Phrasal verbs for everyday actions

by Liz Walter

Credit: Getty

I have written several posts about phrasal verbs, including an introduction to what they are and how to use them. However, I realised today that I have never written about some of the most common phrasal verbs there are – ones that we use to talk about actions that take place every day.

You will almost certainly find that you know some of them already, and it is worth learning any that are new to you because they are all extremely common, and most of them have no one-word equivalent.

The first thing that happens every morning is that we wake up. We can also say that we wake someone up:

I woke up at 7.30. (In US punctuation, write the time as 7:30.)

My Dad wakes me up at 6 a.m. every day.

The next thing most of us do is get up. Although it is possible to say get out of bed, get up is much more common, especially to talk about regular habits:

I usually get up at 7.

We also use get up in the phrases get up early or get up late:

I have to get up early tomorrow, as I have a meeting at 8.

If it is still dark, you might turn on the light, and when you don’t need it anymore, you turn it off.

Before you have a shower, you will take off your night clothes, and afterwards you will put on the clothes you are going to wear that day. Of course, you can put on or take off clothes at any time:

I put on a hat because it was cold outside.

Why don’t you take your jacket off?

In British English, you can say that you do up the buttons, zip, laces, etc. on a piece of clothing or that you do up a jacket, coat, etc, meaning that you fasten it:

Can you help me do up my shoelaces?

Make sure you do your coat up – it’s cold today.

We also use several phrasal verbs to talk about keeping our home clean and tidy. We use the verbs tidy up (UK) or clean up (mainly US, but also used in the UK), which can be used with or without an object:

I spent all evening tidying up.

I need to clean up my bedroom.

When we tidy objects, we might pick them up from the floor and put them away in the place where they should be. We might throw away things we don’t want or need:

Please would you pick up your dirty clothes?

Mum asked me to put the dishes away.

Did you throw away those old newspapers?

If you are tired in the evening, you might sit down and watch TV or even lie down and rest for a while. If not, you might go out with friends. And at the end of the day, you go to bed and sleep until you wake up and start all over again!

40 thoughts on “Phrasal verbs for everyday actions

      1. Liz Walter

        Only when they’re used as an order. ‘Listen, everyone!/Listen up everyone!’ And ‘listen up’ is mostly American English. If in doubt, always use ‘listen’.

      2. Correct, “Listen up” is more commanding, Dominant as if addressing an inferior in a condescending way when one on one. In group speech, it can be a prelude to a story or speech and can be overt or playful depending on what follows. Depends on whether you’re addressing friends or strangers. I hadn’t thought of the difference until you asked, and it’s fun to think about. Good question 🙂

  1. Hadeel Hammam

    Which is correcter or more common to do my shoelaces up or do up my shoelaces? it is the only daily phrase new for me. Thanks

    1. Liz Walter

      Hi Eduardo – if you click on the ‘Cambridge dictionaries online’ button at the top of this page, you can look them up and get a full answer.

  2. Rodrigo Salazar Cortéz

    Thank you very much for your information about phrase verbs, I´m gonna teach to my students very soon.

  3. Kalyan Sathe

    The verb in the phrasal verb ‘ ciean up’ makes the meaning clear then why the preposition up is used.Is it not unnecessary or rather superfluous to use it after the verb?

    1. Liz Walter

      Interesting question – I think in this case, ‘up’ does imply making a whole place clean and tidy, rather than simply cleaning one thing. You wouldn’t say, for instance, that you ‘clean up the windows’. A similar example might be ‘eat’ and ‘eat up’, which mean the same thing, but the ‘up’ gives more of a sense of completion, of eating all the food.

  4. Pingback: 5 Phrasal verbs to impress your teachers – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  5. Fábio Libonati Lopes

    Great post, but I am with a doubt in the part: The first thing that happens every morning is that we wake up.What does “this” mean?

    I am a Brasilian student.

      1. Emanuel

        If you mean in : “is THAT we wake up” … “that” is used as a conjunction and it doesn´t have a real meaning but is used to include more content to the sentence. I am from Argentina, so if you understand spanish I can translate that to spanish and you may understand better. I could be translated as: “es QUE nos despertamos”

  6. hassan

    thanks alot !
    Ms liz walter
    God bless you
    i’m interested in your job a lot.
    i wish to study in your great country.

    1. Luc

      Hi Hassan,
      I hope you don’t mind my drawing your attention to a vocabulary mistake you’ve made in your comment.
      You’ve used the word “job” incorrectly here. In fact, you want to use the word “work” instead.
      If you say “I’m interested in your JOB a lot”, the meaning is that you are interested in Liz’s work position (i.e. employment). That statement could even be understood as somewhat aggressive (i.e. Liz could consider that you are competing for her job), depending on the context (not here, since it is obvious that you are a student and that you are therefore not actually competing for her work position, but if you say the same thing to someone else in a different context, that person might feel threatened and might react accordingly).
      What you mean is “I’m interested in your WORK a lot”.
      Remember that “job” is the work that one does for a living, it’s a position, an employment.
      If you intend to point to the content of the work itself or to the output someone produces as part of his/her work (e.g. articles that they write, paintings that they make, objects that they build, etc.) you should use just “work”.
      The difference between “job” and “work” is subtle, but it is important to know that “job” is not a perfect substitute for “work” which has a broader, more intellectual meaning than “job”.

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