English phrasal verbs

Gaynor Hartnell

Many foreign friends of mine tell me that English phrasal verbs are a nightmare.  When you are a native English speaker, you don’t realise how difficult these expressions can be.  They are used so often, it is essential that you master them to improve your comprehension.

I started “looking into it” (a phrasal verb!) and thought I’d make a list.  I soon realised how many there are.  I also tried to avoid using phrasal verbs on The Language List website and found that sometimes it is hard to find an alternative expression that is easy to understand.

As a native English speaker (but not a qualified TEFL teacher) I offer you this list and hope you find it helpful.  There over 200 listed below, and I expect I am missing quite a few.  If you come across one and it is not on this list, or you would like us to cover any other subject areas, please send me an email on gaynor@thelanguagelist.co.uk – I would love to hear from you.


To ask (someone) out To invite someone on a date
To ask around To ask many people the same question
To back (someone) up To support somebody’s opinion
To back (something) up To make a copy in case of a problem (e.g. back up a computer file)
To blow (something) up To make something explode / To inflate something with air / To give an issue more importance than it deserves
To blow up To explode
To break (something) down To divide something into smaller parts
To break down (a person) To get extremely upset or emotional
To break down (a thing) To stop functioning (e.g. a car or a machine)
To break in (an animal / object) To train a horse, or to make a pair of (e.g. shoes) comfortable by wearing
To break in (somewhere) To force entry into
To break out (of somewhere) To escape
To break out in (something) To suddenly start to (e.g. cry, sweat, grin) or (e.g. have an allergy or skin reaction)
To break up (an object / a thing) To destroy it or end it
To break up (with someone) To end a relationship
To bring (something) off To achieve something
To bring (someone) down To make someone unhappy
To bring (someone) round To resuscitate someone / To convert someone to your way of thinking
To bring (someone) up To raise a child
To bring (something) about To make something it happen
To bring (something) forward To advance it in time
To bring (something) up To raise a subject / to vomit
To bring along To take something or somebody somewhere
To bring back To return
To bring out To reveal (e.g. “to bring out the worst in someone”)
To bump into (someone) To meet unexpectedly
To call (someone) back To return a phone call
To call (someone) up To phone
To call (something) off To cancel something
To call on (someone) To visit someone
To calm down To relax after being angry
To catch up To get reach the same level / to get to the same place / to spend some time with someone you have not seen for a while
To check (someone) out To look at someone carefully or investigate them
To check (something) out To look at / to investigate something
To check in To register at a hotel or airport
To check out To leave a hotel, to pay at a till
To cheer (someone) up To make someone happier
To cheer up To become happier
To chip in To interrupt or contribute something in a conversation
To clean (something) up To tidy or clean something / make something more respectable (e.g. clean your act up, I.e. start behaving more responsibly)
To come across (something) To find something unexpectedly
To come apart To break or separate (like to fall apart)
To come down with (something) To get ill
To come forward To volunteer for a task or to give evidence
To come from somewhere To originate from a certain place
To count on (someone/something) To rely on
To cross (something) out To put a line through something (e.g. words on paper)
To cut (someone) off To disown / disinherit / have no further contact with somebody
To cut (something) down To make something fall to the ground
To cut (something) off To remove with something sharp / to stop providing something
To cut (something) out To remove part of something (can be a physical thing or a type of behaviour) – e.g. to someone who is misbehaving “cut that out”.
To cut back on (something) To reduce consumption of something
To cut in To interrupt
To do (something) over again To repeat it e.g. perform a task for the second (or subsequent) time
To do (something) up To fasten, close something /To restore something
To do (something) over To destroy something
To do away with (something) To discard it
To do (someone) over To hurt somebody or “beat them up”
To dress up as To pretend to be someone by wearing their clothing / costume
To dress up To wear nice clothing / dress to be noticed / to wear the clothing of a
To drop back To move back in a position/group
To drop in/by/over To visit casually (i.e. arrive without an appointment)
To drop out To quit a class, school etc.
To drop (someone/something) off To take someone/something somewhere and leave them/it there
To eat out To eat at a restaurant
To eat up To eat or to finish eating something
To end up To eventually arrive at something / somewhere (a place or a viewpoint)
To fall apart To break into pieces
To fall down To fall to the ground
To fall out (something) To become loose and unattached
To fall out (with someone) To have an argument and no longer get on with
To figure (something) out To understand discover the answer or solution
To fill (someone) in To give somebody information
To fill (something) in To write information in blanks, as on a form
To fill (something) up To fill something to the top
To find (something) out To discover
To get (something) across/over To communicate something, or make understandable
To get (something) back To be given / have something back that you had before
To get along/on To like each other to be compatible
To get around To be mobile, to move from one place to another
To get away with (something) To do without being noticed or punished
To get away To go on a holiday / to move away from something physically (e.g. the command “get away from there”) or colloquially “You don’t mean that do you?”
To get back at (someone) to take revenge or retaliate
To get back into (something) To become interested in something again
To get back To return
To get on (something) To step onto a vehicle
To get on (with somebody) To like each other to be compatible
To get over (something) To overcome a problem
To get over (something) To recover from an illness, loss, difficulty
To get round to (something) To finally find time to do something
To get together To meet (usually for social reasons)
To get up To get out of bed / to stand (if you have been sitting)
To get up to (something) To do something that you probably should not do
To get up to speed with (something) To become proficient
To give (someone) away To reveal hidden information about someone / To take the bride to the altar
To give (something) away To ruin a secret / to give someone something for free
To give (something) back To return a borrowed item
