Angry Verbs: Phrasal Verbs for Expressing Frustration

frustrationAnger is one of our strongest emotions, so it makes sense that we have lots of phrasal verbs that we use to talk about it. Have a look!

Take … out on/ – to direct anger at an innocent third-party

  • It’s not my fault that your girlfriend cheated on you, so don’t take it out on me!

Note: This phrasal verb is exclusively separated. Sometimes, however, the object can come between “out” and “on,” especially when the object is a phrase, like in the following example:

  • They took out their frustration about the failed test on me and made me stay late.


  • They took out on me their frustration about the failed test and made me stay late.

Flip out on/ – To suddenly direct strong anger/frustration at someone

  • If I forget my anniversary my girlfriend is going to flip out on I forgot last year and we almost broke up!

Note: We can substitute the preposition “about” in place of “on” in order to indicate the cause, rather than the recipient, of the anger or frustration. For example:

  • The board of directors is flipping outabout the tax audit. Apparently there have been some dishonest accounting practices.

Hold … against/ – To maintain anger/distrust towards someone because of their past actions

  • My brother was really mean to me when we were kids, but I don’t hold it against We were just kids, and now he’s one of my best friends.

Note: This is yet another phrasal verb that we use in exclusively separated form (meaning, it needs to have an object). The following example is therefore incorrect:

  • It’s not healthy to hold against people for things they did a long time ago.

Set … off/ – To cause someone to release anger they had kept contained

  • If you start talking about his family you’re going to set him off. The last time he discussed his relatives he was upset for days.

Note: This phrasal verb can be used in a different context where it means “to trigger an alarm.” For example:

  • The smoke from the toaster set off the smoke alarm and the building was evacuated.

Don’t be upset! There are plenty more practice materials waiting for you at our main phrasal verbs page!

Getting Comfy – Relaxing With Phrasal Verbs

relaxingLife moves fast, and it feels like every day is shorter than the last. Sometimes, we just have to stop ourselves and relax. So pull up a chair and get comfy (comfortable) because that’s what today’s phrasal verbs are all about!

Kick back/ – to relax

  • Man, when I get to the beach,I don’t want to do anything at all. I just want to kick back, open a beer, and get a tan.

Note: Unlike other phrasal verbs that can be combined into a compound noun with a related meaning, when “kick” and “back” are put together (as kickback), it refers to money paid to a politician in exchange for a favor, i.e. a form of corruption. See the example below:

  • The mayor is accused of taking kickbacks from construction companies that received government contracts over the last three years.

Settle in/ – to become comfortable in new surroundings

  • It took me a while to settle in when I started living at my girlfriend’s apartment. I wasn’t used to sharing my room.

Hang out/ – to spend time relaxing (and/or socializing with friends)

  • We were just hanging out at my buddy’s house when the cops came out of nowhere and arrested my friend for stealing a car.

Note: This phrasal verb is, like all of the verbs in today’s blog entry, very informal. It is often used in invitations between friends who later decide on what to do. It can be combined to form the noun “hangout” which usually refers to a place where people go to “hang out.”

Chill out/ – to relax or become calm, reduce tension

  • I’m losing my mind. I am so worried about this English test that I can’t sleep! I need to chill out.

Note: This phrasal verb is often used as a command, where it’s meaning is similar to “calm down,” as in the following example:

  • Ok, everyone needs to just chill. The pizza guy is just a little bit late. I know you’re hungry but it’s not the end of the world!

Feeling relaxed now? Great! It’s the perfect time to take a look at our main phrasal verbs page and get some more practice!

Get Ready for Phrasal Verbs about Preparation!

raceThis installment of our phrasal verbs series focuses on how we discuss preparations. Are you ready?

Get Ready/ – to prepare

  • We got ready to leave while my brother shoveled the snow off the driveway.

Note: This verb can be followed by the infinitive form of a verb, as in the example above, or by “for” and a noun, as in the example below, but in either case it is roughly equivalent to “prepare.”

