Scotland" etc

As there have been a couple of doubts expressed in the comments as to the use of outwith in a geographical sense, I've decided to add these links to show that that there is plenty of evidence that it is indeed used in this way by educated Scots and by Scottish institutions (as can also be seen by clicking on the city links above):

In Scots

This is the first part of the definition for outwith from the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL):
A. prep. 1. a. Of position: Outside of (a place or boundary); on the far side of; beyond.
For some early examples in old Scots see my reply to acme_54 in the comments section (more in the DSL).


  • Nigel Tranter, well-known writer on Scottish history, in A History of Scotland

    They cannot all be leaders, and consequently none are, and more united and less argumentative outsiders step in to lead them, whereas outwith Scotland, their natural energies and drive find scope amongst less combative folk, and they ...

  • John Prebble, another well-known chronicler of Scottish history, in John Prebble's Scotland:

    although he cared little for the Massacre, believing its importance exaggerated outwith the district

  • The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, by Michael Lynch

    Only 5 to 8 per cent of all transportees were Scots, half of these sentenced outwith Scotland (hence the range).

  • The Edinburgh Companion to Hugh MacDiarmid by Scott Lyall, Margery Palmer McCulloch

    ... in the Scottish universities or in universities outwith Scotland

In Parliament etc

Legal publications

See the links in my reply to Artisan in the comments section below

Links for selected site searches - "outwith Scotland"

Site searches for websites of some of the main instititions in Scotland, the media, education, politics, the law and the church. Instances of "outwith Scotland" are pretty plentiful.

Related links


  1. As an American child in Edinburgh some years ago, I got the idea outwith mean south since I constantly heard England referred to as "outwith Scotland". I have usually heard it used to refer to something nearby but not within. Whether that is pure chance or a subtle part of its meaning, I'm not sure.

  2. In addition to "outside" it also has a meaning of "beyond" in the sense of remit, responsibilities, competences, etc, hence its political connotation, even more so nowadaysin the current situation.
    I have always used it without any complaints from my clients, especially in legal translations.

  3. @aliencowman - Funny you should say that, because last night I was trying to think which prepositions could possibly take an intensifier, and the only ones I could come up with were outwith, outside and beyond, e.g - That's completely outwith my remit; it's totally beyond me.

    As regards the 'current situation', I think you are perhaps referring to whose competence the proposed referendum on independence is outwith or going beyond: Holyrood's or Westminster's.

    (Note for non-natives, Holyrood is the home of the Scottish parliament, and Westminster the home of the UK parliament. The media often use these names to refer to the two parliaments.)

    For those living outwith or beyond Scottish borders, here are a couple of reports from Scottish newspapers on this wee wrangle between Edinburgh and London: The Herald, and The Scotsman. And you can read the background to the whole affair at Wikipedia.

    @J.R.Tomlin - As I said earlier, I don't think I've ever used it in its geographical sense (except for just now), so it's interesting that this is the usage you remember the most.

  4. I first heard this term in a contractual sense many years ago from my Scottish boss and the subtlety of the statement was quite valuable in this context.

    Contractually he explained that if a part of the scope such as delivery, exchange rate etc. was "outside" of our control implied we should have had control but lost such control. Whereas "outwith" meant it was a factor we never had any influence or control over in the first place.

    I certainly don;t beleive from this context it fits "living outwith Scotland".

  5. I've never heard of this distinction between 'outside' and 'outwith' when it comes to the scope of something. Nor can I find any reference to it anywhere. For me, both of them would have the second meaning you gave, in other words, "outside of, not within", which is entirely compatible with "outwith Scotland".

    Whatever the case, many Scottish lawyers, parliamentary and legal publications use the expression "outwith Scotland"; just check out Google Books - "law" "outwith Scotland".

    Here are a few specific examples:

    The Journal of the Scottish Law Society - "There is much in the Scotland Bill to interest lawyers and much of concern to clients within and outwith Scotland ...",

    Thorntons (law firm) - "Most Probate practitioners operating outwith Scotland ..."

    The Law Society of Scotland - "The Law Society of Scotland can provide information on qualifying into Scotland from another jurisdiction but you should contact our equivalent body if you wish to qualify somewhere outwith Scotland to find out what the processes are."

    University of Edinburgh Careers Department - Solicitors - "If qualified outwith Scotland, it is possible to qualify to practise in Scotland by passing an appropriate test set by the Law Society of Scotland."

  6. No, it doesn't fit in "outwith Scotland". The correct form would be "outside Scotland".

    "Outwith" is used more in the sense of "beyond the reach/remit of". When in doubt, leave it out!

  7. As I've said, I tend to use it in the way you've mentioned, but the evidence is that plenty of educated Scots and institutions use it to talk about being outside somewhere. Just check the links I've given and the Google links. "Outwith" Scotland and other places.

    The first definition at the Dictionary of the Scots Language is:

    A. prep. 1. a. Of position: Outside of (a place or boundary); on the far side of; beyond.

    This use is nothing new; the same dictionary has examples going back to the 15th century:

    "Endlang the feild outwith the toun The battell fers was"

    "Becaus the Marques duelt in the Bog outwith the schirref-dome of Abirdene"

    And in more modern times, this is from Nigel Tranter, one of the best-known writers on Scottish history, in his 'History of Scotland' :

    "They cannot all be leaders, and consequently none are, and more united and less argumentative outsiders step in to lead them, whereas outwith Scotland, their natural energies and drive find scope amongst less combative folk, and they ..."

    And this is from the Oxford Companion to Scottish History, by
    Michael Lynch:

    "Only 5 to 8 per cent of all transportees were Scots, half of these sentenced outwith Scotland (hence the range)."

    And from that other well-known writer on Scottish history, John Prebble in John Prebble's Scotland:

    "although he cared little for the Massacre, believing its importance exaggerated outwith the district"

    Finally, one from a legal statute from 2000:

    "(2) Where any such circumstances as are mentioned in paragraph (c) of subsection (1) so arise as to give effect outwith Scotland to any authorisation granted under the relevant Scottish legislation, that authorisation shall not authorise ..."

    All of these can be found at Google Books.

  8. Though this is a rather an old thread, it has some currency, as one hears 'outwith' fairly frequently on the TV and radio nowadays. It is often from the lips of Scottish politicians so, for example, the 2015 Scottish Labour Party conference has thrown up several examples in just this last week.

    As children in an English school in the 1960s, we sang, "There is a green hill far away without a city wall", and our teacher had patiently to explain that "without" here meant "outside". Outwith is obviously a lot less open to confusion than "without" and seems ready-made for meanings less literal that the usual alternative "outside". As it is already a part of the northern British lexicon, I think its time may have come - we might well hear its use creep south of the Scottish border over the next few years.

  9. This is been so important.

  10. Is is a dialecticism; English people don't use it, Scottish people do. The only examples within this article are to Scottish legislation/dictionaries and/or references made by Scottish people; this by definition does not make it an "English" word.

  11. Outwith is certainly used in a geographical sense - see the South Ayrshire Council's Local Development Plan interactive map which uses it quite a lot.

  12. Hi Garry. Yes, I accept that, and I've already added an addendum with some examples of "outwith Scotland". I've also included geographical Google searches on this page's companion page.