It’s kicking off! (Phrasal verbs for starting things)


by Kate Woodford

This week we’re looking at the many phrasal verbs that are used to refer to things starting.

Let’s begin with the verb ‘start’ itself as it has a number of phrasal verbs. If you start off a meeting, you begin it by doing something: I’d like to start off the meeting with a brief summary of our aims. You can also use ‘start off’ intransitively: I’m going to start off with a few introductions.

If a business starts up, or if someone starts one up, it is created and starts to operate: She started up a catering company. / A lot of tech businesses have started up in the region.
(Note also the noun start-up, meaning ‘a small business that has just been started’.)

If you start out as a teacher/salesperson, etc., you begin your working life doing that job: She started out as a dancer.

A frequent ‘start’ phrasal verb in American English is start over. To start over is to begin to do something again, sometimes in a different way. (The British English equivalent is simply ‘start again’.): This is full of errors – we’re going to have to start over.

Leaving behind the ‘start’ phrasal verbs, let’s look now at other verbs, beginning with those that are used for positive beginnings. Laws or rules that are introduced are said to be brought in: New safety regulations have been brought in. If you start a big or ambitious piece of work, you might say you embark on it: They’re about to embark on a European tour. If you start doing a new activity regularly, you can say you take up that activity: He’s recently taken up gardening. Meanwhile, a career or product that suddenly starts to be successful is often said to take off: Her singing career had just taken off. Finally for the positive phrasal verbs, an event that ushers in a new period causes it to start: His inventions helped to usher in the era of skyscrapers.

Sadly, it’s not always good things that start. We say that war or fighting breaks out, meaning that it begins: War broke out in 1914. If you break out in a rash or sweat, etc., a rash (=area of red spots) or sweat suddenly appears on your skin: She broke out in a rash after using a new skin cream. Bad things (for example, rain, despair, infections, etc.) set in when they begin and seem likely to continue for a long time: I think the rain’s set in for the rest of the day. / Once an infection sets in, it can be difficult to heal.

And if you were wondering about the title of this post, a football match kicks off when it starts and, in informal, British English, people kick off when they start to get angry and argue or fight.


20 thoughts on “It’s kicking off! (Phrasal verbs for starting things)

  1. Ary Pelegrino

    This matter inspired me to arrange a kick-off meeting to start up a new project in my Company. Fantastic!

  2. I am wondering how a writer could clearly write and explain a subject matter in a very simple manner that an 8-years old child can easily grasp the points made in a post like this! I would love to say “big kudos” to this professional writer.
    Thanks a lot for this! I strongly believe that in some years to come, I am going to definitely become a professional in English, both in speaking and writing.

    Thanks once again!

  3. Hadeel Hammam

    As coming from the Sahara and a thirsty land I protest: Rain can never be within the bad things, your post is just great, my dear Kate

  4. Patricia FErnandes

    It is good to have the concepts right, especially for ESL students.
    Can you suggest few main verbs to replace the phrasal verbs mentioned in the above post?

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