Flaring up or bubbling over? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 2.

Nick Dolding / Cultura / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

My last post was about phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs connected to sadness and happiness. This post will look at some other emotions.

Let’s start with anger. If someone suddenly becomes angry, we can say that they flare up. Blow up is similar and often describes an even angrier outburst. We use the preposition at if that anger is directed at a particular person:

He flared up when Joel suggested he was to blame.

She blew up at photographers who followed her to her home.

We can also say that someone flies into a rage:

When he was told he couldn’t come in, he flew into a rage and attacked the doorman.

If something or someone makes you angry, you can say that they get to you. In UK but not US English, we also say that something or someone winds us up. These are both informal expressions:

I know he’s annoying, but don’t let him get to you.

It really winds me up when people spell my name wrong.

There are also several phrasal verbs connected with feeling scared or nervous. These feelings can stop us doing things. If you clam up, you can’t speak, and if you freeze up, you can’t speak or move:

When it was my turn to speak, I just clammed up with nerves.

I couldn’t fight back – I just froze up.

You might also hang back (not move forward or not do something) because you feel shy or nervous:

The others ran into the sea but Mia hung back.

If you are too scared to do something you had planned to do, you wimp out or (in UK English) bottle out.

He was going to come on the roller coaster, but he bottled out at the last minute.

I wimped out of doing the radio interview.

The phrasal verb chicken out has a similar meaning, but it is usually disapproving:

I can’t believe you chickened out on riding the roller coaster! (US)

I chickened out of singing a solo at the concert. (UK)

An informal phrasal verb for talking about something that makes you feel disgusted is gross out. This was originally an American term, but it is now common in the UK too:

I can’t eat oysters. They gross me out!

On a more positive note, you might bubble over with excitement or enthusiasm, and if you jump at an opportunity, you accept it enthusiastically:

They were bubbling over with excitement about their new business.

I would jump at the chance to work in Japan.

Next month, I will finish this mini-series on emotions with a selection of general phrasal and prepositional words for talking in a more general way about feelings.

26 thoughts on “Flaring up or bubbling over? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 2.

  1. Harjinder Singh

    Thank you. I have been continuously reading your post since a while. I am grateful to you for enriching my vocabulary, especially on phrasal verbs. May almighty grant you sound health and mind always.

  2. I tried to talk about a situation (stage fright) using ‘chicken out’ and ‘wimp out,’ but it seems no one uses these phrases to describe the situation on the Internet.

    “He chickened out on going on stage last night.”
    “He wimped out on going on stage last night.”

    What is you opinion on these two sentences?
    Thank you.

      1. “I can’t believe you chickened out on riding the roller coaster!”
        The example sentence in the article used ON after chicken out.
        Do you mean ‘bottle/wimp out of’ and ‘chicken out on?’
        Thank you for your reply.

    1. If you tap the author’s name at the top of the post, you can see all the posts by that author. If you want more on the same topic (idioms, vocabulary, etc.) tap the category names at the top of the post.

      Hope this helps.

  3. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Liz ! While reading your articles I usually compare English and Russian expressions. It is interesting that I can find so much in common in emotional expression of English and Russian!

  4. Tea-time

    Thank you very much for this article. More specifically, I would add that “get to” and “wind sb up” are often used to express irritation or annoyance.

  5. Liz Walter

    Thanks, everyone, for your lovely comments. It’s very interesting to hear how English sometimes overlaps with other languages!

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