Students often find the subject of phrasal verbs daunting, and frankly, I can’t blame you. There are zillions of them, and their meanings are often not obvious! So I decided to compile of a list of 150 phrasal verbs that I consider to be very common. I think it makes a lot of sense for elementary and intermediate English students to just focus on these, as these are the ones you will encounter on a daily or weekly basis. By concentrating on these high frequency verbs first of all, you will feel far less overwhelmed. Once these verbs are firmly installed in the brain, you will have more confidence and expanding your phrasal verb vocabulary will be less of an uphill struggle.
I’ve split the list into two parts. And it’s really to serve you for reference. For the phrasal verbs L-W click here.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND learning or reviewing these verbs gradually via my tweets so check out my @150phrasalverbs account.
make a formal request for something (a job, loan, visa, etc) by sending a letter, completing a form, etc
🔹 Sam applied for a teaching position at the university.
🔹 I didn’t have enough money to set up my business so I applied for a loan.
invite sb on a romantic date
🔹 Why don’t you ask Lily out? It’s obvious you fancy her.
be at home or at work.
🔹 I don’t think they are in. The lights are off.
🔹 The boss wants us to be in at 8 o’clock tomorrow.
be shown (TV, cinema, radio, etc)
🔹 The match is on at 8pm.
🔹 “Do you want to go to the cinema later?” – “Okay, what‘s on?”
be finished (a programme, a match, etc)
🔹 Children, as soon as the film is over I want you to get ready for bed.
🔹 The match isn’t over yet. We could still win.
be out of bed
🔹 Why aren’t you up? You have to be at school in half an hour!
stop working [vehicles or machines]
🔹 Andy was late for the meeting because his car had broken down.
🔹 Our washing machine has broken down so I’m taking our clothes to a launderette.
enter a building by force (usually to steal sth)
🔹 Somebody broke into the office and stole two computers.
[re romantic relationships] = come to an end
🔹 When his marriage broke up Kyle moved back to London.
🔹 “Did Tina bring up the party when you saw her?” – “No, she didn’t mention it.”
brush up on
improve your skills or knowledge of something (especially when you’ve partly forgotten them)
🔹 I’m taking classes to brush up on my French. It’s very rusty.
🔹 After the long school holidays the children needed to brush up on their times tables (=multiplication tables).
meet somebody by chance
🔹 I was at a conference last week and I bumped into somebody I went to school with. Do you remember Nick Burnett?
1) phone somebody who has called you earlier
🔹 Jeff phoned while you were out. He wants you to call him back.
2) phone somebody for a second time
🔹 I don’t have that information yet but as soon as I do I’ll call you back.
cancel a meeting, an event
🔹 They called off the meeting because a lot of people had flu.
to stop (somebody) being angry, upset, too active, etc
🔹 Lisa said she would listen to Neil once he calmed down.
🔹 The dog was barking a lot but in the end I managed to calm him down.
🔹 Don’t stop what you are doing, carry on.
🔹 Dennis carried on studying, even though he was tired.
perform a task, a test, an experiment, a study, etc.
🔹 An investigation will be carried out to find out the causes of the accident.
🔹 The traffic is very slow as they are carrying out repairs on the road.
catch up (1)
speak to somebody you haven’t spoken to for a while and share your news.
🔹 Let’s meet for a coffee soon and catch up.
catch up (2)
Reach the same standard or speed as somebody / something
🔹 Start walking and I’ll catch up in a minute.
to register at an airport or hotel
🔹 We need to check in two hours before the flight.
look at somebody or something to see if you like it/them.
🔹 Let’s go and check out that new café in the park
🔹 Hey, check out the guy at the bar. He’s gorgeous!
🔹 I can’t wait to check out the new Bradley Cooper film.
noisily encourage somebody who’s competing
🔹 Even though they were losing, their fans cheered them on.
become less sad or make somebody feel less sad
🔹 We took Gabriella dancing to cheer her up.
🔹 Going for a walk with his dogs always cheers Lorenzo up.
make clean and tidy
🔹 You need to clean up your bedroom before your cousin comes to stay.
🔹 Cleaning up our oceans seems an impossible task.
stop doing business permanently
🔹 The clothes shop is having a big sale as it’s closing down soon.
find by chance
🔹 We came across a beautiful park while we were walking around the town.
come down with
become ill with a cold, flu, etc
🔹 I’ve got an awful headache. I hope I’m not coming down with something.
We use ‘come on’ …
…to get somebody to do something more quickly…
🔹 Come on, eat your breakfast, or you’ll be late for school.
…to encourage them to do sth…
🔹 Come on, come to the party with us. It’ll be fun.
