Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)

by Kate Woodford

Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty
Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty

This week we’re looking at the many phrasal verbs in English that refer to ways of speaking and the sort of things that people do in conversation.

The adverb ‘on’ has a sense which is ‘continuing or not stopping’. Accordingly, there are a few informal phrasal verbs containing ‘on’ that are used for speaking a lot and not stopping. For example, if someone goes on, they annoy you by talking about one subject for too long:

I know she did well in her exams – I just wish she’d stop going on about it!

He went on and on about his new job. 

The phrasal verb keep on is used in a similar way: Please don’t keep on about it.

Other ‘on’ phrasal verbs emphasize that someone is speaking too much in a way that is boring. UK speakers use the informal phrases ‘bang on’and ‘rabbit on’:

She’s always banging on about the benefits of walking.

Whatever was your sister rabbiting on about?

Even more emphatically, UK and US speakers use the phrase drone onI had to listen to Michael droning on about the law.

Meanwhile, the three-part phrasal verb ‘go on at someone’, used in UK English, means to annoy someone by often criticizing them or by often asking them to do something:

I wish she’d stop going on at me about my diet.

He’s always going on at me to get my hair cut.

Of course, not all phrasal verbs refer to speaking too much. If you bring up a subject, you start talking about that subject for the first time: It was Joe, not me, who brought up the subject of animal rights.

If someone pipes up, they surprise people by suddenly entering a conversation after being silent: Alfie suddenly piped up, ‘I’d like one of those!’

To chip in (UK) is to add a comment to a conversation that other people are having: She chipped in with a couple of useful suggestions.

Meanwhile, (informal) to butt in, is to do the same thing, but in a conversation where your comments are not welcome:

He kept butting in with silly remarks.

Sorry to butt in, but did I hear you mention Rosie?

If you reel off a list of things, you say a lot of things quickly and without stopping: He can reel off the names of all the US presidents in order.

Finally, the phrasal verb speak up has two senses. It means ‘to speak in a louder voice’: Could you speak up, please? We can’t hear you at the back.

Speak up also means ‘to give your opinion about something in public’: If anyone disagrees, now is the time to speak up!

51 thoughts on “Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)

    1. Greetings Mrs. or Ms. Woodford,
      My new year ( birthday) is approaching soon and I’ve been bored as of late. So I’ve been YouTubing to broaden my horizons and become better by learning something new every day….
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  1. Pingback: Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking) – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Feb 22, 2017) | Editorial Words

  2. Ionela stan

    Thank you, Kate. I’m truly enjoying reading your articles, Is there any advice you could give in order to remember all the phrasal verbs read in your articles?

  3. Barenya

    I have an interesting idiom to share though it’s a bit contrary to the context.

    (not) get a word in edgeways/edgewise: (not) to be able to say anything because somebody else is speaking too much.

  4. Maria

    Kate, I like the article. I learnt a lot about phrasal verbs and their usages in UK and US. Expect to see more articles in these lines.

  5. Aswathi

    Kate…ur blog posts are soooooooooo useful for anyone looking to improve their language…U hav got an amazing talent of presenting things in d most perfect way… Waiting for your next post…Thankyou:)

  6. Linh

    Kate, your posts have always been written in the most understandable and comprehensive way. This post is inevitably not an exception. It’s really great. Hope you keep doing great job! Thank you 🙂

  7. Ruma Pal

    Very informative but stifling conversation. Makes one stop and think before using any phrase. All thispre-analyzing leads to uncomfortable silences

  8. Kate Woodford

    Thank you, everyone, for all your kind comments. We often post articles on phrasal verbs so do keep coming back! Best wishes!

  9. Ricardo

    this article its like handy tool , made up my mind to be more pending in the grammatical details , its very nice grow up our skills .
    thanks , regards …

  10. Hien Nguyen Tuan

    One word: wonderful!
    Please “keep on” doing great job.

    P/S: From my own experience, phrasal verb “keep on” carries positive meaning. Could you please confirm?
    Your response will be highly appreciated.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! What an interesting question. At first, I was inclined to agree, but on reflection I think you can keep on doing bad things too, e.g. ‘If she keeps on being late, she’s going to lose that job.’ All the best to you!

      1. Hien Nguyen Tuan

        Hi Kate.
        Thank you very much for useful response!
        While we are still on this topic, would you mind advising me another phrasal verb which carries positive meaning in any circumstance?

    1. Kate Woodford

      You’re welcome, Irini! Keep coming back to the blog as we deal with a variety of subjects, including phrasal verbs, idioms, grammar and collocation. Best wishes!

  11. Galileo

    Certainly one of the most useful articles I’ve come across lately. Looking forward to see more content like this. Keep it up Kate!

  12. Ramón

    Hi, Kate!

    Congratulations for such a wonderful article. I’d like to add a few phrasal verbs similar to the ones already mentioned.

    If you ‘get at’ someone about something also means you criticize him/her.
    If someone “rattles off” something, it also means it recites it quickly.
    As opposed to “pipe up”, “pipe down” actually means to be quiet or speak in a lower voice
    if you state your opinion about something, you “speak out”
    If you carry on with subject to the point that it becomes boring, you “harp on” about that


    Ramón, Spain

  13. Edwin

    Very useful, you have helped me know how to say some common Vietnamese patterns in English naturally. Thank a lot.

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