Vocabulary in English

5 Surprisingly Common Phrasal Verbs That Most Learners Don’t Know

5 Surprisingly Common Phrasal Verbs That Most Learners Don't Know

Here’s a question for you:

What’s the most difficult thing about learning English?

When I ask this question to English learners, the most common answer is:

Phrasal verbs! Why do they exist? Why do you have to make English so complicated with these stupid things!”

And it’s a fair point — phrasal verbs are unnecessarily complicated.

But let’s not make life difficult.

You don’t need to learn long lists of phrasal verbs.

It’s more efficient to focus on the phrasal verbs that are used the most in English.

That’s where I can help!

I researched the 50 most common phrasal verbs in British English.1, 2

There were a lot of phrasal verbs that you probably already know (like “give up” and “go on”), but some of the most common phrasal verbs surprised me — because English learners typically don’t know or use them.

So here they are! Thank me later — with chocolate coins!

Free test - Gymglish with Clark and Miller

PHRASAL VERB #1 | Carry out

What does it mean?

This means “implement” or “execute,” which basically means “do” — in a way.

How can I use it?

We only use this in quite serious, getting-things-done kinds of situations.

So “I carried out my homework,” just sounds weird.

And don’t say, “I carried out yoga.” That’s really weird.

But we can:

  • carry out plans
  • carry out a terrorist attack
  • carry out military strikes
  • carry out a search of the property
  • carry out peaceful protests
  • carry out risk assessments

… stuff like that.

Common Phrasal Verbs #1 | Carry out a peaceful protest

Serious, grown-up stuff.

PHRASAL VERB #2 | Point out

What does it mean?

This one means “bring something to someone’s attention.”

How can I use it?

So perhaps you’re writing an awesome book.

You’ve basically finished it, but is it ready to publish?

Before you publish it, you need someone to have a look at it and find the mistakes you’ve made (the ones that you haven’t noticed yet), right?

Once they point out the mistakes, you’ll be able to correct them.

And then your book will truly be awesome.

You can:

  • point out mistakes and errors
  • point out a fact
  • point out the time
  • point out the difference
  • point out some examples
  • point out the spinach in someone’s teeth

Finally, it’s also really common to use this structure:

point out + that + SVO

What’s SVO? Click here.

SVO = subject, verb, object

e.g. I’ll make tea.

I = subject
will make = verb
tea = object

So I might want to point out that we just don’t have enough time to sit around eating doughnuts.

Or point out that everyone went home ages ago, so there’s no need to keep singing.

Or that you have a duck on your head.

Common Phrasal Verbs #2 | Point out that you have a duck on your head

PHRASAL VERB #3 | Make up

According to my research, this is the 11th most common phrasal verb.

That’s probably because it actually has a few different meanings:

Make up | Meaning #1

What does it mean?

It means “invent” or “create.”

How can I use it?

We usually use this for stories. Think of a dad sitting down with his kid at bedtime, and the kid wants a story. Because kids always want stories, for some reason. They like stories.

Now, either the dad can find a book and just read a story from the book.

Or he can make one up!

We can:

  • make up stories
  • make up facts (e.g. fake news)
  • make up reasons
  • make up CVs and biographies (something you’d NEVER do, right?)

Make up | Meaning #2

What does it mean?

It means “to compensate for something.”

How can I use it?

OK. When was the last time you forgot someone’s birthday? Or didn’t meet up with them when you said you would? Or had to cancel plans with them? Or accidentally dropped their new phone in the river?

Feels kind of bad, right?

So what do you do when you’ve let someone down like that? What do you do to make it up to them?

Buy them cake, of course! (Or maybe something else.)

There are a couple of ways we can form a sentence with this phrasal verb:

#1 – Make it up to someone

Like, “Can you do my shift on Friday? I’ll make it up to you by doing yours on Saturday.”

#2 – Make up for something

Like, “Yeah, I’m taking him to Euro Disney. I’m making up for telling him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.”

Common Phrasal Verbs #3 | Make up for telling him Father Christmas doesn't exist

Make up | Meaning #3

What does it mean?

This basically means “to make friends again” — after a fight, an argument or a disagreement. Or after you’ve looked at someone the wrong way, and then they look at you the wrong way, and suddenly you hate each other for no good reason.

How can I use it?

This one’s similar to the last use. The main difference is that instead of one person doing something wrong to someone, you’ve both had some sort of argument or disagreement.

Maybe you’ve stopped talking to each other for a while.

Maybe you’ve been giving each other evil looks for ages, too.

But after a while, it’s time to make up. Forget the argument — forget the fight!

Shake hands and give each other a hug. And everything’s well again!

via GIPHY

Yep – time to make up!

PHRASAL VERB #4 | Come on

This one also has a few meanings:

Come on | Meaning #1

What does it mean?

It means, “I think you’re being unreasonable, and now I’m strongly saying that you should change your mind.”

How can I use it?

OK. Here’s a situation.

You’ve just written a great short story.

It’s about Freddie Mercury, and how he escapes a burning airport and saves the British Queen’s favourite corgi. (Corgis are those annoying dogs that the Queen appears to like for some weird reason.)

Anyway – your story’s great, and naturally, you want to show it to someone.

You ask your best friend, but she’s just being difficult. She’s just refusing to read it. She has no time. She doesn’t like Freddie Mercury. Or corgis.

You try to convince her. She’s being unreasonable, of course. (Who doesn’t like Freddie Mercury? I mean — look at him!)

