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52 Phrasal Verbs

Understanding phrasal verbs is key to mastering legal English.. In this article, we look at some of the most important phrasal verbs and provide definitions and clear examples to help you with your learning.

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Phrasal Verbs

abide by

To follow a decision, a law or a rule

If you want to stay here, you simply have to abide by the rules.

account for

To explain why you took a particular decision

I hope you can account for the missing money. 

act upon

To take action

She acted upon her instincts and challenged the man.

advise against

To recommend not doing something

I advise against pleading guilty in this case.

agree with

To have the same opinion as another person.

I agree with you. You shouldn’t go there tomorrow.

allow for

To take into consideration

We need to allow for unexpected costs along the way.

appeal to

To plead or make a request.
He appealed to the court to change its decision.

apply for

To make a formal request for something (job, permit, loan etc.)

Jamie has just applied an online Legal English course with Legal English UK.

back away

To move backwards, in fear or dislike

When he saw the bear, he backed away slowly whilst trying to keep eye contact.

back down

To withdraw or admit defeat

The prosecution backed down when they realised that their witness was unlikely to turn up.

back up

To make a copy of something (file, program, etc.)

You should back up all your computer files in a secure location.


back up

To support somebody.

I’m going to be very strict with him. I hope you’ll back me up on this?

bank on

To base your hopes on something / someone

I’m banking on the witness to really help us out.

black out

To faint, lose consciousness

Jenna fell in the parking lot and blacked out for at least a minute.

block off

To separate using a barrier.

The police blocked off the street after the explosion.

blow up

To explode

The bomb blew a building up in the downtown area but luckily nobody was inside.

boil down to

To be summarised as

It all boils down to who has more power within the organisation.

boot up

To start a computer by loading an operating system or program

You need to boot up your computer before you begin your work.

break away

To separate from a crowd

One of the wolves broke away from the pack.

break down

To go out of order, cease to function

The washing machine broke down so we had to call in the repair technician.

break down

To lose control of one’s emotions

John broke down when he heard the news.

break into

To enter by force

Somebody broke into my car last night and took the radio.

break out

To start suddenly

Rioting broke out after the government raised taxes again.

break out of

To escape from a place by force

Several prisoners broke out of the city prison last night.

break up

To come to an end (marriage, relationship)

She broke up with Joe after dating him for five years.

bring up

To raise (a child)

Sara is bringing up her children by herself.

brush up on

To improve, refresh one’s knowledge of something

I must brush up on my Legal French before going to Paris next month.

bump into

To meet by chance or unexpectedly

I bumped into Adam at the bank. He says “hello”.

burn out

become exhausted from over-working

She needs to work fewer hours. Otherwise she will burn out.

call back

To return a phone call

Could you please call back in ten minutes?

call off

To cancel

The game was called off because of bad weather.

calm down

To become more relaxed, less angry or upset

It took Kylie several hours to calm down after she saw the accident.

carry on

To continue

The soldiers carried on walking in order to get to their post before dark.

carry out

To do something as specified (a plan, an order, a threat)

His orders were carried out to the letter.

check in

To register at a hotel or airport

They said I must check in at least three hours before my flight.

check out

To pay one’s bill and leave (a hotel)

Donna checked out of the hotel this morning.

clam up

To refuse to speak

When the police started asking questions, the suspect clammed up.

clamp down on

To act strictly to prevent something

The local authorities have decided to clamp down on illegal parking in handicapped parking places.

come across

To find by chance

I was cleaning up and came across some old photos of you.

come forward

To present oneself

Has the owner of the winning lotto ticket come forward yet?

count on

To rely or depend on (for help)

You can count on me to keep your secret.

cut down on

To reduce in number or size

I’ve decided to cut down on the amount of sweets I eat.

cut out

To stop doing something

You need to cut out all red meat from your diet.

deal with

To handle, take care of (problem, situation)

Catherine is not good at dealing with stress.

die down

To calm down, become less strong

After the storm died down, we went outside to see the damage it had caused.