  • I have to get ready for my presentation. It’s in an hour and I haven’t memorized my opening speech yet!

Note: This verb can be both intransitive, as in the previous examples, or it can be separated and made transitive, as in the following example:

  • I always get my bags ready the night before I go to the airport so I won’t forget anything.

Gear up for/ – to make preparations

  • We’re gearing up for our annual staff appreciation celebration. It’s a huge event that brings employees from all of the different areas together.

Note: Taken more literally, this verb can be used to express that one is “gathering the equipment necessary to accomplish something,” like in the example below:

  • Ok, everyone, let’s gear up for the morning hike. Make sure you have your canteen, walking stick, and raincoat.

Brush up on/ – to practice an old skill or refresh old knowledge

  • I’ll have to brush up on my Spanish before we go to Chile for our vacation. I haven’t spoken a word of it since high school!

Note: A very similar – albeit more informal – expression with the same meaning substitutes “bone” for “brush,” like in this example:

  • I’m boning up on my jazz scales before the show tomorrow night. I’ve been playing mostly blues for a while now.

Set … Up/ – To put things in their place

  • I have to set up the salad bar because the guy who usually does it is sick and didn’t come to work today. It’s a lot of work bringing out all of those vegetables and plates!

Note: In another context, this verb can mean “betray someone to their enemies,” like in the following example:

  • The undercover police officer setup the drug dealer with a DEA sting operation. He was arrested in possession of narcotics, cash, and weapons.

Still not feeling ready? Have no fear! Check out our phrasal verbs homepage and practice a little more!

Keep Calm and Carry On! Phrasal Verbs for Adversity

adversityWe face problems – some big, some small – every day of our lives.  Today’s set of phrasal verbs is useful for talking about the adversity that we face. With a little practice you will be able to overcome even the most complicated phrasal verb!

Pull through/ – to survive, with difficulty, a life-threatening illness or injury

  • It looked like Paul wasn’t going to come out of the coma after the rock climbing accident, but somehow he pulled through and now they expect him to make a full recovery.

Note: This usage is not to be confused with the literal meaning of this verb/preposition combination(which can be separated). For example:

  • To properly tie the knot you have to pull the free end of the rope through the loop.

Go without/ – to live (survive) in the absence of something important

  • The mother went without food for five days so her children wouldn’t starve.

Note: It sounds strange, but when talking about living in the absence of something less vital, we use the phrasal verb “live without,” like in the example below:

  • I lost my phone last week and realized that I could live without

Make do with/ – to use an improvised substitute

  • We don’t have any wine glasses, so we’ll just have to make do with our regular juice glasses.

Note: We can eliminate “with” and still retain a similar meaning of “improvising a substitution or solution,” but in that case we can’t specify substitute. For example:

  • They requested forty chairs but there are only 35, and it’s too late to get more, so we have to make do.

Carry on/ – to continue one’s actions (despite distractions, obstacles, or problems)

  • When the team’s coach quit unexpectedly, it was very disappointing for the team, but they carried on and won several more games to finish the season.

Note: We often hear this combination in the context of air travel. In that case, the verb is separable and refers to bags or items that we take to our seat on a plane.

  • When I flew to New York, I didn’t want the baggage handlers to damage my guitar, so I carried it on.

Please visit our phrasal verbs homepage for more information and practice!

Game On! Phrasal Verbs for Competition

competitionDo you thrive under competitive pressure?  Are you constantly comparing your abilities to those of your peers, siblings, or co-workers?  Or are you simply a sports fan? If you answered yes to any of these, this entry will be very interesting for you because these are expressions every competitor and sports fan should know!

Size … Up/ – to evaluate the strength of a person or situation

  • We’re sizing up potential competitors in the area, and we think we’ll enter the market with a relative advantage.

Stack up against/ – to compare strengths/capabilities

  • How does the Atlanta Falcon’s defense stack up against the New Orleans’s Saints’ potent offense?

