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10 Common Phrasal Verbs You’ll Likely Hear In The Workplace

If you love idioms, you’ll get a kick out of phrasal verbs. Both idioms and phrasal verbs play a fundamenal role in business communication, and knowing how to use them right will help you feel more confident at work. However, they are one of the trickiest things to learn in English because understanding the meaning of the individual words won't guarantee understanding the whole sentence.

Let's start by having a quick look at the differences between idioms and phrasal verbs, and keep reading to learn 10 of the most popular phrasal verbs in the workplace.

What is the difference between an idiom and a phrasal verb?

An idiom has a meaning you can’t figure out from the individual words. Knowing the words “hot” and “potato” won’t help you understand the idiom “hot potato” if you’ve never heard of it before.

A phrasal verb, on the other hand, is a phrase that consists of a verb and either an adverb, a preposition, or both. In some cases, they are idiomatic. For example, “hold up”, when it’s used as a phrasal verb, doesn’t mean to hold something in your hand and raise your arm. Instead, it means “to delay”. So if you’re in a long line that’s moving really slowly and you’re getting frustrated, you may shout, “What’s the hold up?”

Common business phrasal verbs

Here are a few phrasal verbs you’ll likely hear during your workday. Pay close attention to the examples and try to create your own sentences with them!

1. To bring up

  • Meaning: To mention or introduce a topic. Someone can “bring something up” during a meeting, a call, or a casual conversation.
  • Example: Our presentation is missing some key points. I’m going to bring it up with the team tomorrow, so we can spend time working on it.

2. To fill out

  • Meaning: To complete a form.
  • Example: I just need you to fill out these forms before we can continue with the transaction.

3. Abide by

  • Meaning: To follow specific rules or an established way of doing things.
  • Example: All marketing materials have to abide by the company’s style guide before being published.

4. To bank on

  • Meaning: To bet that something will happen in a certain way.
  • Example: I’m banking on Teresa’s promotion, so that I can apply for her position.

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5. To brush up on

  • Meaning: To update or improve your skills.
  • Example: I have to brush up on my Japanese before my business trip to Tokyo next fall.

6. To cut down on

  • Meaning: To reduce.
  • Example: I heard management is planning to cut down on the number of new hires next year. Money’s tight.

7. Fall through

  • Meaning: To fail, come to nothing or not go as planned.
  • Example: They’ve been working really hard on this for seven months, so I hope the deal doesn’t fall through.

8. Kick off

  • Meaning: To start something.
  • Example: Okay, let’s kick off this meeting with some introductions. I’d like everybody to state their name and department.

9. Run out of

  • Meaning: To finish something, to use up the supply of something until there is no more.
  • Example: Make sure to order extra sandwiches for the conference. I don’t want to run out of food for the attendees.

10. Turn down

  • Meaning: To reject a proposal, an offer, or an application.
  • Example: They want me to work in the accounting department, but I think I will turn down the offer.

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[Article originally posted in August 2017 and updated in January 2021]

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