To give (something) back To return something to someone. Colloquially to give back as good as you get = to be able to stand up for yourself
To give (something) out To give something to many people (usually at no cost)
To give (something) up To quit a habit
To give away To give something to someone without charge
To give in To reluctantly stop fighting or arguing, to accept defeat
To give off To exude / To emit
To give up To stop trying
To go after (someone) To follow / chase someone
To go after (something) To try to achieve something / to chase something
To go against (someone) To compete, oppose someone
To go ahead To start, to proceed forward
To go back To return to a place
To go out with (someone) To take someone on a date / to be in a couple
To go over (something) To review something
To go without (something) To suffer the lack of / to be deprived of something
To grow apart To stop being friends over time
To grow back To regrow
To grow into (something) To grow enough so that something becomes the right size
To grow out of (something) To get too big for something (e.g. of clothing or of a habit / type of behaviour)
To grow up To become an adult
To hand (something) in To give something in (often something which has been confiscated)
To hand (something) out To distribute to a group of people
To hand (something) over To give something to someone (usually reluctantly)
To hand (something) down To give something second-hand to someone else
To hand down To pass to someone else, often a younger child
To hand round To distribute amongst people
To hang in To stay positive and persevere (informal)
To hang on To wait a short time (informal)
To hang out with To spend time relaxing (informal)
To hang up To end a phone call
To hold (someone)/ (something) up To rob someone / to present someone or something as a positive example
To hold (something) back To hide an emotion / to prevent something from making progress
To hold on To wait a short time
To hold onto (someone) To grip somebody
To hold onto (something) To grip something either physically or retain something (e.g. an emotion)
To keep (someone)/ (something) out To stop it from entering
To keep (something) from (someone) To not tell someone about something
To keep (something) up To not give up / To continue doing something at the same rate
To keep on To continue
To knock out To make unconscious
To knock over To overturn something
To let (someone) down To fail to support or help, disappoint
To let (someone) in To allow somebody to enter
To log in (or on) To sign in (to a website, database etc.)
To log out (or off) To sign out (of a website, database etc.)
To look (something) over To check, examine something
To look (something) up To search and find information in a reference book or database
To look after (someone)/ (something) To take care of
To look down on (someone) To consider someone inferior
To look forward to (something) To anticipate with excitement
To look into (something) To investigate
To look out for (someone) To be especially vigilant towards someone
To look out for (something) To be expecting something
To look out To be careful / vigilant.  To take notice
To look up to (someone) To have respect for someone
To make (someone) up To apply cosmetics (makeup) to
To make (something) up To invent, lie about something
To make up To forgive each other
To mix (something) up To confuse two or more things
To not care for (someone)/ (something) A formal expression for not liking someone or something
To pass (something) up To decline (usually something good)
To pass away To die
To pass down (something) To hand to the next person (same as “to hand down”)
To pass out To faint
To pass over (something) To ignore something
To pass through (a place) To travel through somewhere
To pay (someone) back To return owed money / To retaliate for something
To pay for (something) To suffer the consequences of having done something
To pick (something) out To choose
To point (someone)/ (something) out To indicate with your finger
To put (someone) down To insult someone / to make someone feel stupid
To put (someone) off To do something to cause that person to not like something or not do something
To put (something) down To put what you are holding on a surface or floor / to euthanize an animal
To put (something) off To postpone it
To put (something) on To dress
To put (something) out To extinguish something which is on fire / to communicate something
To put (something) together To assemble something
To put across To communicate
To put up with (someone)/ (something) To tolerate it
To run away To leave unexpectedly, escape
To run into (someone)/ (something) To meet unexpectedly with someone or something
To run out of (something) To have none of it left
To run over (something) To drive a vehicle over a person or thing
To run through (something) To rehearse or review something
To send (something) back To return (usually by post)
To set (someone) up To set a trick or trap for someone
To set (something) up To arrange or organize something
To shop around To compare prices
To show off To do something in an exhibitionist way / to demonstrate something
To sleep over To stay somewhere for the night (informal)
To sort (something) out To resolve a problem
To stick to (something) To persevere at doing something
To switch (something) off To stop the energy flow to something (same as to turn off)
To switch (something) on To stop the energy flow to something (same as to turn on)
To take (someone) out To pay for someone to go somewhere with you / (colloquial – to kill /injure someone)
To take (something) apart To disassemble something
To take (something) back To return an item / To withdraw a comment
To take (something) off To remove something (usually clothing)
To take (something) out To remove from a place or thing
To take after (someone) To resemble a family member
To take off To start to fly
To tear (something) up To rip into pieces
To think (something) over To consider it
To think back To try to remember something
To throw (something) away To dispose of something
To try (something) on To sample clothing
To try (something) out To test
To turn (someone) off To make someone feel less attracted to you
To turn (someone) on To arouse someone (usually sexually)
To turn (something) down To refuse something / To decrease the volume or strength (e.g. of an electrical appliance)
To turn (something) off To stop the energy flow to something (same as to turn off)
To turn (something) on To stop the energy flow to something (same as to turn on)
To turn (something) up To increase the volume or strength (e.g. of an electrical appliance)
To turn up To appear suddenly
To use (something) up To finish the supply of something
To wake up To stop sleeping
To warm (someone) up To prepare somebody for something
To warm (something) up To increase its temperature
To warm up To prepare body for exercise
To wear off To fade away
To work (something) out To make a calculation / To understand how something works
To work out To be successful / To do exercise
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