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 put together a list of 150 very common phrasal verbs. I think it makes a lot of sense for elementary and intermediate English students to just focus on these and know them really well, 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.
Check out @150phrasalverbs over on Twitter for a painless way to gradually build up your knowledge of all 150 verbs.
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.
🔹 Don’t sit Amy next to your brother at the table. They don’t get along at all.
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.
disappoint somebody because you don’t do what they hoped or expected you would do
🔹 George is very reliable – he has never let me down.
🔹 Ursula let her parents down by cheating in the exam.
🔹 Our last car never let us down – it never had to go to the garage.
allow somebody access to a place
🔹 The dogs are out in the garden. If it starts to rain, can you let them in?
🔹 It’s a very exclusive party. If you are not on the list, they will not let you in.
put yourself in a horizontal position
🔹 I have a headache so I’m going to lie down for a bit.
NB. This is an irregular verb: lie down — lay down — lain down
🔹 The dog was tired so it lay down in front of the fire and went to sleep.
take care of, be responsible for somebody or something
🔹 Can you look after my dog while I’m on holiday?
🔹 Meg is an experienced babysitter. She has looked after children of all ages.
🔹 Who looks after the company’s accounts?
look forward to
be excited about something that is going to happen or that you are going to do
🔹 I’m really looking forward to the weekend. My best friend is coming to stay.
🔹 We’re looking forward to seeing you.
🔹 He isn’t looking forward to his job interview.
NB. Remember to use the gerund after ‘to’, not the infinive: look forward to doING/havING, etc
🔹 They are looking into how the teenager was able to hack the bank accounts.
NB. It doesn’t have to refer to a crime, it could simply refer to a problem.
🔹 I don’t know why they haven’t called you yet, but I’ll look into it.
search for a piece of information (online or in a dictionary or encyclopaedia, etc)
🔹 I looked up the train times on my phone.
🔹 Do you usually look up new words in a bilingual or a monolingual dictionary?
omit somebody or something
🔹 You would probably have passed your exam if you hadn’t missed out question five.
🔹 There aren’t nine of us, there are ten of us; you missed yourself out! (= you forgot to count yourself)
confuse two things or people
🔹 English learners often mix up the words ‘bored’ and ‘boring’.
🔹 The two brothers are so alike. I’m always mixing them up.
fall asleep, especially unintentionally
🔹 I nodded off and missed the end of the film.
🔹 The accident was caused by a driver nodding off at the wheel.
🔹 Something woke me in the middle of the night but I nodded off again quickly.
bring good consequences, be worthwhile
🔹 All Helena’s hard work paid off – she got the promotion she wanted.
pick up (1)
go and get somebody or something, collect somebody or something
🔹 My uncle is going to pick us up at the airport.
🔹 Can you pick up my drycleaning?
pick up (2)
lift somebody or something up from a surface
🔹 Stop picking up the cat! She doesn’t like it.
🔹 I want you to pick up all your toys and put them back in your bedroom
pick up (3)
learn gradually, with little effort
🔹 We picked up a few useful Japanese phrases on our trip to Tokyo.
connect something to the electricity supply
🔹 Where can I plug in my hairdryer?
return something to the place it is normally kept (eg. in a cupboard)
🔹 When you have finished with the sugar, put it away please.
place something that you have been holding onto a surface, eg. a table or floor
🔹 Put your sister down!
🔹 I was glad to get home and put all my shopping down.
make somebody stop liking something or make them not want to do something
🔹 The conversation was putting me off my food.
🔹 Her teaching methods put a lot of the students off. They didn’t want to study chemistry anymore.
🔹 It was snowing so I put on some warm boots.
It can be used with things other than clothes or shoes:
🔹 She put on her makeup.
🔹 It’s very sunny so put on some sun cream.
🔹 Luckily it didn’t take the fire brigade long to put out the fire.
put up with
tolerate somebody or something that is unpleasant
🔹 I went into the garden as I didn’t want to put up with everybody arguing.
🔹 I don’t know how you put up with your boss. He’s so opinionated!
meet somebody by chance
🔹 I ran into Nick, an old school friend, the other day. He hasn’t changed a bit!
(Synonym: bump into)
run out (of something)
have none or nothing left
🔹 We’ve run out of eggs. Can you go and buy some?
🔹 You need to hurry – time’s running out.
deal with somebody
🔹 You make dinner and I’ll see to getting the kids bathed.
🔹 Who saw to sending out the party invitations? (= who was in charge of)
NB. ⚠️ Remember to use the gerund after ‘to’, not the infinive: see to doING/havING, etc
sell out (of)
If a product sells out then all the stock is finished, every item is sold.
🔹 The summer dress was so popular, it sold out within two days.
🔹 The bakery had sold out of doughnuts by the time I got there.
start a journey (usually a long one)
🔹 There will be lots of traffic so we should set off early.
start a business or organisation
🔹 When Belinda leaves university she is going to set up her own business.
give somebody a guided tour
🔹 You haven’t been to my house before, have you? Come on, I’ll show you around.
🔹 In the morning they’re going to show us round the new factory.
[often disapproving] = behave in a conspicuous way because you want people to admire what you do or have
🔹 Look at that guy showing off in his brand new Jaguar.
🔹 Dad, you can stop showing off now. We all know you’re great at football.
[impolite when used imperatively] = stop talking
🔹 Veronica was talking about her boyfriend all evening. I thought she was never going to shut up.