do without

To manage without

She didn’t get a salary this month, so she’ll have to do without extra treats.

drag on

To last longer than expected

The suspect’s trial dragged on longer than we had expected!

draw up

To write (contract, agreement, document)

They drew up a contract and had me sign it.

dress up

wear elegant clothes

Their wedding gave us a chance to dress up and get out of the house.

drop in

To visit, usually on the way somewhere

Why don’t you drop in to see us on your way home?

drop off

To deliver someone or something

I’ll drop off the papers later today.

drop out

To leave school without finishing

Zack dropped out of college and joined the army.

ease off

To reduce, become less severe or slow down (pain, traffic, work)

Traffic usually eases off about 7pm

end in

To finish in a certain way; result in

Her marriage ended in divorce.

end up

To finally reach a state, place or action

If you don’t improve your work habits, you’ll end up being fired.

fall through

To fail; doesn’t happen

His plans to trek through South America fell through when he got sick.

figure out

To understand, find the answer

He’s trying to figure out how to earn enough money to go on the trip to Spain.

fill out

To complete (a form/an application)

Please fill out the enclosed form and return it as soon as possible.

find out

To discover or obtain information

I’m going to to find out who’s responsible for the power cut.

focus on

To concentrate on something

Tom had difficulty focusing on work the day before his holiday started.

get along (with)

To be on good terms; work well with

It’s important to get along with your team supervisor.

get at

To imply

What are you getting at? Do you think I’m to blame?

get away

To escape

I think we should get away for the weekend.

get by

To manage to cope or to survive

Students without jobs have a hard time getting by.

get in

To enter

When did you get in last night?

get into (+noun)

To enter

How did you get into your car without the keys?

get off

To remove

I can’t get the ink stain off my shirt.

get on

To board (bus, train, plane)

I’m trying to get on the flight to Brussels.

get on with (something)

To continue to do; make progress

After they split up, she had a hard time getting on with her life.

get on (well) with (somebody)

To have a good relationship with

He doesn't get on very well with the other members of the committee.

get out

To leave

He had a hard time getting out of Newark because of the snow.

get out of

To avoid doing something

Edna’s trying to get out of working the night shift.

get over

To recover from (illness, disappointment)

Has she gotten over the flu?

get over

To recover from (illness, disappointment)

Mary had the chickenpox last week but she got over it.

get rid of

To eliminate

Please get rid of that old t-shirt. It’s so ragged.

get together

To meet each other

Let’s get together for your birthday on Saturday.

get up

To rise, leave bed

Will you please get up? You’ve got a class in 20 minutes.

give in

To To hand in; submit

I’ll give in my paper tomorrow.

give up

To stop doing something

Morris gave up drinking 10 years ago.

go through

grow up

To spend one’s childhood; develop; become an adult

He’s like Peter Pan. He never really grew up at all.

hand in

To submit (report, homework)

Please hand in your papers before Friday.

hand out

To distribute

Susan volunteered at the shelter where she handed out warm clothes.

hang out

To spend time in a particular place or with a group of friends

Which pub does the team hang out at after the game?

hang up

To end a phone conversation

If you hang up now, I’ll never speak to you again.

hold on

To wait

Please hold on and a representative will answer your call.

hurry up

To be quick, act speedily

Hurry up and finish your lunch or we’ll miss the train.

iron out

To resolve by discussion, eliminate differences

The two countries met at the conference to iron out their differences.

join in

To participate

Yes David, you can join in the discussion any time you like.

join up

To engage in, become a member of

There was a war on, so some kids were only sixteen when they joined up.

keep on

To continue doing something

If you keep on making that noise I will get annoyed.

keep up with

To stay at the same level as someone or something

I read the paper every day to keep up with the news.

kick off

To begin, start

The rugby match kicked off at 3 o’clock.

leave out

To omit, not mention

Please check your form again and make sure nothing is left out.

let down

To disappoint

I feel so let down because they promised me a puppy but all I got was a doll.

