To Dole Out and To Be on the Dole


Jorge from Peru wants to know what this sentence means: “Germany and Spain doled out incentives to consumers.”

To dole out means to give something–money, food, clothes, or something else–to other people who need it, and usually to do so little by little.  “To dole out” implies the idea that the person who is “doling out” is more prosperous (has more money or things) than the person that the gift is going to. This is why “to dole out” is often used when speaking of the government, businesses, or charity organizations.

Here are a couple of examples using “to dole out”:
– “After the bad storms, the city government doled out fresh water and food to people left without power in their homes.”
– “The company doled out small cash bonuses to its employees at the end of the year.”

In the sentence Jorge mentioned, incentives are things that encourage or motivates people to do something, and a consumer is someone who buys things for their own use.  The sentence, then, means that Germany and Spain are passing out or making available little by little things that will get people to buy goods, probably to improve the current bad economy.

A related expression, “to be on the dole,” is used to describe someone who is getting regular help in the form of money from someone: the government, one’s parents, or another source.  In the U.S., this expression usually has a negative meaning.  If we say that someone is “on the dole,” we usually mean that he or she is getting money without doing any work, and he or she should feel some shame in getting this help.

Of course, in these difficult times, there are many people getting financial help from the government, whether it’s unemployment benefits for people who lose their jobs or welfare assistance for the poor to pay for their daily needs, such as food and clothes.  The more neutral (neither bad nor good, positive nor negative) way to describe this situation is to say that people are on public assistance or they are getting government assistance.

Thanks, Jorge, for the very timely question, and I hope this is useful.

~ Lucy

P.S.  To our own Irish American, Dr. McQuillan, and to all of us in the U.S. celebrating this day: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

This entry was posted in Language & Terms. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to To Dole Out and To Be on the Dole

  1. ho-sun says:

    How are you doing, everybody? I am a member shifting to
    Being dressed in green and drinking green beer on 17 March is fun but it is eerie in conservative countries.
    Under the power of economic Tsunami, giving alms is generous and taking dole is a bit embarrassing. To take the bull by the horns may be the best way to help yourself!

  2. GB says:

    Thank you , Lucy, and thank you, McQuillan, too. Everytime I came in your blog or ESL Podcast, I always can get some things useful, and learn more and more stuff about English language. Thank you for all your hard work. I love u!!!!

  3. fatima says:

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
    I will drink a pint for you 😀

  4. Le Trung Hieu says:

    “The sentence, then, means that Germany and Spain are passing out or making available little by little things..”. Sorry, I don’t understand the meaning of “passing out” in this context. I used to think that “pass out” mean die. But in this context, that meaning sounds irrational. Could you explain it more clearly?

  5. Rodrigo says:

    Thanks again,
    I understand that “to dole out” is like a donations but related to econonomic help in crisis times…


  6. emiliano says:

    I hope you have spent an happy St. Patrick’s Day Jeff and I should drink a pint for you health if I could do it but I drink a glass of water instead as good intention is what really means.

    In Spain Goverment is doing nothing at all, I don’t know where that news are from, because if Govermente supports unemployers it is because I is obliged to do it during
    the time unployers have own their rights to it working before. But once the time is finish they have nothing, and don´t received anything from Goverment.
    Only another institutions as Caritas, Manos Unidas, Town/cty council, or churches do it instead.
    There are long lines of people waiting for support (food, clothes and son on) in this kind of buildings supported by these not governmental institutions, that´s the truth.

    Le Trung I think that “to die” is similar to “pass away” so I don’t think pass out means die, I think it means “to faint or to graduate ” what is quite different.


  7. Peter says:

    Thanks Lucy,

    As you well know ,the dole is used in UK. In North America,we mostly use welfare . For instance ,I have to go on welfare ,or I am on welfare.But ,Dole out is vastly used.

  8. Jose Maria, San Sebastian says:

    Emiliano: I am quite agree with you.
    Remember that Presidente Zapatero, before the elections, had promised 400 Euro for each spanish people (never had said when, of course¡)
    I am receiving a little of this “money´s promise” every month; but my wife, of course that Spanish, never has nor will receive no one centimo.
    This are our Presidents promises ¡
    Happy St. Joseph Day every body.
    The Best for all.

  9. Julio says:

    This is a high time for increasing Government’s subsidies in everywhere. It is maybe the best way to sweeten these bad times for more and more people. The worst thing would be just to focus on things like that and to forget to do anything for going out from the current situation to a new process of increasing jobs and so on.
    In my oppinion this is, for many Governments like some Doctors, who focusses on the effects but not in the causes.
    Anyway, very interesting issue, Dr. Luccy,
    Best regards from Spain,

  10. Elisângelo says:

    Hi everyone,

    Lucy, thanks for provide me in particular once more a new word in my growing vocabulary. It is much pleasurable to learn new words by seeing them inside an exemple than try to get them off hand by reading a dictionary. I caught the meaning of it quite easy.

    Emiliano, thanks a lot by your explaination about the phrasal verb ” pass out”; I already knew the one ” pass away”( to die) , now I got the “pass out” ( to be unconcious) and not “dead”. Though it has a few others very distinct meanings as we just saw lucy posting.

    thanks a lot to everyone that participate in the blog.

  11. emiliano says:

    I would like to share some news that today is in all newspaper of Spain and also in the radio stations of the country, it is about the matter we talk here and the help Goverment is given to the people of this country.
    I am pasting it in spanish but I should try to translate it underneath:

    Tiene 69 años, es invidente y padece un trastorno bipolar. Solicitó la ayuda de la Ley de Dependencia y se la han dado, un céntimo al mes y además le han ingresado los atrasos: 18 céntimos por el año y medio que lleva esperando. La explicación que le dan es que Antonio ya cobra una pensión por gran invalidez que es el 150 por ciento de su salario: 1300 euros que no se pueden acumular con la ayuda a la dependencia.
    En la carta que han recibido les dicen que tiene que cuidarlo su mujer. Pero a ella la acaban de operar de la cadera y estará cuatro meses casi sin poder andar. Dicen que saldrán adelante con la ayuda de su hija y que el Estado se podía haber ahorrado un céntimo de mal gusto.

    “He is 69 years old, can´t see and he is suffering a psyquiatric disorder. He asked for help by the Dependency Law, and he has received it, one cent of euro by month, he has received also the delays 18 cents of euro by a year and a half, the time he is waiting the help.
    His salary is 1.300 euros by month due to be as a big disable person and Goverment said that is enough as he can`t plus any help to his salary.
    In the letter Goverment said that is his wife who has to look after him. But she has an hip operation and would be four months unable to walk. Goverment said that
    they can go ahead with their daughter’s help and also that the Goverment (The State) could be save a cent of bad taste if they would not ask for any help”

    This morning a radio commentator was talking with the daughter about this matter and she said that his father can’t eat or wash by themselve, he needs help nearly by
    everything, and that the Goverment´s letter has been a sarcasm to them.
    It is also a sarcasm to me or to all spaniards that have any sensibility about what is happening now in this country with this shameless goverment.

    I want to share these news with all ESL friends. Regards

  12. Le Trung Hieu says:

    Thanks Emiliano

Comments are closed.