Ten phrasal verbs you need to know

Do you what a phrasal verb is?  It is a short phrase that includes a verb and a preposition or adverb.

Phrasal verbs are very common in most types of English, especially spoken and informal written language.

But phrasal verbs can be difficult for learners.  This is because one phrasal verb can have many different meanings.  For example, the phrasal verb “look up” can mean to look in an upwards direction, but it can also mean to check the meaning of something in a book. 

Also, some phrasal verb meanings can be idiomatic which makes their meanings difficult to guess from their word parts. 

Below is a list of ten common idiomatic phrasal verbs.  Their frequency values* were calculated from a large online corpus.

1. Set up
Meaning: Arrange for STH to happen or exist
Example: We are going to set up a new computer system next month.
Frequency: 43.6wpm

2. Show up
Meaning: Come to (attend) an event or gathering (= turn up)
Example: She didn’t show up at the meeting.
Frequency: 42.2wpm

Continued below


3. Take on
Meaning: Choose to do/address STH (eg. job, task, problem)
Example: Nobody was willing to take on such a difficult job.
Frequency: 30.1wpm

4. Carry out
Perform or complete STH (eg. job, task)
Example: The experiment was carried out by a well-known professor.
Frequency: 16.8wpm

5. Work out
Meaning: Try to understand; find the answer to STH (= figure out)
Example: We still need to work out the details of the plan.
Frequency 16.4wpm

6. Hang out

Meaning: Spend time relaxing or enjoying oneself
Example: I don’t like to hang out with people I work with.
Frequency 13.1wpm

Continued below


7. Turn down
Meaning: Refuse or reject STH (eg. request, offer, opportunity)
Example: Lucy had to turn down the job offer because she’d decided to go back to study at university.
Frequency 11.3wpm

8. Carry on
Meaning: Continue to do STH (often after the usual period of time has finished)(=keep on)
Example: I would like to carry on working after I retire.
Frequency: 7.6wpm

9. Run out
Meaning: Use STH completely so that there is nothing remaining (eg. time, money, patience)
Example: We’ve run out of coffee.
Frequency: 7.1wpm

10. Fill out
Meaning: Complete a form or official document
Example: Sam had to fill out visa application form at the airport.
Frequency: 6.6wpm


*Frequency values: These values are occurrences per million words in the one-billion-word COCA Corpus (for the meaning sense given). For reference, a frequency value higher than around 8wpm would be equivalent to being within the most frequent 5,000 single word families in the corpus.

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