Here on About Words, we frequently publish posts on phrasal verbs. This week, just for a change, we’re looking instead at a group of nouns that are formed from phrasal verbs. Some of these nouns are usually written with a hyphen between the verb and particle and some are written as one word.
Let’s start on a positive note, with the noun in the title. From the phrasal verb go ahead, the phrase the go-ahead refers to an occasion when you are given official permission to start a project. You get or are given the go-ahead: The council has given the go-ahead for a housing development in the area.
A number of less positive nouns are formed from phrasal verbs. For example, a break-in is an occasion when a criminal enters a building illegally, usually to steal something: There was a break-in last night at the office and some money was taken. (See the phrasal verb break in.)
Breakdown (from the phrasal verb break down) is a very commonly heard noun. It refers to a situation which ends in failure. We talk about a breakdown in communication, meaning ‘a time when people stop sharing information or thoughts with each other’. We also talk about a breakdown of a marriage, meaning ‘the time when a marriage fails’. ‘Breakdown’ also refers to a time when a vehicle stops working: I had a breakdown in the middle of the road.
Meanwhile, from the phrasal verb mix up, the noun mix-up refers to a mistake that causes confusion. In a mix-up, someone is given or told the wrong thing, or someone understands something incorrectly: There was a mix-up and I received the wrong forms.
Staying on the topic of problems, a setback is something that causes problems in a situation, often making something happen more slowly than hoped. We often say that someone or something suffers or experiences a setback: The tennis champion has apparently suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee injury.
Finally, an outbreak is a time when something dangerous or unpleasant suddenly begins, for example disease or violence: An outbreak of food poisoning has been traced to eggs. (We use the phrasal verb break out with the same meaning.)
We hope that you are not affected by any setbacks or breakdowns this week!