What does it mean if someone says they’re just ‘checking in’? What about when somebody says they’re ‘checking in’ at a hotel?
The phrase ‘checking in’ has a number of different meanings, including:
The term ‘checking in’ actually has a few different meanings. They are:
You can usually understand which meaning is implied by the phrase ‘checking in’ or ‘check in’ depending on its context.
For example, if someone is talking about their itinerary for a trip and their arrival at an airport or a hotel, they are most likely using the first definition of ‘checking in’ listed above.
On the other hand, if your friend messages you online and says they’re “just ‘checking in,’” the meaning implied is definition number two on our list. In this use of the phrase, the implication is that they want to see how you are doing and what has been going on in your life. If you spoke to them recently, they might simply be asking how your day is going, while if it’s been some time since you spoke, they might be asking more generally about how things in your life are.
If your boss at your new job says that they are going to ‘check in’ periodically, they are implying that they will be contacting you (either in person, through the phone, or online, depending on what is standard in your office,) to see how you are settling in and to find out if you have any questions.
‘Checking in’ and ‘check in’ are also used in relation to returning a library book or something else you’ve rented or ‘checked out.’ For example, if a librarian asks if you’re planning on ‘checking in’ your overdue book, they are asking if you are ready to return it to the library’s circulation.
Finally, a number of social media platforms have ‘check-in’ features where you can report your location. For example, if you go to a hip restaurant in town, you can let your friends and followers know where you are by ‘checking in.’
The word ‘check' in itself has several different meanings– it can refer to:
As you can see, this is a versatile word indeed. It even has a definition specific to the sport of falconry– when a hawk forsakes its proper game and instead follows other birds.
Many of the ways that the word ‘check’ is used seem to have developed from the way that ‘check’ is used in chess, i.e., ‘to arrest, stop.’
The use of the phrases to ‘check in’ or ‘check out’ in relation to a hotel and other things, such as library books, dates back to at least 1909. ‘Check up,’ on the other hand, which is related to the meaning of ‘checking in’ refers to communicating for a status update, dates back to 1883.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we can see that the phrase ‘checking in’ was already in use in the early 1800s, but only nominally. It isn’t until around 1900 that the use of this phrase begins to increase, reaching a new high in the 1940s before plateauing until about 1980.
Now that we have a better sense of the meaning and origin of ‘checking in,’ let’s look at some of the practical ways you might use the phrase in a sentence.
If you are arriving at a hotel, you are commonly expected to stop by the front desk in order to let them know you are there, receive your room key, and potentially make arrangements for payment. Other common places you might ‘check in’ include the airport or a convention.
When you take out a library book, rent a tool, or otherwise borrow something you are expected to return, it is generally said that you are ‘checking out’ the item. You are ‘checking in’ the object when you bring it back.
Perhaps the most common usage of the phrase ‘checking in’ in a casual conversation has to do with connecting with another person in order to talk or exchange a status update.
For example, your boss might say they are ‘checking in’ about a project with an upcoming deadline, or a friend might call and say they are just ‘checking in’ after you haven’t spoken in a little while.
In a related use, you can also ‘check in’ on something other than a person. For example, the morning routine of a pig farmer likely includes ‘checking in’ on his swine, while a pest control company might schedule appointments to periodically ‘check in’ on the property of a homeowner to make sure a mice infestation is still under control.
Now that you understand the various meanings of ‘checking in’ and ‘check in,’ you can confidently use these phrases when writing and speaking. Understanding the countless idioms in the English language can feel overwhelming and confusing at first, but after you start to get the hang of you’ll find that these phrases can enrich and enliven your vocabulary.