look after

To take care of

Andy can you look after your sister until I get back?

look down on

To consider as inferior

She’s such a snob. She always looks down on anyone who is poor.

look on

To be a spectator at an event

If you don’t want to take part in the game you can look on for now.

look for

To try to find something

Harry went to the shop to look for a new computer.

look forward to

To await or anticipate with pleasure

I’m looking forward to my birthday. It’s in two days time.

look up to

To admire

I always looked up to my father. He was a great man.

make fun of

To laugh at/ make jokes about

It’s not nice to make fun of people in wheelchairs.

make up

To invent (excuse, story)

That’s a good excuse. Did you make up it up yourself?

mix up

To mistake one thing or person for another

She had so many cats that she kept mixing up their names.

move in

To arrive in a new home or office

Did you hear? Our new neighbours are moving in this afternoon.

move out

To leave your home/office for another one.

When are you moving out? We need your office for the new guy.

nod off

To fall asleep

You were so tired after the game that you nodded off on the couch.

own up

To admit or confess something

Come on. Own up. We know you did it!

pass away

To die

Your grandfather passed away peacefully in his sleep last night.

pass out

To faint

He didn’t drink enough water so he passed out at the end of the race.

pay back

To reimburse

I’ll pay you back as soon as I get the loan.

put off

To postpone, arrange a later date

Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.

put on

To turn on, switch on

It’s very dark in here. Please put on the light on.

put out

To extinguish

The fire fighters were able to put out fire in ten minutes.

put up

To accommodate, give somebody a bed

I can put you up until the weekend but then I’m going away.

pick up

To collect somebody

I’ll pick you up at around 7:00 to take you to the airport.

point out

To indicate/direct attention to something

As I already pointed out, there was a mistake in your calculation.

rely on

To count on, depend on, trust somebody

You can rely on me. I always arrive on time.

rule out

To eliminate

Since he had a sound alibi, the police ruled him out as a suspect.

run away

To escape from a place or suddenly leave

He ran away from home and joined the circus.

run into

To meet by accident or unexpectedly (also: bump into)

I’m so glad I ran into you. I need to ask you something.

run out of

To have no more of something.

It looks like we've run out of milk. I’ll just pop to the shop to buy some.

set off

To start a journey.

Let’s set off early to miss the rush hour traffic.

set up

To start a business

They set up their own company when they were still in high school.

shop around

To compare prices

Don’t buy that. Let’s shop around and see if we can find something cheaper.

show off

To brag or want to be admired

He’s such a show off. He has to tell everybody about his new computer.

show up

To appear/arrive

I don’t think she’ll show up tonight. Her daughter is sick.

shut up (impolite)

To be silent, stop talking

Shut up, you’re spoiling the movie!

sit down

To take a seat

I think you should sit down. It’s bad news.

stand up

To rise from a sitting position

The whole stadium stood up for the national anthem.

stick up for

To defend

My big brother always stuck up for me when I got into a fight.

take after

To resemble, in appearance or character

Angie really takes after her grandmother.

take care of

To look after

Please take care of my cat when I’m away.

take off

To leave the ground

The plane will take off as soon as the fog lifts.

take on

To hire or engage staff

I hear they’re taking on extra staff for this event.

take out

To remove; extract

Please take out your mobile phones and turn them off.

tell off

To reprimand/criticize severely

The coach told her off for not trying hard enough.

think over

To consider

Take your time and think it over before you decide.

try on

To wear something to see if it suits or fits

Go ahead, try it on and see if it fits?

turn down

To refuse

I asked her out but she turned me down flat.

use up

To finish a product (so that there’s none left)

Your parents have used up all the coffee!

watch out

To be careful

Watch out! There’s a dog in the road.

wear out

To become unusable

Julie wore out her shoes running the marathons.

work out

To do physical exercise

You should work out twice a week at the gym.

wipe off

To clean (board, table).I’ll wash up if you wipe off the table.

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