Note: While both this phrasal verb and the previous one (“Size …up”) involve measurements and evaluations of strength, it is important to note that one is an action (looking in order to evaluate) and the other is a relation (comparison of two or more people or things). To illustrate:

  • Barry sized up the man standing in front of him to determine if he could survive a fight with him.
  • Barry wondered how he stacked up against the size and speed of his adversary.


  • Barry stacked up against the man in front of him to determine if he could survive a fight with him.
  • Barry wondered how he sized up against his adversary in terms of size and speed.

Blow … Out/ – To defeat an opponent by a large margin (in scoring competitions)

  • Last year’s games were close and very competitive, but this year, Chicago blew Miami out every time they played each other. The closest game was 95-72.

Note: This phrasal verb can’t be used for competitions in which the score isn’t the factor determining, such as card games, boxing matches ending in knockouts, or competitions between businesses for customers, for example.

Shut … Out/ – To allow no points for the opposing team/player

  • The goalie had a great game. He shut them out even though they made 40 attempts to score!

Do you want to keep training? Have a look at our main phrasal verbs page for more practice materials!

It Pays Off to Pay Off, so Take the Payoff and Pay Off Your Loans: Phrasal Verb Confusion

pay offThis installment will focus specifically on the combination of two words: “pay” and “off.” It’s amazing how many different meanings we can get out of just two words depending on the context and how we use them! Learn these verbs well because they are all very common!

Pay … Off/– To eliminate a debt

  • After winning the lottery, she paid off all of her family’s debts.

Note: In certain contexts, this phrasal verb can be used as a synonym for the verb “bribe”, which means “to buy favorable treatment from an authority figure,” such as a politician or, in some countries, the police.

Pay … Off/ – To bribe

  • The drug cartel paid off the local police and the mayor’s office so they would be able to do business without any interference from the authorities.

Note: This is another phrasal verb whose elements can be combined to make a compound noun. In this case, “payoff.”

  • The investigators had video and documentary evidence of the governor taking the payoff from the mining company’s executives in exchange for favorable treatment.

Note: It is important to remember that the compound noun “payoff” can only be used to talk about bribes, not about loan payments, as in the example below.

  • I’m so happy because I made the payoff on my loans!

Pay off/ – To produce results/be successful

  • All of those trips to the gym are starting to pay off. Today I wore a pair of pants that I haven’t worn since before I was married!

Note: For this phrasal verb to have this particular meaning, it must not be separated. Sometimes, the “off” is omitted and “pay” alone has the same meaning of “produce results/success” as it does in the sentence above. For example:

  • It pays to be friendly. “You catch more flies with honey,” as Confucius said.

Eventually, all the time you spend studying is going to pay off. Take a look at our main phrasal verbs page and find more practice material!

Show Me the Money! Phrasal Verbs for Business and Investing  

water coolerModern investment capitalism is its own little world. And just like any world, it has its own language, its own“water cooler lingo” (jargon and idioms). This entry’s phrasal verbs will give you a taste of the rich linguistic tradition of our economics professors and CEOs. Read on to learn more about phrasal verbs for business and investing:

Pay … Down/ – to make payments in order to reduce debt

  • I’ve been paying down my student loans steadily for ten years, and I’m very close to being debt-free.

Note: This verb is used primarily for large amounts of debt, such as that incurred by many college students in the US, or debt from buying a house or car.

Buy … Out/ – To purchase the part of a business or property owned by another person in order to eliminate their participation (and take more ownership for yourself)

  • When Pfizer Pharmaceuticals received a tax holiday from the US government, they used the money they saved to buy out small shareholders and consolidate ownership of the company.

Note: Like many other phrasal verbs, this one may be combined to form the noun “buyout,” which can be used as follows:

  • After the buyout, the company’s stock was concentrated among only 10 shareholders, the fewest since it went public.

Sink money into/ – to make a (usually bad or unproductive) investmentof  significant size

  • They’ve been sinking money into that project for years, but I don’t think it will ever enter the production phase. It’s too impractical.

