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spy on (someone or something)

To observe someone or something in a clandestine or furtive manner, so as not to be noticed doing so. I can't believe you hired a private detective to spy on me—do you really distrust me that much? I was sent to spy on the foreign ambassador during his time in Washington.
See also: on, spy

spy out

1. To observe or investigate something or some place very closely or carefully in order to discover something or glean some information. A noun or pronoun can be used between "spy" and "out." We sent our best agents to spy the enemy encampment out in order to find a weak spot. I've been spying out some land to the west of town that could be suitable for our farm.
2. To discover something or glean some information as a result of close, careful observation. A noun or pronoun can be used between "spy" and "out." I've been sent to spy out what goes on behind closed doors at this factory. We so far haven't been able to spy any motive out for the attack.
See also: out, spy

spy out the land

To find out about or come to understand a particular state of affairs or the way a situation exists or has developed, especially before taking any decisive or definitive action. Given the turbulent nature of this market, I think it would be prudent for us to spy out the land before we agree to invest in your company. I'm just spying out the land regarding my parents' divorce before I make any solid plans to come visit them this Christmas.
See also: land, out, spy
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

ˌspy out the ˈland

find out about a situation, a place, an organization, etc. before you make a decision: The manager is sending Mark to Iceland to spy out the land. He wants to know whether we can do business there.
See also: land, out, spy
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

spy out

1. To observe some place secretly and closely: The troops spied out the cave and decided it was safe to hide there. The explorers sent a scout into the valley to spy it out before descending.
2. To discover something by observing secretly and closely: Try to spy out what's going on on those rooftops. We followed the other teams' strategies carefully to spy them out.
See also: out, spy
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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References in periodicals archive ?
The Chinese state-backed propaganda blog the Global times claims that Taiwanese spies are likely to target Chinese students in Taiwan who study political science, economics or national-defense related majors.
coast near Connecticut, it might not be unrealistic to question whether Pyongyang is using spies to infiltrate the U.S., as it has repeatedly done in other nations.
Pupil Augustinas thought spies needed to be brave, have gadgets and be able to improvise.
According to spy expert Neil Root, there was a real fear of Communist spies in the 50s and 60s.
Send Hidden Messages: A method called steganography allows spies to write messages that are only detectable by the sender and receiver.
The spies received a hero's welcome in Russia, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, leading them in a patriotic sing-along in July.
Some excerpts from these early spy stories can be found in Hugh and Graham Greene's The Spy's Bedside Book, or in Alan Furst's anthology of literary espionage, The Book of Spies.
In 2001, I set up a corporate entertainment company called Spygames which offers clients and individuals the opportunity to enter the exciting world of espionage, spies and secret agents.
"I met with them," Putin said, answering the journalists' questions whether he met with 10 Russian spies deported from the United States.
The judge ordered the spies to be deported immediately and "never to attempt to return to the US".
In Moscow, riot police on Thursday secured the perimeter of a prison thought to be holding convicted spies for the West as convoy of...
EVEN BEFORE the USA officially entered World War II, citizens were on guard for the sinister saboteurs and spies who threatened freedom around the globe.
OntheBox SPOOKS WEDNESDAY, 9pm, BBC1 SPIES, lies and double agents can only mean that Spooks is back and ready for action.
There's something exciting about the world of spies, don't you think?
But covert surveillance conducted by amateur and professional spies still includes old-fashioned techniques of stealth, trickery and deception known a half century ago: shadowing by car, peeking at letters and diaries, donning disguises, breaking and entering, taking photographs, and tape recording conversations.