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PHRASAL VERBS – A
PHRASAL VERBS – Definition
PHRASAL VERBS are sometimes called two-word or three-word verbs, or verb phrases.
A Phrasal Verb is a verb plus a particle. A particle is a small word. Usually, but not always, the particle is a preposition.
Many Phrasal Verbs are idiomatic. This means that if you know the meaning of the individual words, it will not help you understand the meaning of the Phrasal Verb. When the words are put together, the meaning changes.
For example, your friend tells you that he is going to give up smoking. You know that give means to make a present and that up is a direction. You are confused!
But if you know that the Phrasal Verb give up means to quit doing something, then you know that your friend plans to stop smoking.
Many of our students have told us that they studied English for years in their home country, but when they arrived in Canada, they could not understand what people were saying!
One of the main reasons for this is that no one had taught them Phrasal Verbs.
Spoken English is filled with Phrasal Verbs and yet very few school teach them. If you want to have conversations with English speakers, you MUST learn Phrasal Verbs.
Here is a simple overview of the rules for Phrasal Verbs.
There are two kinds of Phrasal Verbs – inseparable and separable.
1. Inseparable Phrasal Verbs are easy. You use them the same way you would use any main verb.
eg. Check out means to pay your bill and return your key card when you leave a hotel. “We should check out at 11:00 am.”
2. Separable Phrasal Verbs can be kept together or separated.
Remember that basic sentence structure is: SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT
In a Separable Phrasal Verb the OBJECT goes between the two parts of the Phrasal Verb.
e.g., Hand in means to give something to someone in authority. “Please hand in your tests.” “Please hand your tests in.”
Some Phrasal Verbs have many meanings. Not all the definitions are included on this website.
Note: We used s.o. for someone and s.t. for something in the Phrasal Verb definitions.
What is the Meaning of ACT UP?
not work properly, for machines and body parts
1. I couldn’t print the photos. My printer was acting up and kept printing everything crooked.
2. I won’t go running this weekend. My knee is acting up again.
misbehave – for people
“My son’s teacher phoned us. He has been acting up in class.
Note: This phrasal verb is often used with forms that take the present participle (is acting up), which emphasizes activity.
|present participle||ACTING UP|
|past participle||ACTED UP|
What is the Meaning of ADD UP?
If something adds up, it makes sense. It is probable or correct.
1. My co-worker’s home is twice the size of mine. He drives a new expensive car, and dresses in very expensive clothes. We have the same job, I know we earn the same amount of money, and we are both single. It doesn’t add up.
2. She says she is working a lot of overtime, but she never has any money. It doesn’t add up.
Note: In Canada, if you work more than 40 hours in a week, you receive a higher wage for the extra hours. (This is called overtime wages, or overtime.)
add up something
add something up
to look at the total of all the details (e.g., the information, numbers, etc.)
1. All those chocolates I have been eating are adding up. I’ve gained two pounds!
2. I think you should add up these numbers again.
3. When I add everything up, I think it would be best if I worked from home.
|present participle||ADDING UP|
|past participle||ADDED UP|
What is the Meaning of AGREE WITH?
agree with someone
If something agrees with you, it makes you feel happy or healthy.
Note: This phrasal verb is more commonly used in the negative.
If a certain food or drink doesn’t agree with you, it makes you feel unwell.
1. Holidaying at the ocean obviously agrees with you. You look great!
2. Is retirement agreeing with you?
3. Do you mind if we go home early? Something I ate at the restaurant isn’t agreeing withme.
4. I like garlic, but it doesn’t agree with me.
|present participle||AGREEING WITH|
|past participle||AGREED WITH|
Note: This can also be used as a regular verb + preposition to mean that you have the same idea or opinion as someone. e.g., I agree with you.
What is the Meaning of ASK OUT?
to invite someone to go on a date
1. John is too shy to ask Jennifer out.
2. He asked her out three times last week. It’s very awkward because she isn’t interested in him.
|present –||ASK OUT|
|present participle –||ASKING OUT|
|past –||ASKED OUT|
|past participle –||ASKED OUT|
PHRASAL VERBS – B
What is the Meaning of BACK OUT?
to not keep a promise or commitment
1. They thought they had sold their house, but the purchasers backed out of the deal before the final papers were signed.
2. I know you agreed to go out with her cousin, but she didn’t tell you what he was like. I think you should back out; he’s really strange!
|present participle||BACKING OUT|
|past participle||BACKED OUT|
What is the Meaning of BACK UP?
If something backs up, it means the regular flow is slowed or stopped.
1. Don’t pour grease down your kitchen drain or the water will back up.
2. Every day the traffic on the freeway starts to back up at 4:00 p.m.
back up someone/something
back someone/something up
to drive, or move, in reverse
Note: For this definition, it is not always necessary to include the object (e.g., the car).