🔹 “Shut up! I’m trying to watch the TV.”
move your body into a sitting position, take a seat
🔹 I was tired so I sat down for a while and watched TV.
🔹 Dinner’s ready. Can you tell everybody to go and sit down at the table?
sleep longer than you normally do
🔹 Tomorrow’s Saturday so you can sleep in if you want to.
NB. In British English it is also used when you do it unintentionally, ie. oversleep.
🔹 Amy missed the school bus this morning because she slept in. Her alarm clock didn’t go off.
sort out (1)
🔹 Have you sorted out which clothes you’re going to take on holiday?
sort out (2)
solve a problem
🔹 My computer isn’t working properly. Can you come and see if you can sort it out?
speak more loudly
🔹 I can’t hear you. Can you speak up?
be an abbreviation/symbol of sth
🔹 CIA stands for Central Intelligence Agency.
stay at home
🔹 It’s Saturday night but I just feel like staying in and watching TV.
go to bed later than usual
🔹 Alexandra let her children stay up to see the end of the match.
We often add ‘late’:
🔹 Emma stayed up late to finish her assignment.
make somebody feel very anxious
🔹 Emily takes the train to work now as driving in the city centre was really stressing her out.
🔹 Charlie’s exams are stressing him out so much he can barely sleep.
to stop thinking about something or listening to somebody
🔹 After work Tom usually goes for a run as it helps him to switch off.
🔹 I switch off when my husband and his colleagues start talking about work.
look or act like an older relative
🔹 Olivia has curly blond hair and green eyes. She takes after her mother.
return something to a shop because it’s the wrong size or there’s something wrong with it
🔹 The jacket was too big so I took it back to the shop and got a smaller size.
🔹 If your new phone isn’t working properly you should take it back straightaway.
take off (1)
leave the ground and start flying
🔹 Their plane took off at ten thirty.
take off (2)
remove an item of clothing
🔹 I was glad to get home and take off my shoes.
🔹 After the meeting Jack took off his tie.
🔹 My son had his appendix taken out when he was just five.
occupy or fill an amount of space or time
🔹 The new sofa takes up almost half the lounge.
🔹 Is there a cash machine near here? I need to take out some money.
when you tear up paper, you break it into small pieces with your hands.
🔹 I needed the receipt but I’d torn it up.
🔹 Why are you tearing up those letters? Don’t you want to keep them?
Pronunciation: ‘Tear’ rhymes with ‘where’ and ‘chair’.
speak to somebody angrily about something they’ve done wrong.
🔹 Dan told off his son for swearing.
🔹 George was told off by his teacher today as he hadn’t done his homework.
put something in the rubbish because you don’t need it anymore
🔹 When I finished the newspaper, I threw it away.
step on somebody or something
🔹 Ouch! You’re treading on my foot!
🔹 Look where you’re going! You almost trod on a dog poo! 💩
Tread is an irregular verb: tread ➡ trod ➡trodden. Pronunciation: ‘Tread’ rhymes with ‘bread’.
put on clothes to see if they fit or suit you
🔹 I’m going to try on this dress. Do you know where the changing rooms are?
🔹 Cinderella tried on the glass slipper. It was a perfect fit.
test something or somebody to see if you like them, to see if they are effective, etc
🔹 I tried out a new vegetarian recipe.
🔹 They’re going to try out some new players for the team.
reject an invitation, offer, etc
🔹 Dmitri turned down the job because the pay was very low.
change into something else
🔹 The caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly.
🔹 They’re turning the old train station into a hotel.
🔹 You can sleep in the lounge. The sofa turns into a bed.
happen, develop or end in a certain way (often unexpectedly)
🔹 Surprisingly the book turned out to be a big success.
🔹 It turned out that the guy Joanna was sitting next to on the plane knew her husband.
change to another TV channel
🔹 The film was too scary for the children so we turned over and watched something else.
to appear (after being lost)
🔹 Did your ID card turn up? Yes, it had dropped under my car seat.
turn up / turn down
increase / decrease the volume
🔹 Can you turn up the radio? I love this song.
🔹 Do you mind turning down the sound a bit? It’s really loud.
use all of something
🔹 I couldn’t have a shower because Bryan had used up all the hot water.
🔹 I made some soup to use up the turkey leftovers.
🔹 Richard wishes he hadn’t used up all his holiday time.
stop sleeping; make sb stop sleeping
🔹 I woke up at five o’clock and I couldn’t go back to sleep.
🔹 Can you wake Dylan up please. He has to get ready for school.
get warmer; make somebody or something warmer
🔹 It’s pretty cold in the mornings but it usually warms up a lot later.
🔹 Here you go, this hot chocolate will warm you up.
do the dishes
🔹 You cooked so I’ll wash up.
damage something through lots of use, making it no longer usable
🔹 Eduardo has worn out his trainers. He needs a new pair.
🔹 I’m not a great cook. I need to work on my culinary skills.
🔹 Scientists are working on a new vaccine.
🔹 We’ve been working on this project for several months now.
calculate, solve a problem, understand something by thinking about it
🔹 Use a calculator to work out how much we owe.
🔹 We need to work out how we can get there without a car.
🔹 I just can’t work out why Ben would behave like that.
make a note of something on paper, eg. an appointment or a phone number, so that you don’t forget it.
🔹 Do you have a pen on you? I need to write down an address.