HUNTER COLLEGE READING/WRITING CENTER
GRAMMAR AND MECHANICS
Vocabulary and Idiom: Phrasal Verbs
An idiom is an expression peculiar to a language and not
readily understandable from its grammatical construction or from
the meaning of its parts. For example, the American English idiom
"put up with," in a sentence such as "I put up with a lot from
him," means tolerate or endure. Idiom study is an important part
of vocabulary development because much of the living language of
any country is idiomatic.
Often, American English idioms are created by adding various
prepositions to a basic verb, changing the verb's meaning in many
different ways. For example, the verb "to drop" means to let
something fall. But the idiom "drop in" means visit someone
without having received an invitation. And the idiom "drop out"
means to stop doing what one usually does. You will find that many
idioms have more than one meaning. For example, "turn in" means to
give something to someone, as in "I turned in my test paper to the
instructor," and it also means to go to sleep, as in "Because it
was late, I decided to turn in for the night."
Sometimes a difference in syntax or word order of an idiom
will result in different meanings. The meaning of the idiom "turn
on," for example, depends a lot on how it is combined with other
He turned on me. (He betrayed me; he attacked me.)
He turned me on. (He excited me.)
Because idiom usage, like English spelling, is quite
irregular, it can be learned more efficiently by memorization and
frequent practice than by learning rules.
The following lists will help you master a variety of American
English idioms. Each list presents one verb with several idioms
that have been derived by adding a preposition or other words to
Back to on-line resource file
IDIOMS USING "BREAK"
1. break down
Meaning: stop working
Example: I was late to school because my car broke down.
2. break even
Meaning: neither gain nor lose
Example: I was lucky to break even at the casino last weekend.
3. break in
Meaning: initiate, train
Example: The cowboy worked long and hard to break in the new horse.
4. break off
Meaning: end abruptly
Example: She broke off the conversation by hanging up the
5. break out
Example: Three prisoners broke out of jail.
Meaning: happen suddenly
Example: A huge fire broke out on the fifth floor.
6. break through
Example: The explorer broke through the underbrush to find the
7. break up
Meaning: end a relationship
Example: Mary broke up with Joe more than a year ago.
IDIOMS USING "BRING"
1. bring about
Example: She hopes to bring about a change in his attitude.
2. bring in
Meaning: yield, earn
Example: His investments bring in a profit, and his wife brings in
fifty thousand dollars a year.
3. bring on
Example: The assassination brought on the first world war.
Meaning: cause to come forth, produce
Example: Bring on the wine!
4. bring [something] on [oneself]
Meaning: cause problems for oneself
Example: By refusing to listen to his teacher, he brought the
failure on himself.
5. bring out
Example: That blue shirt brings out the color of your eyes.
Example: That teacher is able to bring out the best in her
6. bring to mind
Meaning: remind someone of
Example: The smell of baking bread brings my mother's kitchen to
7. bring up
Meaning: raise, rear
Example: After my parents died, I was brought up by my
Example: She brought up the subject of having children.
8. bring down
Meaning: cause to fail
Example: The war brought down the government.
IDIOMS USING "CALL"
1. call it a day
Meaning: stop an activity
Example: The ballet master told the dancers that it was time to call
it a day.
2. call [something] off
Meaning: cancel [something]
Example: The picnic was called off because of the rain.
3. call on
Example: We plan to call on the Smith family when we visit Arizona.
Example: The teacher called on Juan for an answer to her question.
4. call it quits
Meaning: stop an activity, end a relationship
Example: Brenda and Eddie called it quits before their second
5. call up
Example: A salesman called me up this morning.
Meaning: induct, summon
Example: The army called up twenty men from my home town.
6. call the roll
Meaning: take attendance
Example: The professor stopped calling the roll after two weeks of
7. call out
Meaning: speak loudly
Example: Call out your name when I point at you.
Example: He called her out on her racist remark.
IDIOMS USING "COME"
1. come about
Example: The event you were waiting for has come about.
2. come across
Meaning: find unexpectedly
Example: Reading a book I came across a photo of my hometown.
Meaning: provide services on demand
Example: She pressured her manager, but he didn't come across with
3. come across as
Meaning: give the impression of
Example: He comes across as a reasonable man, but in fact, he is
4. come down with [an illness]
Meaning: get [an illness]
Example: I don't feel well; I think I'm coming down with the flu.
5. come in handy
Meaning: prove useful
Example: I kept batteries in my flashlight because I know it could
handy in an emergency.
