by Liz Walter
It struck me recently that there are rather a lot of phrasal verbs connected with people behaving badly so I thought this might be a useful topic. In fact, there are so many of them that there will be two posts: this one on children’s behaviour and general bad behaviour and one on more serious wrongdoing such as violence, bullying and dishonesty.
When children behave badly, for example by being rude or uncooperative, we say they are acting up (UK & US)/playing up (UK). The phrasal verb act out is often used when children behave badly because they are unhappy or upset.
The kids always act up when they’re tired.
She’s been acting out since her mum and I split up.
For less serious bad behaviour, for instance in class, we use the phrasal verb mess around (UK & US)/about (UK). If the behaviour is designed to make other people laugh, we might say fool around or clown around:
I wish I hadn’t messed around so much at school.
Nobody can concentrate when you’re clowning around like this.
Don’t you dare answer me back!
He always talked back to the teachers.
Let’s move on to adult bad behaviour. If you accuse someone of sucking up to a person in authority, you mean that they are doing things to try to make that person like them, in a way you find unpleasant or unfair. If you trifle with someone, you treat them in a way that shows that you do not really care about them, often for your own pleasure or amusement:
I can’t stand Anna. She’s always sucking up to our boss.
She thought it was a serious relationship, but Paul was just trifling with her.
There are a few phrasal verbs connected with acting unpleasantly because you think you are better than other people. If you lord it over someone, you act as if you are better than them and can therefore boss them around (tell them what to do):
I’m fed up with Kieran lording it over everyone.
Stop bossing me around!
If you talk down to someone, you talk to them as though you think they are less clever or important than you, and if you show off you say or do things to try to make people admire you, in a way that other people do not like:
He hated the way his uncle talked down to him.
She was always showing off about her famous dad.
One very useful phrasal verb to end with: if you let someone down, you fail to do something you had said you would do, in a way that is disappointing or hurtful. You can also say that you let yourself down if you do something that you are ashamed of:
I know I can trust Aidan. He’d never let me down.
When I stole that money, I let my family down and I let myself down.
I hope this post doesn’t let you down, and that you find lots of useful phrasal verbs to learn!