20 Common Phrasal Verbs

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There are many phrasal verbs in the English language, each with its own meaning. It is important to start by learning the most commonly used ones first, and then expand your knowledge from there.

Below are 20 of the most frequently used phrasal verbs in the English language. You are very likely to encounter these in daily conversation, music and television. Remember, the entire phrase carries a single meaning, do not try to translate the verb and particles individually.

If you are not familiar with most of these, try to learn three or four at a time. Search for them on the internet and see how they are used in various contexts. Find a way of including them in your own sentences whenever you speak English with someone. The more regularly you speak, hear and read them, the more naturally they will occur to you.

  1. Ask around

To ask many different people about something in order to get information or help on something – “It might help to ask around. I’m sure somebody here knows where the new candy store is.” [intransitive]

2. Blow up

a) Inflate  “We need a volunteer to blow the balloons up. The party starts in two hours.” [transitive: separable]

b) Explode – “Although he is upset about the accident, Jeffrey says that he is grateful that no one was in the car when it blew up.” [intransitive]

c) Make something explode – “Susan threatened to blow my computer up if I didn’t stop playing loud music. I knew she wouldn’t do that, but I reduced the volume anyway.” [transitive: separable]

3. Break up

a) End a relationship – “I hope that Rihanna and Drake won’t break up. They make such an adorable couple.” [transitive / intransitive: inseparable]

b) Loosing a signal (telephone or radio) – “I’m sorry but I can’t hear what you’re saying, you’re breaking up… Hello!” [intransitive – always in the progressive tense]

c) Break into smaller pieces – “News reports say that the aeroplane broke up in mid air.” [transitive / intransitive: separable / inseparable]

4. Bring down

a) Make upset – “Kevin always has something negative to say. You did a great job, don’t let him bring you down. [transitive: fixed as “bring someone down”]

b) Cause for an authority figure or government to lose power – “The public protector has gathered enough evidence to bring the president and his entire cabinet down.” [transitive: separable]

c) Reduce or make less – “Retailers often bring down their prices after Christmas. Many smart shoppers wait for these “after Christmas” sales to get valuable items at discount prices.” [transitive: separable]

5. Carry on

a) Continue – “I didn’t mean to interrupt you, please carry on.” [transitive/intransitive: inseparable]

b) Continue something that someone else started – “Nouf is determined to carry on the family business.” [transitive: separable]

c) Misbehave – “She carried on like a spoiled brat when her mother refused to let her go out.” [intransitive]

6. Cheer up

a) Become more cheerful or happier – “Cheer up! You might not have won the race but you completed it, and that’s an amazing achievement.” [intransitive]

b) To make a sad person feel happier – “I got you your favorite chocolate cake. I thought that it might cheer you up.” [transitive: separable]

7. Come across

a) Meet someone or find something by chance – I came across the green shoes that my mother bought me while I was cleaning my closet today.” [transitive: inseparable]

b) To give people the impression of having a particular characteristic – “Your friend comes across as a very shy and reserved person.” [intransitive]

8. Come up with

Think of or suggest an idea or plan – “You can always trust Alan to come up with creative solutions.” [transitive: inseparable]

Manage to produce something – “I won’t be able to attend the event unless I come up with $20 by 4 p.m.” [transitive: inseparable]

9. Get over

a) (Get over something) Overcome a difficult situation – “It took her years to get over her husband’s death.” [transitive: inseparable]

b) (Get over someone) Forget about someone especially after a relationship has ended – “It’s clear that Drake has gotten over Rihanna, he’s all over the news with J-Lo now.” [transitive: inseparable]

b) Recover from an illness – “If you want to get over the cold quickly, you need to stay indoors and avoid fizzy drinks.” [transitive: inseparable]

10. Give up

a) Stop trying – “Are you really going to give up that easily?” [intransitive]

b) (Give up on someone / something) Lose hope that someone or something will improve, and stop making efforts to help – I want to help Andrea read better but it’s difficult because her own parents have given up on her.” [transitive: inseparable]

11. Hand in

a) Submit – “The lecturer said she’d take 20% off our final marks if we didn’t hand in our essays on time.” [transitive: separable]

b) (Hand someone in) – Submit or surrender someone to law enforcement – “After much consideration, the criminal who had been hiding for weeks, decided to hand himself in.” [transitive]

12. Hang in (there)

Not give up or be discouraged – “I know it can be tough to work and study at the same time, but you have to hang in there. It will all be worth it in the end.” [intransitive]

13. Hang out

Spend time (with friends), not doing anything in particular – All Sam ever does on weekends is hang out with his friends at the Purple Ninja Bar.”

14. Look after

Take care of – “In this institution,  a volunteer’s duty is to look after the elderly and ensure that they have everything they need when they need it.” [transitive: inseparable]

15. Look up

a) Search for information on something – “After reading a word he had never seen before, Fabian decided to look it up in the dictionary.” [transitive: separable]

b) Improve – “The Spanish economy is finally looking up.” [intransitive]

16. Make out

a) To discern, see or hear with difficulty – “The photo was so old that we struggled to make out the faces of the people in it.” [transitive: inseparable]

b) Understand something – “I only started learning Portuguese a few months ago. Sometimes I can make out what Welliton is saying, but sometimes I need to use a translator.” [transitive: inseparable]

c) Kiss in a long and sexual manner – “Luyanda says that she saw Jenny and Mark making out by the pool last night.” [intransitive]

17. Point out

Bring something to people’s attention which you feel they might not be aware of – “Kenneth pointed out that it may not be a great idea to go fishing on Saturday since the weather forecast predicted it would rain over the weekend.” [transitive: separable]

18. Talk over

Discuss something with someone – “I’d like to talk over your proposal with my manager first.” [transitive: separable]

19. Try on

Put on a piece of clothing to see if it fits you well or not – “This color would look stunning on you. Would you like to try this dress on?” [transitive: separable]

20. Turn down

Refuse or reject – “The school principal turned down the idea of second-graders visiting the zoo in April.” [transitive: separable]

Reduce the volume or intensity of something – “David, could you please turn down the TV? We’re trying to have a conversation and we’re struggling to hear each other.” [transitive: separable]

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