…or to ask them to be more reasonable.
🔹 Come on, you can’t expect me to work late again tonight. I’m exhausted.
become available to buy or see
🔹 When is J K Rowling’s next book coming out?
could do with
really need something, would benefit from something.
🔹 Jill is so tired. She could do with a holiday.
🔹 If you don’t mind, I could really do with some help in the kitchen. The guests will be arriving soon.
cut down (on)
consume less (often for health benefits)
🔹 Would you like some wine? No thanks, I’m trying to cut down.
🔹 The doctor told Philip he should cut down on salt.
stop the supply of electricity, gas, etc
🔹 If you don’t pay the bill soon, the gas company will cut us off.
🔹 My mum and I were talking on the phone when suddenly we were cut off (= the signal was broken)
🔹 It’s very cold so do up your coat before you go outside.
manage without somebody or something
🔹 There’s no wifi at the hotel. We’ll just have to do without.
🔹 “Can you do without me at the shop tomorrow morning? I need to take my dad to the airport.”
dress up (1)
wear nice, smart clothes
🔹 It’s a very special occasion so I want you to dress up for the party.
dress up (2)
put on clothes that make you look like a different person; wear a costume.
🔹 The kids love dressing up in their mum’s clothes.
🔹 Emily dressed up as a zombie for her friend’s fancy dress party.
visit briefly (often without an appointment)
🔹 If you’re in town, drop in for a cup of tea.
take somebody or something to a place (often by car) and leave them there
🔹 Ada dropped the kids off at school and went to work.
🔹 Can you drop this parcel off at the post office for me? I’ll give you some money for the stamps.
eat at a restaurant (instead of at home)
🔹 Tom ate out last night as he didn’t have time to go to the supermarket
reply to somebody by email
🔹 John asked me to email him back when I have the answer.
(Extension: We use ‘text back’ in the same way. I asked John what time the party was but he hasn’t texted me back yet.)
finally be in a place or situation
🔹 Richard fell asleep on the train and ended up missing his station.
🔹 Please don’t play with the ball in the house. You’ll end up breaking something.
suddenly fall to the ground
🔹 Katy slipped on the ice and fell down.
🔹 Can you hang up that picture which has fallen down? (= It was on the wall and now it’s on the ground)
calculate, solve, understand something by thinking about it.
🔹 I’m trying to figure out how much the party will cost.
🔹 The police are still trying to figure out where the money is hidden.
[Synonym: Work out]
complete a form
🔹 If you want to join the gym you have to fill out an application form.
get information, discover sth
🔹 I’m not sure when the course starts but I can find out.
get along (with)
have a friendly relationship
(Synonym: get on (with))
🔹 Luckily their cat and dog get along.
go to different places
🔹 Emma can’t drive so she uses public transport to get around.
🔹 On holiday in Cyprus we used a moped to get around.
get around to / get round to
find the time to do sth (We tend to use it more in the negative)
🔹 I was going to phone Nico last night but I didn’t get round to it.
NB. ⚠️ It’s get around/round to doING something ⚠️
🔹 Tim had so little time in Edinburgh that he didn’t get round to doing any sightseeing.
🔹 Phil’s birthday was a few weeks ago but we haven’t got around to celebrating it yet.
get back to
contact sb again when you have more info.
🔹 When I know the train times I’ll get back to you.
🔹 George said that when he had calculated the cost of the new roof he would get back to me.
manage to live or do sth with the small amount of money, knowledge, etc you have
🔹 Since Ken lost his job he’s been finding it hard to get by.
🔹 Anne didn’t know very much Italian before going to Rome but she managed to get by.
gain entry to a building or an event, etc
🔹 I lost my key and couldn’t get in.
🔹 You’ve been to the art exhibition, haven’t you? How much does it cost to get in?
🔹 The thieves got into the house through a bedroom window.
get in / get out
enter / leave a car
🔹 Get in the car, Jamie, we’ve got to go.
🔹 Don’t smoke in my car, please. Get out.
get on (with) (1)
have a good relationship with somebody
🔹 Steve doesn’t get on with his boss so he has decided to look for another job.
(Synonym: get along (with))
get on (with) (2)
continue, make progress with sth
🔹 Let your sister get on with her homework, please.
🔹 “How are you getting on with painting your house?” – “We’ve almost finished.”
get on / get off
enter, mount / leave or dismount a bus, bike, train, boat, plane, horse etc
🔹 Quick! Get on! The bus is about to go!
🔹 Liam! Get off your sister’s bike! It’s too small for you!
recover from something
🔹 “Have you got over your cold yet?” – “Yes thanks, I’m feeling much better.”