6. come out
Meaning: be published, appear
Example: The new issue of the magazine came out last week.
Meaning: reveal one's homosexuality
Example: His parents were shocked when he came out.
Example: From our discussion it came out that we all disagreed on
7. come through
Example: She came through her illness at last.
8. come through for
Meaning: support through difficulty
Example: He really came through for me when my daughter was in the
9. come up
Meaning: be mentioned
Example: We were talking about students, and your name came up.
Example: I didn't know what to do because the situation had never
come up before.
IDIOMS USING "DO"
1. do away with
Meaning: dispose of, eliminate, abolish
Example: To do away with social injustice was her goal.
Example: The villain decided to do away with his mother.
2. do over
Example: The only way to correct the mistakes was to do the
Meaning: redecorate, refurbish
Example: It was very frustrating to wait six months to do my
3. do without
Meaning: give up, forego
Example: When my father lost his job, we had to do without many
4. have nothing to do with
Meaning: shun, avoid
Example: The new neighbors are so unfriendly that they will have
nothing to do with us.
5. do in
Meaning: tire, exhaust
Example: After running five miles without stopping, I was done in.
Example: I was so angry that I wanted to do him in, but I didn't.
IDIOMS USING "GET"
1. get ahead
Meaning: advance, prosper, succeed
Example: He studied hard in order to get ahead.
2. get over
Meaning: overcome, recover
Example: She got over her cold after two weeks.
3. get around
Meaning: travel widely, frequently
Example: They get around a lot.
Meaning: avoid, evade
Example: They got around the high prices at the market by growing
their own vegetables.
4. get hold of (get ahold of)
Example: I got hold of him by telephone.
5. get out of
Meaning: remove from
Example: Get him out of here.
6. get up
Meaning: arise from a sitting or lying position
Example: I get up every day at seven.
7. get after
Example: He will get after you if you don't do your work well.
8. get by
Example: She was so pregnant that I couldn't get by her in the hall.
Example: Times are hard, but we will get by somehow.
IDIOMS USING "GIVE"
1. give and take
Example: We hope there will be some give and take at the
2. give in
Meaning: yield, accept a position or viewpoint one had opposed
Example: We expected the other side to give in.
3. give out
Meaning: cease functioning because of age or deterioration
Example: We were afraid that our tires would give out during the
4. give way
Example: The town was flooded when the dam gave way.
Example: The boss refused to give way to the workers.
5. give up
Example: The soldiers gave up when they knew they were beaten.
Example: The dancers would not give up practicing even though they
6. given to
Meaning: in the habit of
Example: Because he was given to fast driving, his license was
IDIOMS USING "KEEP"
1. keep house
Meaning: manage a home
Example: He found it hard to keep house when his wife left him.
2. keep out of
Meaning: stay away from
Example: Last year he was warned several times to keep out of
3. keep [one's] word
Meaning: fulfill a promise
Example: John has lied to me so often that I will never trust him to
keep his word.
4. keep track of
Meaning: stay in touch with, find the whereabouts of
Example: Unfortunately, I can never keep track of my glasses.
5. keep up
Meaning: maintain, preserve
Example: We can no longer afford to keep up the stables and the
6. keep up with
Meaning: stay abreast of
Example: The third runner kept up with the second one.
7. keep still
Meaning: be quiet
Example: He told his little girl to keep still during the
IDIOMS USING "LET"
1. let alone
Meaning: stop disturbing
Example: Tell Charles to let that boy alone.
2. let down
Meaning: disappoint, fail
Example: Mrs. Smith is so reliable that I know she will never let me
3. let go
Example: The police told the terrorist to let the hostages go.
4. let off
Meaning: permit to leave
Example: Ask the bus driver to let you off at Fifth Avenue.
Meaning: to excuse
Example: They caught me with the stolen items, but the judge let me
5. let pass
Meaning: overlook, disregard
Example: I will let your remarks pass.
6. let up
Meaning: pause, decrease in intensity
Example: The storm did not let up until the following day.
7. let out
Meaning: lengthen, expand
Example: He had gotten taller and fatter, so I had to let out his
IDIOMS USING "LOOK"
1. look after
Meaning: take care of
Example: Someone has to look after the children while we are away.
2. look forward to
Meaning: anticipate with pleasure
Example: I am really looking forward to meeting you!
3. look into
Example: Do you want to ask the police to look into the
disappearance of your jewelry?
4. look like
Example: My dog looks like Lassie.