Note: This verb is related to the economics concept of “sunken costs,” or money that cannot be recuperated from an investment, like in the example of unsuccessful research and development investments shown above.

Bail … Out/ – to rescue someone from a debt crisis

  • Governments around the world bailed out the big banks during the financial crisis of 2008, but many economists think that they should have let the banks fail.

Note: “Bail out” originates from a maritime context, where it means,“to remove water from a sinking boat.”

Remember that you our phrasal verbs homepage is always available for more practice!

Let’s Talk About Feelings – Phrasal Verbs for Emotional Problems

emotionsEverybody hurts but these phrasal verbs will help you express your feelings more easily. In fact, with these phrases you’ll be able to lie down on the couch and talk about your childhood, your relationship troubles, your mortal fear of bathtub rubber ducks, or any other causes of mental discomfort in no time! Paging Dr. Freud!

Open up to/ – to express one’s feelings/thoughts without fear or inhibition

  • My girlfriend always takes a while to open up to me when she’s upset. She never tells me what is bothering her right away.

Note: We often see this phrasal verb in another context, usually as a command from the police in movies, where “open up!” means “open the door.” [Notice that we do not use “to” in this case.]

  • This is the police! Open up, or we’ll break down the door!

Let … Go/ – to release negative emotions/feelings or to allow them to dissipate or disappear

  • I’ve been angry with him so long that it’s really difficult to let go of the anger and see him as just another person.

Note: This is another verb that often appears as a command, usually in its separated form, as in the example below.

  • Just let it go. You can’t keep hating her forever because she wore the same dress to the party that you did!

Bottle … Up/ – To hold (usually negative) emotions inside without expressing them or releasing them in another way

  • He always bottles up his anger at work because he’s afraid of his boss but eventually he explodes at his wife and kids. It’s really unhealthy for him, and unfair to the family.

Note: This verb usually has the added meaning that when the emotions are “bottled up,” internal pressure and stress increases and eventually explodes, like in the example above.

Work … out/ – To discuss a problem or situation with someone in order to resolve problems or find a solution

  • Every time I think we’ve worked out her jealousy problems, she suddenly accuses me of having an affair with a co-worker!

Note: This verb can apply to any problem or situation, it’s not always about emotions!

  • We worked out a way to finish the project before the final deadline, but it won’t be easy.

Want to learn more beyond phrasal verbs for emotional problems? Don’t forget to visit our main phrasal verbs page for more practice!

Phrasal Verbs About Bullying

bullyingEveryone remembers that one kid in elementary school. He was always mean to the skinny kid with glasses, laughing with his friends at the kids that weren’t popular. Recently, there has been a growing public discussion about these “bullies” and their abusive behavior, known as “bullying.” Our entry today will give you some useful expressions to participate in this discussion.

Beat … Up/ –  to intentionally (and in some cases seriously) hurt someone, usually with several punches/kicks

  • Bobby didn’t like it when Dan corrected him in math class, so he beat him up at the playground at recess.

Note: this phrasal verb is most commonly used in its separated form, as in the example above. However, when it is used in its unseparated form, it is usually in an informal passive voice construction with the auxiliary verb “get,” like in this example: Continue reading “Phrasal Verbs About Bullying”

Love, Marriage, and Phrasal Verbs

couple on a dateToday, we’re going to talk about some phrasal verbs that are useful for discussing romantic relationships. Who knows? Maybe if you go to an English-speaking country and meet someone special, you’ll get some first-hand experience with some of these verbs!

Go Out With/ – to date someone

  • Mark had been going out with Steve for a while before they started living together.

Note: This phrasal verb takes on a romantic meaning only in the contexts of romantic relationships. In other contexts it can simply mean, “to leave one’s residence to be in someone else’s company,” as in the example below.

  • I’m going out with some friends from college. We’ll be out pretty late, so don’t wait up.

Continue reading “Love, Marriage, and Phrasal Verbs”