Freddie Mercury singing
Queen – Freddie Mercury by Carl Lender | CC BY 2.0

So you want to say something to both convince her that she’s being unreasonable and to help persuade her to read it.

“Come on! Just read it!”

It’s a bit like “please,” but don’t use it in a sentence; it’s used by itself. Also, it’s not as polite.

Come on | Meaning #2

What does it mean?

It basically means, “Let’s go!”

How can I use it?

Be a little careful with this.

I said this is like “let’s go!” but it’s not exactly the same.

Don’t use it with someone you’re unfamiliar with – and please don’t use this with your boss. Unless you’re really friendly with your boss (or you like getting fired).

We can use this one with friends. Especially if we want to hurry them up.

I also find myself saying this to an invisible bus while I’m waiting for it in the rain.

Common Phrasal Verbs #4 | Come on! It's raining!

Come on | Meaning #3

What does it mean?

OK. This one usually happens when person A comes on to person B.

Person A is usually a guy and person B is usually a lady (though I have seen some rather interesting situations with the roles reversed).

To put this bluntly (directly), this is when person A tries to “make the first move” with person B, hoping that it’ll lead to sex.

Most of the time, person B isn’t interested in having sex. At least not with person A, who smells and still lives with his mother. In a car.

How can I use it?

Do you remember Tony from my negative personality adjectives lesson?

Tony - Mr Self-Important

Tony has a lot of negative characteristics.

He loves himself, he can be rude, and he’s also very arrogant.

And when he sees something he wants (or someone he wants), he just tries to take it.

So imagine you’re at a cafe or in a bar. Tony just casually walks up to you.

He talks to you for a while, mostly about himself, of course. Then he asks you to come back to his place for a little “you-know-what.”

Well – he just came on to you!

PHRASAL VERB 5 | Go down

Unsurprisingly, this one has a few meanings, too.

Let’s look at them. Then coffee?

Go down | Meaning #1

What does it mean?

This means “to happen.”

How can I use it?

I’m glad you asked that question.

There are only a few ways you can use this phrasal verb to mean “happen.”

It can be a question:

“What went down, man?”

Or it can be used in this phrase:

“… and that’s how it went down.”

or

“… and that’s what went down, dude.”

Sometimes like this, too:

“Here’s how it’s going to go down.”

We basically use it to refer to something undefined (“that,” “what,” “how,” etc.).

But it’s a bit weird saying something like, “A major earthquake has just gone down in Eastern Turkey. Our reporter, Dan Strange, is here with more details.”

That’s because “go down” in this sense is VERY informal — and quite American.

Think hip-hop stars and surfers.

Go down | Meaning #2

What does it mean?

This one basically means “how people reacted to something.”

In other words, it could mean “be received.” (We can talk about how someone “receives” news, information, a performance or something they can react to.)

How can I use it?

We almost always use this one to talk about how well or how badly something was received.

So it’s common to hear it as a question with “how”:

“How did your cat juggling performance go down?”

And it’s also common to hear it with “well” or “badly” (or “brilliantly” or “terribly,” etc.).

“How did it go down? It went down terribly! Nobody understood it.”

Common Phrasal Verbs #5 | Go down (The show went down terribly!)
Juggling Clubs Manuel and Christoph Mitasch 11 club passing by Cmitasch | CC BY 2.0

Go down | Meaning #3

What does it mean?

This is going to sound a bit strange, but this just means “go.”

We add “down” for almost no reason.

It just sounds more friendly and can sound quite relaxed and natural.

How can I use it?

OK. So this has the same meaning as “go,” but you can’t use it in any situation.

We can use it when we’re talking about going to a particular physical place.

So you can say:

“I’m just going down to the shops. Do you want anything?”

But not:

I went down to university when I was 18.

You would probably only use it for relatively short distances, too.

So you can say:

“I went down to your house the other day. But you weren’t there. Were you cat juggling in town again?”

But it’s probably a bit weird to say:

I went down to Antarctica last weekend. It was cold.”


OK. So there we are – 5 of the most common phrasal verbs!

How many of the phrasal verbs from today can you remember?

Can you answer these questions:

  1. Have you ever had to give a big performance in front of more than 50 people? How did it go down?
  2. Has anyone ever tried to come on to you? How did you deal with it?
  3. When was the last time you had to make up for something you did to someone?
  4. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to carry out?

Answer in the comments and let’s share our experiences and knowledge, and get some excellent practice going!

Did you find this useful? Do you know any people (or ducks) that might also benefit from this? Then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Spread the knowledge!

1. Gardner, D., & Davies, M. (2007). Pointing Out Frequent Phrasal Verbs: A Corpus-Based Analysis. TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), 339-359.

2. Zarifi, V., & Mukundan, J. (2013). Phrasal Verb Combinations in Corpus-Based Studies: A Critical Review. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, 2(4), 212-217.

3 thoughts on “5 Surprisingly Common Phrasal Verbs That Most Learners Don’t Know

  1. Hello, Clark. These´re the answers to your questions:
    1- No, never but I think it´d go down badly because of I´m too shy.
    2. Again very badly, I believe.
    3. Last week. I have to buy a saucepan for my nephew because of I simply burnt it out.
    4. Some time ago when I had to tell my auntie about my sudden cousin´s death.
    By the way, Clark, I wish you a very, very Happy Easter.

  2. This is good l like it
    Now l know how to use the phrase come on
    Come on it’s time to eat or its time to sleep

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