Meaning: seem possible or probable
Example: It looks like we won't be going on vacation this year.
5. look out for
Meaning: be careful of
Example: When you go on the hike, look out for bears.
Meaning: be responsible for, tend
Example: Her big brother looked out for her when she started
6. look up to
Example: Her students really look up to her.
7. look over
Meaning: examine, inspect
Example: Look over the papers before you sign them.
IDIOMS USING "MAKE"
1. make up
Example: We believed his story, but it turned out that he had made
the whole thing up.
Example: A week later, he tried to make up with his girlfriend by
buying her flowers.
2. make a living
Meaning: earn money, support oneself
Example: While I was a student, I made a living by babysitting.
3. make headway
Example: There is less traffic in the evenings, so we should make
better headway later.
4. make up one's mind
Example: I like both choices, so I can't make up my mind.
5. make room for
Meaning: clear a space for
Example: By pushing our chairs closer together, we were able
to make room for another person at our table.
6. make sure
Example: Make sure you have your books with you before you leave.
7. make good
Example: When the movie star was still a little girl, she told her
parents that she would make good someday.
8. make good time
Meaning: get somewhere quickly
Example: The trip only took us an hour because we made good time.
9. make out
Example: I made out pretty well on that test.
Meaning: perceive, read
Example: I can't make out the signature on this document.
Meaning: engage in kissing and caressing
Example: The teenagers were making out in the bushes during the
10. make do with [something]
Meaning: accept a substitute
Example: I wanted steak, but I had to make do with peanut butter.
IDIOMS USING "PUT"
1. put off
Meaning: postpone, delay
Example: George put off writing his paper for class until the night
before it was due.
2. put on
Meaning: dress oneself in
Example: Put on your raincoat for the weather looks bad.
Meaning: fool [someone]
Example: He said he was a famous actor, but he was just putting us
3. put out
Meaning: annoyed, irritated
Example: Because he lost the election, the candidate was put out
at his staff.
Meaning: have sex with someone
Example: She thought she would be more popular if she put out on
the first date.
4. put something over on [someone]
Meaning: trick [someone]
Example: The dishonest merchant tried to put something over on us,
but we didn't buy his goods.
5. put up a fight
Example: They may force me to leave this school, but I will put up
a fight before I go.
6. put across
Meaning: present or deliver convincingly
Example: Jennifer got the job because she was able to put her
ideas across so convincingly.
7. put down
Meaning: insult, degrade
Example: Edward was angry because his boss continued to put him
8. put away
Meaning: store in the proper place
Example: Adrienne's father told her to put her toys away.
IDIOMS USING "RUN"
1. run up
Example: Alex ran up a large bill at the bar.
2. run across
Meaning: encounter, meet by chance
Example: In London, we unexpectedly ran across our friends Beth
3. run out of
Meaning: use entirely
Example: She came home because she ran out of money.
4. run an errand
Meaning: perform a task involving movement or travel
Example: I was late because I had to run errands.
5. run low
Meaning: become scarce in quantity or supply
Example: As we crossed the desert, our water began to run low.
6. run up against
Meaning: encounter unfavorably
Example: We ran up against a problem with the telephone company.
7. run for
Meaning: campaign for
Example: Bill Clinton ran for governor successfully before he ran
8. run along
Example: I've got to run along now.
IDIOMS USING "TAKE"
1. take a break
Meaning: stop an activity briefly, rest
Example: I need to take a break between classes.
2. take care of
Meaning: be responsible for, handle
Example: Does this office take care of financial problems?
Meaning: nurse, tend
Example: My mother always took care of me when I was sick.
3. take charge of
Meaning: be responsible for, direct
Example: Sandra decided to take charge of the campaign.
4. take [something or someone] for granted
Example: He took it for granted that I would have enough money to
pay the bill.
5. take it easy
Meaning: rest, relax
Example: Peter has decided to take it easy by not working for the
rest of the summer.
6. take [something] out of
Meaning: remove from
Example: My supervisor asked me to take all the old files out of the
7. take [someone] out
Meaning: date [someone]
Example: The handsome stranger wants to take Judy out on
8. take up
Meaning: begin an activity
Example: Would you like to take up a new hobby?
Meaning: use, consume
Example: I'm sorry to take up so much of your time.
9. take over
Meaning: gain control of
Example: The angry workers took over the boss's office.
10. take [something] back
Example: I take back all the nasty things I have ever said about
Back to RWC home