Many verbs, when followed by various prepositions or adverbs or both, acquire a peculiar sense which bears no relation with the meaning of either the verb or the other word(s) used with it. Such a group of words which functions as a verb, and is made up of a verb followed by a preposition, an adverb, or both, is called a Phrasal Verb.
Phrasal verbs are an important feature of the English language and are integral to its appeal. Many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning and their syntactical behaviour is often unpredictable.
Here are some of the most commonly used phrasal verbs with meaning and example sentences:
1. Abide by
Meaning: to accept or obey an agreement, rule, or decision.
Example: Citizens are expected to abide by the law of the land.
2. Abound in
Meaning: to contain plenty of something.
Example: This region abounds in mineral reserves.
3. Answer for
Meaning: to be responsible for, or be punished for something bad.
Example: The bank has to answer for the misuse of the depositors’ money.
4. Bear with
Meaning: have patience with.
Example: The manager requested the guests to bear with the power failure for some more time.
5. Bear down
Meaning: overthrow, overpower.
Example: The new leader took no time in bearing down all dissent/opposition.
6. Break off
Meaning: stop suddenly.
Example: The children broke off in the middle of their recitation as the Principal entered the classroom.
7. Bring in
Meaning: yield, generate, return.
Example: His farmhouse brings in much more than his requirement.
8. Call for
Meaning: demand, require.
Example: The situation calls for immediate action by the government.
9. Cast away
Meaning: wrecked, ruined, stranded.
Example: The luxury cruise was cast away on the coast of the remote islands.
10. Come round
Meaning: recover, improve.
Example: Though the patient’s illness is severe, doctors expect him to come round within a week.
11. Done for
Meaning: in trouble, doomed.
Example: If students are caught cheating, they are done for.
12. Draw on/upon
Meaning: to use as a resource.
Example: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series draws upon the books of fantasy she read as a child.
13. Eat into
Meaning: use up or take away substantially.
Example: The high cost of living in a metro city is eating into Mr Swamy’s savings.
14. Even out
Meaning: balance, level, make equal.
Example: The differences and variations will be evened out with time (eventually).
15. Fall in with
Meaning: be in agreement, spend time with.
Example: Mr Richard’s son fell in with some misguided youth.
16. Fan out
Meaning: spread out or disperse.
Example: The constables fanned out in the area to search more effectively for the hiding thief.
17. Fire up
Meaning: excite or anger.
Example: The incident has fired up society across all age groups.
18. Fish out
Meaning: to bring out after searching in water or in a bag/pocket.
Example: The magician put his hand inside the bag and fished out a dove.
19. Freeze out
Meaning: Exclude from an activity/group.
Example: Emily wanted to be in the group but the others froze her out.
20. Get across
Meaning: clearly expressed and understood
Example: Shelly always gets across to the audience, thanks to her powerful speaking.
21. Gun for
Meaning: try to harm or cause trouble to
Example: Peter has been gunning for me ever since I defeated him in a game of chess.
22. Hammer out
Meaning: discuss/argue until an agreement is reached
Example: The opposing parties hammered out a consensus on the matter.
23. Hack into
Meaning: access a computer system/account illegally
Example: The spy managed to hack into the defence records of the enemy country.
24. Hanker after/for
Meaning: a longing for.
Example: The party leaders are still hankering after the chair despite their crushing defeat at the polls.
25. Harp on
Meaning: talk continually about something
Example: The educationists keep harping on the falling standards of education without bothering to think of a solution.
26. Idle away
Meaning: spend time relaxing and doing little
Example: Edward loved to idle away the afternoon lying on the grass.
27. Itch for
Meaning: want something very much
Example: Hardly does the first period get over when the children begin to itch for the games period.
28. Jazz up
Meaning: make more attractive or interesting
Example: The organisers jazzed up the evening with a DJ and a dance floor.
29. Jump on
Meaning: angrily criticise or shout at
Example: The coach jumped on the players for not performing as expected.
30. Keep at
Meaning: continue working hard
Example: The work could not be completed, though we kept at it all day long.
31. Keep to
Meaning: to stay within an area/topic/plan
Example: Had the troops kept to what they had decided upon, they wouldn’t have been in this mess.
31. Knuckle down
Meaning: start working or studying hard
Example: It was time for Sana to knuckle down as she wished to qualify for the position.
32. Knuckle under
Meaning: accept somebody else’s authority/power
Example: This government will not knuckle under international pressure, come what may.
33. Lay off
Meaning: to throw out of job
Example: Several senior executives were laid off in the wake of the global recession.
34. Lose out
Meaning: lack the advantage others have
Example: Students who start their day late lose out to those who rise up early.
35. Make away with
Meaning: to steal and escape
Example: Thieves made away with all his savings, last night.
36. Map out
Meaning: plan in detail
Example: The businessman had his son’s career mapped out by the time he had turned twelve.
37. Muster up
Meaning: find the required quality in oneself with much effort
Example: Drake finally mustered up the courage to tell his friend that he was being unfair to him.
38. Nail down
Meaning: identify, make certain or final
Example: It is difficult to nail down the flaws in the system.
39. Nose out
Meaning: to discover information by searching carefully, to defeat someone marginally
- The new officer seems to possess a knack for nosing out others’ secrets.
- Richard was nosed out of the Prefect’s position by his best friend.
40. Order about/around
Meaning: to tell others what to do
Example: The workers hate it when the supervisor comes and starts ordering them around.
41. Own up
Meaning: admit a wrong done
Example: The children were told that whoever had broken the machine ought to own up and apologise.
42. Palm off
Meaning: give a dishonest explanation to impose/sell/convince
Example: The antique dealer palmed off the painting as an original.
43. Paper over
Meaning: hide a disagreement/difficulty/problem
Example: The partners papered over their disagreements to convince the investors (to finance their enterprise).
44. Rabbit on
Meaning: talk on and on about something that is not interesting to others
Example: Joshua is always rabbiting on about his cricketing skills.
45. Rail against
Meaning: to complain angrily
Example: Everyone rails against the lack of order in society but no one does their bit to improve the situation.
46. Saddle with
Meaning: to give a difficult responsibility
Example: The naughty boy was saddled with the task of arranging the entire library.
47. Spark off
Meaning: trigger or happen suddenly
Example: The accident sparked off violence in the streets by people demanding police action.
48. Teem with
Meaning: be full of.
Example: The Taj Mahal teems with tourists on all days.
49. Thrive on
Meaning: do well in a given situation (when others cannot)
Example: A champion thrives on challenges of all kinds.
50. Usher in
Meaning: to mark the beginning of or help to cause/begin
Example: The book ushered in an era of environmental awareness.
51. Verge upon/on
Meaning: come very near to being (something)
Example: The performance of the dancer verged on excellence.
52. Vouch for
Meaning: guarantee or promise the goodness, worth, ability, etc.
Example: I can vouch for Amy’s character as I have worked with her for years.
53. Wallow in
Meaning: remain miserable without making an effort to overcome
Example: After weeks of wallowing in grief over his pet’s death, Sam decided to go back to school.
54. Yield up
Meaning: give up something you own or show up something that is hidden
Example: The heritage site where tourists stumbled on ancient sculptures have yielded up a treasure.
55. Zero in on
Meaning: direct all attention to
Example: The army choppers zeroed in on the smugglers’ hideout in the dense forests.