1. Could you please back your car up a little?
2. Could you back up a little? (This means back yourself up.)
1. They had no scientific evidence to back up their claims.
2. My boss doesn’t believe me. I am glad that Cris will back me up.
to make a second copy of computer information and store it in a separate place, so the information is safe if there are problems with your computer
1. We back up all our data every Friday.
2. My computer got a virus and everything on my hard drive was destroyed. Fortunately, I had been regularly backing everything up.>
|present participle||BACKING UP|
|past participle||BACKED UP|
What is the Meaning of BANG UP?
bang up someone/something
bang someone/something up
seriously damage someone or something
1. He really banged up his knee in the hockey game.
2. I heard that your car got banged up.
|present participle||BANGING UP|
|past participle||BANGED UP|
What is the Meaning of BANK ON?
to depend on
1. We’re banking on a big crowd tonight to pay for the expense of producing the show.
2. My annual performance review at work is on Friday. I am banking on a raise, so I made plans to go car shopping on the weekend.
3. You shouldn’t bank on getting a pay raise even though your performance review was excellent. The company has not given anyone a raise in the past two years. I think the owners might be in financial difficulty.
|present participle||BANKING ON|
|past participle||BANKED ON|
What is the Meaning of BLANK OUT?
to have your mind go blank or empty; to forget what you need at the moment; to be unable to remember what you were going to say or do at that moment
1. I took one look at the exam and blanked out. I couldn’t remember anything that I had studied.
2. She probably thinks he’s a bit stupid. He’s so in love with her that every time she talks to him, he completely blanks out. It’s actually quite funny!
|present participle||BLANKING OUT|
|past participle||BLANKED OUT|
What is the Meaning of BLOCK OUT?
block out someone/something
block someone/something out
to stop someone, or something, from affecting you
1. She shut her bedroom door and turned up her music to block out the sound of them fighting.
2. I’m going to buy dark curtains to block the morning sun out.
3. She is trying to block out that painful memory.
|present participle||BLOCKING OUT|
|past participle||BLOCKED OUT|
What is the Meaning of BLOW OVER?
use this phrasal verb to talk about a storm, an argument or an unpleasant situation ending
1. She is really angry with me. I apologized and I’m hoping it will blow over.
2. According to the news, this storm will blow over by Monday.
|present participle||BLOWING OVER|
|past participle||BLOWN OVER|
What is the Meaning of BLOW UP?
to become very angry, shouting and yelling; to lose one’s temper
to lose one’s temper
1. I don’t want to tell my dad that I quit school. He will blow up!
2. She is always blowing up at him for something. He doesn’t even listen to her anymore.
blow someone/something up
1. Don’t put that boiled egg in the microwave. It will blow up!
2.The pressure inside increased until it blew the container up.
|present participle||BLOWING UP|
|past participle||BLOWN UP|
Many phrasal verbs have several meanings. The definitions for BLOW UP may not all be included here.
What is the meaning of BOIL OVER?
a liquid flows over the sides of the container (such as the pot) while boiling
1. While she was talking on the phone, the potatoes boiled over.
2. The rice boiled over and made a sticky mess on the stovetop.
|present participle||BOILING OVER|
|past participle||BOILED OVER|
What is the Meaning of BREAK DOWN?
something mechanical, such as a machine or a vehicle, stops functioning
1. This photocopier is a piece of junk. This is the third time this week it has broken down!
2. Their car broke down on the highway last night, so they had it towed to the garage.
to lose control of your emotions because you are in extreme pain, anxiety or sorrow
1. I asked about her father’s health, and she broke down and started crying.
Don’t put plastic in the recycling bin. It doesn’t break down.
to stop resisting someone’s persistent efforts
He has a gambling problem, and he has been begging his mother for money every day to help pay his debts. Finally, yesterday, she broke down and gave him some money.
|present –||BREAK DOWN|
|present participle –||BREAKING DOWN|
|past –||BROKE DOWN|
|past participle||BROKEN DOWN|
What is the Meaning of BREAK EVEN?
to reach a point in a venture (e.g., a business) where the costs and the profits are equal
1. We need to sell 200 tickets to break even.
2. After three years in business they are finally breaking even. They hope to make a profit in September.
|present participle||BREAKING EVEN|
|past participle||BROKEN EVEN|
What is the Meaning of BREAK OFF?
to separate part of something from the whole
1. The wind broke off several branches.
2. I don’t think I will need a knife, thank you. I can just break a piece off.
to end formal talks, or a formal engagement to be married
1. The union broke off negotiations with the company.
2. They broke their engagement off.
|present participle||BREAK OFF|
|past participle||BROKEN OFF|
What is the Meaning of BREAK OUT?
the sudden start of something (often this refers to something undesirable, such as a forest fire, war, fighting, a riot, pimples or sweat)
1. It is especially dry in Northern Alberta this month and a number of forest fires have broken out.
2. Riots broke out all over the city when the election results were announced.
3. My mom is 40 and she still breaks out every time she eats chocolate. That’s kind of depressing. I hope it’s not genetic!
