25 Phrasal Verbs With Multiple Meanings

One reason phrasal verbs are so hard is that they often have more than one meaning.

Some phrasal verbs can have three, four, or even seven different definitions.

Here are 25 phrasal verbs with multiple meanings. How many of the definitions do you know?

Interested in learning idioms? If so, check out the idioms and phrasal verb section of the site.

back up

1. to make a copy of a computer file or data file so that the contents of the file are not lost forever

“Even though you saved your thesis to the cloud, I’d still back it up on a thumb drive. You want to be absolutely sure you don’t lose the file.”

2. to support someone by publicly agreeing with that person

“Thanks for backing me up at the meeting. I know a lot of people agreed with me, but you were the only one who wasn’t too scared to say how you really feel.”

3. to prove something with facts or support

“I’m willing to listen to your argument if you back it up with facts and statistics.”

4. to cause traffic to stop moving

“Cars are backed up for miles on the highway. There was a big accident.”

5. to move or drive backwards

“You’re parked way too close to the car next to you. Back up and try it again.”

6. to do someone’s job in their absence

“Who is backing you up while you are on vacation?”

Traffic backed up on the highway. (Photo by 0532-2008 from Pixabay)

blow up

1. to cause something to explode

“In the movies, cars blow up all the time. In real life, car explosions aren’t common.”

2. to fill something with air or gas

“Did you blow up all the balloons I bought for the party?”

3. to make a photograph bigger

“Do you have a good picture of your dad that we can blow up and display at his birthday party?”

4. to suddenly display anger

“Some people have a tendency to blow up at their loved ones when they are stressed out.”

Somebody had to blow up these balloons for the party. (Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels)

bring up

1. to mention something

“Beverly has been having some health problems, but she’d rather not talk about it. Please don’t bring it up.”

2. to raise a child

“Karen lives in Tennessee, but she was brought up in Canada.”

Many kids are brought up to love animals. (Photo by sasint from Pixabay)

check out

1. to leave a hotel

“Hurry up! We have to pay extra if we don’t check out before 11 a.m.”

2. to pay at a cash register at a store

“Are you ready to check out, or do you still have some things on your shopping list?”

3. to borrow a book from a library

“We should check out some books from the library before we go to the beach for the weekend.”

4. to examine something

“It’s a great podcast. You should really check it out.”

5. to seem to be true after examining the facts

“The police are checking if the suspect’s alibi checks out.”

You can save money by checking out books from your local library instead of buying them. (Photo by ElasticComputeFarm from Pixabay)

cut off

1. to remove something by cutting

“The tag on my jeans was itching me, so I cut it off.”

2. to stop the supply of something

“Bartenders should cut off their customers if they are drunk.”

3. to interrupt someone

“I’m trying to make my point, but you keep cutting me off. Can I finish?”

4. to cause a phone call to disconnect

“I called my friend four or five times, but we kept getting cut off. Cell phone service isn’t great up in the mountains.”

Bartenders will cut off patrons who have had too much too drink. (Photo by 1496066589 form Pixabay)

cut out

1. to remove something by cutting

“My mom used to cut out articles from the newspaper that mentioned my father’s business.”

2. to stop doing something (often cut it out)

“My roommates were yelling and playing music while I was trying to study. I told them to cut it out, but they wouldn’t listen.”

3. to remove a part of a movie, speech, book, etc.

“It must be frustrating for actors when their scenes get cut out of movies.”

This person cut out a heart from this piece of paper. (Photo by skeeze on Pixabay)

get by

1. to have just enough of something so that you can do what you need to do

“When her dad lost his job, Maria’s family had to get by on just her mother’s income.”

2. to pass unnoticed

“We all wanted Drake’s autograph, but we knew we probably wouldn’t be able to get by his bodyguards.”

It can be hard for some families to get by without budgeting and closely monitoring expenses. (Photo by stevepb from Pixabay)

give away

1. to give something to someone for free

“You should give this couch away instead of throwing it out. It’s still in pretty good shape.”

2. to show an emotion that you want to conceal

“She’s hard to read. Her face never gives anything away.”

3. to give information that should be kept secret

“Tell me how the movie was, but don’t give away the ending.”

It ruins the experience when someone gives away the ending. (Image by geralt from Pixabay)

give up

1. to stop trying to accomplish something that you are trying to do

“You shouldn’t completely give up on your dream of being a professional DJ, but it’s good to have a back-up plan.”

2. to stop believing something

“I’m an optimist who doesn’t give up hope easily.”

3. to stop doing something that you often do

“If you want to get in shape quickly, you should give up drinking.”

You’ll save a lot of money (and be healthier) if you give up smoking. (Photo by HansMartinPaul from Pixabay)

go out

1. to leave the house to go do something fun

“I’m an introvert. Most of the time I’d rather binge watch Netflix instead of going out.”

2. to have a romantic relationship with someone

“I used to go out with a guy who played the drums.”

3. to stop burning or producing light

“Our campfire went out in the middle of the night and we all got cold.”

4. to be sent by mail

“Your bill went out yesterday, so you should receive it in the mail soon.”

5. to exit a competition by losing

“Our lacrosse team went out in the second round of the tournament.”

6. to stop being trendy or fashionable

“Long, baggy shorts went out of style years ago.”

A traditional suit never goes out of style. (Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

hang up

1. to end a phone call

“I always immediately hang up on telemarketers.”

2. to put a piece of clothing on a hanger or hook

“Don’t throw your jacket on your bed. Hang it up in the closet.”

You can use clothes hangers to hang up your clothes. (Photo by stevepb from Pixabay)

look up

1. to find a piece of information by consulting a reference material

“When I read an article in English, I always look up all the words I don’t recognize.”