🔹 It took Andy a few years to get over losing his dog.
🔹 Penny didn’t get the promotion but she’ll get over it.
meet socially, meet to discuss sth
🔹 How about getting together on Friday? We could go out for dinner.
🔹 We’re getting together next week to discuss the building proposals.
leave your bed (usually to begin your day)
🔹 George got up, had a shower, and went to work.
renounce sth; stop doing sth that you’ve regularly done.
🔹 I was so happy when my brother gave up smoking.
🔹 “Could I use your phone?” – “Yes, of course, go ahead.“
🔹 The meeting is going ahead even though quite a few people can’t attend.
🔹 (when you’ve interrupted somebody): “Sorry, go ahead, what were you saying?”
leave your home for a period of time, especially for a holiday.
🔹 I need to pack; we’re going away for the weekend.
go off (1)
ring, sound (eg. alarm clocks, fire alarms…)
🔹 I was late for work because my alarm clock didn’t go off.
go off (2)
stop liking or lose interest in sb/sth
🔹 I used to like U2 but I went off them.
🔹 The dog isn’t very well. He’s gone off his food.
leave your house (especially to do something social)
🔹 “Is Jack in?” – “No, sorry, he’s gone out.”
🔹 Monica loves playing the guitar and going out with her friends.
review sth (to ensure it’s correct or understood)
🔹 I went over the figures again with the accountant.
🔹 The teacher asked us which grammar areas we wanted to go over before the exam.
If sb/sth grows on you, you start to like them more and more
🔹 I didn’t like the city much at first but it grew on me.
grow out of
become too big for sth
🔹 When my son has grown out of clothes we give them to his cousins or to charity.
spend your childhood, become an adult
🔹 Valentina lives in Paris but she grew up in Brazil.
Grow your Vocabulary! Another word for adult is grown-up. It’s a word children use, or adults use when talking to children. eg. If you need to use scissors, ask a grown-up to help you.
give something such as an exam or a form to somebody so that they can correct it or read it
🔹 The teacher asked John why he hadn’t handed in his homework.
distribute something by hand
🔹 Henry was standing outside the station, handing out free newspapers.
We use this to tell somebody to wait
🔹 Hang on, I’m just going to get my coat and then we can go.
🔹 Hang on, you’ve got it all wrong. That’s not what I said.
end a phone call
🔹 Don’t hang up. I want to ask Mum something.
NB. The past is ‘hung’ not ‘hanged’.
🔹 Linda hung up before I could apologise to her.
have (got) on
🔹 Why have you still got your pyjamas on? It’s eleven o’clock!
🔹 That dress you had on at your sister’s wedding, where did you get it?
have over / have round
receive a guest in your home
🔹 We’re having some friends over for dinner tonight. Would you like to join us?
🔹 Gabriel has a friend round. They’re doing their homework together.
be told information regarding somebody or something
🔹 Let’s go for a coffee. I’m dying to hear about your trip to Costa Rica.
🔹 I hadn’t heard about John’s accident. Nobody told me.
🔹 We heard about the fire on the news.
get a letter, text, phone call etc from somebody
🔹 “Have you heard from Jack since he moved to Scotland?” – “Yes, he phoned me the other day actually.”
🔹 My job interview didn’t go at all well so I doubt I will hear from them again.
know of somebody or somebody’s existence
🔹 I was absolutely amazed when Paula said she had never heard of Madonna.
🔹 “Have you read ‘My Family and Other Animals?” -“No, I’ve never heard of it. What’s it about?”
🔹 “Have you heard of Lottie’s Bakery? They make wonderful celebration cakes.”
🔹 “Have you heard of an app called Shazam?” – “Yes, I have it on my phone.”
We use this to ask sb to wait [informal]
🔹 Hold on, I just need to check my diary.
(Synonym: hang on)
🔹 Many flights were held up because of the stormy weather.
🔹 Our guests haven’t arrived yet. I wonder what is holding them up.
do something faster, or move faster
🔹 Why aren’t you ready for school? Hurry up!
🔹 Hurry up! The bus leaves in a few minutes.
prevent somebody from doing something
🔹 Keep the dog from going into the kitchen, please.
🔹 It’s okay, I can talk to you later. I don’t want to keep you from your work.
continue doing something or do something repeatedly
🔹 I shouted to Laura but she kept on walking.
🔹 It’s okay to make mistakes in English, but don’t keep on making the same ones again and again!
keep up (with)
maintain the same speed, level, etc
🔹 Jen was walking so fast that I couldn’t keep up with her. “Slow down,” I said.
🔹 The German class was just too advanced for me. I was finding it too hard to keep up.