Today we will continue our analysis of Phrasal Verbs.
Click here to remind yourself of our first lesson on the subject.
Literal Phrasal Verbs
Sometimes transitive verbs used with these prepositions and particles have an equally literal meaning.
These include bring, carry, cut, keep, let, move, put, send, and throw.
He says he'll bring it back tomorrow - On his wife's birthday, David carried her breakfast up to her in bed - They've cut down those lovely trees in the High Street! - The police tried to keep back the crowd - That must be Sally at the door. Could you let her in? - Put that vase down before you drop it! - The government sent in the army to deal with the crisis - You should throw them all out.
These are literal meanings, referring to real place and movement.
Figurative Phrasal Verbs
In other cases, though the image is very clear, there is no real, physical movement. Practice these examples:
Prices, temperatures, etc. can go up (rise), go down or come down (fall).
The share price can go up or down.
Wait till the prices come down again before you buy
Questions can come up (arise).
The issue of breaking into new markets came up at the meeting
The truth can come out (emerge) or get out (escape, in spite of attempts to keep it secret).
"It finally came out that the fire had been caused deliberately.”
We can also find it out, (discover) or slowly, logically, work it out.
" Did they find out who had started it?"
We can go ahead with a plan (decide to put it into effect)
After weighing up all the arguments, we decided to go ahead with the plan
We can literally go on (continue) walking or go on doing what we are doing.
Shall we go on to the next point?
To break into a conversation means to interrupt it.
I'm sorry to break in, but I have some urgent information
To break off speaking means to stop suddenly, possibly in the middle of a sentence.
"I'm very happy to be..." she began, then suddenly broke off and turned pale
To break off diplomatic relations with another country means to suspend them
Due to recent events, China is breaking off ties with Egypt
We can cut down on costs ( reduce them), cut out (eliminate, no longer eat, drink or spend money on) something which is perhaps not good for us, and cut off relations with somebody (no longer meet or contact them). A phone call can be cut off (interrupted).
We need to cut down on energy consumption if we are to protect the planet
Money can drop out of (fall from) our pockets, while students can drop out of (no longer continue) college or university.
Thanks to that, she had to drop out of school
We may literally bump into or run into (collide with) someone in the street if we aren't looking where we are going; otherwise this means to meet someone (maybe a friend) completely by chance.
Guess who I bumped into the other day. George!
We can literally hold back or keep back a child from running out into the road. Figuratively, we can be held back or kept back (restrained, prevented) in what we want to do by lack of money or other problems.
Keep back! The site is still dangerous!
We can literally get through a narrow space ( a gap in the wall, a small window, etc.) or figuratively get through (survive) a difficult experience, or get through (finish) one's work. We can also get through (pass) exams.
I wouldn’t have got through without you
We may look into a bag, a room, or any enclosed space, but we can also look into a question ( investigate).
Look in the bag. Pass me the shoes
To look up to someone means admire. To look down on someone means despise.
I have always looked up to my brothers for being so admirable
To stand up for oneself or for someone else, or an idea, means to defend. To stand up to someone means to resist.
Standing up for the rainforest is important to me. Sheila.
People may decide to take in (receive) paying guests. It's also possible to take in (absorb) information
I took in the lesson as best as I could, but my mind was elsewhere
To weigh up arguments is to compare them, trying to decide which one is best.
After weighing up the evidence, we have come to a conclusion
In future lessons, we will see how the key to understanding phrasal verbs is usually to focus on the preposition or particle(s). In most cases, under the general, basic meaning of these, there are several possible shades of meaning.
Down, as we have seen, can mean low or lower: Sales are down - We need to cut down - You can't keep a good man down.
It can also mean down on paper (jot / note / write something down), and can mean to calm or suppress: It was stormy last night, but now the sea has gone down (become calmer) - The army put down the rebellion.
To keep food or drink down means to keep it in one's stomach - i.e., not vomit: I'm feeling seasick. I hope I can keep down my breakfast.
A "thumbs down" sign is a common sign of rejection, so it isn't surprising that to turn down an offer means to reject it.
This vivid, visual aspect, based on short, common words, is part of the distinctive character of English.
Previous lesson: The Use of “Use”
Written by Sam Kearns, Community Manager.