2. to visit someone when you are visiting their area

“We have an Australian friend who told us to look her up if we were ever in Melbourne.”

3. to get better (for situations)

“Things are starting to look up. I finally got the promotion I was waiting for, and I started dating a wonderful person.”

You should look up any words you don’t know in the dictionary. (Photo by PDPics from Pixabay)

make out

1. to be able to see, identify, or understand with difficulty or great effort

“I speak a little French, but I can’t make out what they’re saying in the video.”

2. to cause people to have a false opinion about someone else

“Are you trying to make me out to be a liar?”

3. to write the details (name, date, amount, etc.) on a check

“Who should I make the check out to?”

4. to make progress or fare

“How did you make out at the dentist the other day?”

5. to kiss and touch in a sexual way

“This couple was making out on the bus today. It was gross.”

In the dark, it’s hard to make out what the signs in the distance say. (Photo by Bruce Emmerling from Pixaxbay)

make up

1. to invent something (a lie, reason, excuse, etc.)

“If you don’t want to go to the party, why don’t you make up an excuse?”

2. to compose or constitute

“iPhone sales make up the majority of Apple’s revenue.”

3. to no longer be mad at someone after an argument or disagreement

“Keith was fighting with his girlfriend, but they have since made up.”

4. to compensate for something (such as neglect, a mistake, on omission, etc.)

“I get an additional three vacation days to make up for having to work on Christmas.”

They were fighting last week, but they’ve since made up. (Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

pass out

1. to become unconscious (due to heat, drugs, alcohol, extreme exhaustion, etc.)

“Phoenix was way too hot for me. I went for a walk one afternoon and thought I was going to pass out.”

2. to distribute something to members of a group

“The professor is going to pass out the syllabus at the end of class.”

A man passed out on the lawn. (Photo by japhotos from Pixabay)

pick up

1. to lift something

“I can’t pick this couch up by myself. I’m going to need some help.”

2. to give someone a ride in a vehicle

“What time should I pick you up for work tomorrow?”

3. to learn a new skill (often the ability to speak a language)

“I picked up a little Arabic while I was in Saudi Arabia.”

4. to buy something at a store

“Could you please pick up some milk on your way home from work?”

5. to notice something

“They were smiling and trying to act natural, but I was able to pick up on the tension in the room.”

6. to start something after stopping

“Let’s take a break. After lunch we’ll pick up where we left off.”

7. to improve

“Sales have been picking up now that it’s the holiday season.”

You might pick up a little French if you spend some time in Paris. (Photo by Walkerssk from Pixabay)

take back

1. to return something to a store for a refund or exchange

“This sweater doesn’t fit, but I don’t know if I can still take it back to the store.”

2. to retract a statement

“I’m sorry for what I said when we were fighting. I take it back.”

They might have to take back the things they said after they are done arguing. (Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels)

take off

1. to remove clothing

“Please take off your shoes before entering the house.”

2. to leave the ground and start flying

“After we take off, I’m going to put my headphones on and try to take a nap.”

3. to become successful

“It was an interesting idea for a product, but it never really took off.”

4. to take a vacation day, sick day, or personal day from work

“I’ve been stressed at work lately, so I decided to take Friday off.”

5. to leave (informal)

“All right, I’m gonna take off. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

A plane taking off. (Photo by Fotoworkshop4you from Pixabay)

take out

1. to remove something from a pocket, bag, drawer, etc.

“Everyone take out a pencil. It’s time for the test.”

2. to take someone to a restaurant, movie, concert, or other event and pay for that person

“My parents always take me out for my birthday.”

3. to get money or a loan from a bank

“Have you thought about taking out a loan to help you pay for some of these expenses?”

4. to kill or destroy someone or something

“The bombing raids took out a weapons factory.”

Credit is great, but you don’t want to take out more loans than you can afford. (Image by Rilsonav from Pixabay)

take up

1. to start a new hobby or activity

“A lot of people take up golf or fishing when they retire.”

2. to occupy space or time

“I think this dining room table takes up too much space. We need a smaller one.”

3. to accept someone’s offer

“I think I’m going to take you up on your offer to help me move this weekend. I could really use the help.”

Many people take up golf as a hobby. (Photo by stephanschenkon from Pixabay)

turn around

1. to move so that you face the opposite direction

“When it started to rain, I turned around and ran home.”

2. to stop being unsuccessful and start being successful

“Real Madrid started slow this year, but they’ve since turned their season around.”

Photo by kaboompics from Pixabay

turn down

1. to reduce the intensity of something

“Could you please turn the music down? I’m trying to study.”

2. to reject an offer or request

“Why did you turn down the job? I thought you said it was perfect for you.”

The boys want her to turn down the volume on the megaphone. (Photo by sasint on Pixabay)

turn in

1. to give something to an authority

“Please don’t turn in this essay until you correct the grammar. You need to get a good grade on this assignment.”

2. to go to bed

“You look terrible. Try to turn in early tonight if you can.”

You should carefully edit and proofread your papers before turning them in. (Photo by 3844328 from Pixabay)

turn up

1. to increase the intensity of something

“Turn it up! This is my song.”

2. to arrive unexpectedly

“You won’t believe who turned up to the party.”

3. to be found after being lost

“I can’t find my favorite pair of jeans. I hope they turn up somewhere.”

A man turning up the volume. (Photo by Nicholas Githiri on Pexels)

work out

1. to exercise vigorously (run, lift weights, bike, etc.)

“Do you prefer to work out before or after work?”

2. to solve a problem or deal with a problem in a satisfactory way

“My roommate and I fought when we first moved in together, but we were eventually able to work things out.”

A woman working out. (Photo by 5132824 from Pixabay)


For more idiomatic expressions, see these articles on idioms and phrasal verbs.

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