4. I break out in a sweat every time that teacher asks me a question. He scares me!
to escape from prison
Three prisoners broke out of the federal jail yesterday.
|present participle||BREAKING OUT|
|past participle||BROKEN OUT|
What is the Meaning of BREAK THROUGH?
to force a way through something that is blocking the way
Rioters broke through the police barricade.
to find a way through a problem, or a situation that is stopping you from moving forward
They are beginning to break through some barriers that have held them back for centuries.
Note: You can combine these two words to create a commonly used noun. e.g., He has had a wonderful breakthrough in his physical therapy.
|present||– BREAK THROUGH|
|present participle||– BREAKING THROUGH|
|past||– BROKE THROUGH|
|past participle||– BROKEN THROUGH|
What is the meaning of BRING UP?
bring up s.t.
bring s.t. up
to mention, or start to talk about, something
1. Every time I bring up the idea, she gets quiet and won’t talk.
2. They were sorry that they brought up the topic of politics. He didn’t stop talking after that.
3. Don’t bring up her boyfriend when you talk to her. They just broke up.
Note: Many phrasal verbs have more than one definition. Not all the definitions are shown here.
|present participle||BRINGING UP|
|past participle||BROUGHT UP|
What is the meaning of
brush off s.o./s.t.
brush s.o./s.t. off
to ignore, or treat someone or something as though unimportant
1. I don’t think you should be brushing off your low grade. It could have a big impact on your overall average.
2. Famous people have to learn to brush off some of the criticism they receive.
3. They went on a date, but he said she’s difficult to get to know. Whenever he asked her anything personal, she just brushed him off.
dust your body or clothing with your hand to clean it
1. After we played with the dogs, we had to brush ourselves off.
2. Before he went onstage to give his acceptance speech, his brother brushed a small piece of lint off his suit jacket.
Note: Many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. Not all the definitions are shown here.
|present participle||BRUSHING OFF|
|past participle||BRUSHED OFF|
What is the Meaning of BUCKLE DOWN?
be serious about doing something;
take on a task or job with determination
1. I have got to focus, buckle down, and get this job done.
2. He needs to buckle down and study. His exam is on Friday and he isn’t ready for it.
|present participle||BUCKLING DOWN|
|past participle||BUCKLED DOWN|
BUCKLE UP and BUCKLE IN
These two phrasal verbs are similar, and can sometimes be interchanged.
If you are giving someone instructions to fasten their seatbelt, use buckle up.
Buckle in is used for child or infant car seats, because the child sits “inside” the special seat.
What is the Meaning of BUCKLE UP?
buckle someone up / buckle up someone
Buckle up means to fasten your seat belt in a vehicle
1. Everyone has to buckle up. It’s the law.
2. Josh, will you please buckle your brother up?
What is the Meaning of BUCKLE IN?
buckle someone in / buckle in
Buckle in means to fasten the seat belt so that one is belted into a specific seat
1. You must buckle your child in to a child car seat before driving.
2. Okay, we’re ready to go. Is everyone buckled in?
PHRASAL VERBS – C
What is the Meaning of CALL OFF?
call s.t. off
call off s.t.
cancel an event
1. When I heard how cold it was going to be on the weekend, I wondered if we should call the party off, but my wife thought it would be best to go ahead with the original plan.
order a dog (or sometimes a person) to stop attacking or chasing a person or an animal
1. Call your dog off!
2. He tried to call his dog off but the dog wouldn’t listen to him, and continued to chase the little girl.
|present participle||CALLING OFF|
|past participle||CALLED OFF|
Note: Many phrasal verbs have more than one definition. All the definitions may not be shown here.
What is the Meaning of CALM DOWN?
calm s.o. down
become peaceful; become not agitated, not excited
1. After all the excitement, it took a while for everyone to calm down.
2. When we arrived at the campground the wind was really strong, but after about an hour it calmed down enough for us to set up our tent.
|present –||CALM DOWN|
|present participle –||CALMING DOWN|
|past –||CALMED DOWN|
|past participle –||CALMED DOWN|
What is the Meaning of CARRY ON?
behave (or talk) in an excited, playful or silly, or bad-tempered way
1. The children really like to carry on when they have a substitute teacher.
2. When she starts carrying on about politics, I leave the room. She is very angry that the party she voted for didn’t get in.
continue doing what we you were doing before you were interrupted
1. I didn’t mean to stop your work. Carry on.
2. She walked up but then never said anything, so we just carried on.
Note: Many phrasal verbs have more than one definition. Not all the definitions are shown here.
|present –||CARRY ON|
|present participle –||CARRYING ON|
|past –||CARRIED ON|
|past participle –||CARRIED ON|