10 Business English Phrasal Verbs You Need To Know

business phrases Oct 12, 2021
Business English Phrasal Verbs

What is a Phrasal Verb

Phrasal verbs are very common in English, especially in more informal contexts. They are made up of a verb and a particle or, sometimes, two particles. The particle often changes the meaning of the verb.

  • I called Ben to see how he was. (called= to telephone)
  • They've called off the meeting. (call off = to cancel)

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the meaning of phrasal verbs. Before looking them up in a dictionary, it would be helpful to use the context to understand them.


Literal meaning

Some phrasal verbs have a literal meaning. They can be easily understood.


  • She opened the door and looked outside.
  • She was walking across the street when she heard the sound of an explosion.


Idiomatic meaning

Phrasal verbs can also have a figurative or idiomatic meaning which makes them difficult to understand.

  • Can you put me up for tonight?

    The phrasal verb 'put up' here does not mean to build (as in putting a fence up)  


Why and How Phrasal Verbs Are Used in Business

Phrasal verbs are used in business exactly the same way they’re used in everyday conversation. You’ll hear employees using them when having their morning coffee, or you may hear your boss using them in meetings or other conversations. Phrasal verbs are generally informal, meaning they should only be used in less formal contexts. 


With that being said, phrasal verbs should be used in moderation in business, especially when communicating with other non-native English speakers. This is because non-native speakers might not be familiar with the phrasal verbs you’re using, so make sure you pay attention to your audience when using them in the conversation.

Is It Hard to Learn Phrasal Verbs

Learning phrasal verbs isn’t very difficult if you know the right way to learn them! A big problem most business English learners face is getting overwhelmed with the sheer amount of phrasal verbs we have in the English language (over 10,000 in total!)


Here are 5 tips on how to learn phrasal verbs more quickly and easily.


Tips to Learn Phrasal Verbs 


Don’t Try to Learn All of Them at Once

It would be silly to try to learn every single phrasal verb as quickly as possible. Learning phrasal verbs or any vocabulary for that matter is a long-term process - it takes time and patience as well as consistency. 


Instead of setting yourself a goal of learning 50 phrasal verbs a week, make that number more manageable and realistic by sticking with a goal you know you will hit in the first 7 days. This brings me to the next tip.


Set Realistic Goals For Learning Phrasal Verbs

Each week, set yourself a challenge of learning some new phrasal verbs. Keep the number small to begin with. By keeping the goal small in the beginning, you won’t feel demotivated by trying to hit a goal that is way out of reach. If you think you could learn 10 phrasal verbs in a week, go with 5 to be safe. You can increase the number each week if necessary and if you’re hitting your goals. 


Group Phrasal Verbs by Particle, Not by Verb!

Instead of grouping them by verb, organizing phrasal verbs by particle can help you make relevant connections between them. That’s because the particles have tendencies, and if you understand these tendencies, it’ll make learning phrasal verbs a bit easier. 


Group Them by Topic

An even better way to learn phrasal verbs is to organize them by subject. For example, you could create a phrasal verb list for expressing emotions, describing friends or talking about love and relationships. This has worked really well for my students because:

1) There is a link between the different verbs.

2) Learning phrasal verbs by topic makes it more interesting and relatable.

3) You’re learning how to use them in real-life situations.


Use Them in a Story

Another effective way to learn and practice phrasal verbs is to create a story with them. If you like writing fiction, you can create a short story using a few phrasal verbs. If not, then you can simply write a paragraph related to your life. 


This will help you create connections between the words and your experiences and as we mentioned earlier, it’ll help you immensely in remembering them. 


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We Speak Business is an English course with live speaking lessons for English learners who want speaking practice with native speakers, professional teachers, and students from around the world


You have live speaking lessons where you can join and start speaking business English every day. There's a lesson every day and also, you can review all record lessons. There is a lot of conversation practice for each level of English (A2, B1-B2, C1). There is a calendar of scheduled lessons so you can see when lessons are and at what time you can join and start speaking.

In We Speak Business program, you have 24/7 support and also you have student chat where you can speak with other students from all around the world. Before you join our program and start speaking business English, we strongly recommend you sign up for our free seminar with Andrew Smith, where you can learn:


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Top 10 Most Common Phrasal Verbs in Business English 


Draw up

To draw up something means to prepare a plan, agreement, or other documents in detail. We often use this phrasal verb to talk about contracts and agreements in business.

Fiona needs to draw up that new contract for our suppliers this week.


Get ahead

To get ahead means to be successful in your life and career - plain and simple.

Johnny is really getting ahead at work. He’s had 2 promotions and it’s only May!


Burn out

We use the phrasal verb burn out to describe a person who has worked themselves to the point of exhaustion. If you are burned out it means you’re overworked and incredibly tired. Burn out can be both a phrasal verb and a noun.


We need some sort of flexible working policy to avoid our staff from burning out. 


(Not) Measure up

To not measure up means we do not meet someone’s expectations or standards. It can also be used to describe the work we’ve done. That piece of work might not measure up to our boss’s standards or expectations. 


This report really doesn’t measure up. Can you do it again, please?


Zero in on

To zero in on something means to focus on it in great detail. We often use this phrasal verb when we want to draw other people’s attention to something specific. 


If you all zero on our sales figures for Q3, you can see a slump in sales towards the end of the quarter.


Lay off

To lay off someone basically means to fire an employee or let them go. This could be because of their performance at work or perhaps the company is making cutbacks (decreases in spending). 


I heard Joe got laid off last month. He’s looking for a new job now.


Pencil in

If you pencil something in, it means to put (someone or something that may be changed later) on a schedule, list, etc.


I need to pencil in that meeting with our new buyers next week. They said they’ll let me know if there will be any changes.


Close down

If something closes down it means it has shut or/and gone bankrupt. We often refer to stores and shops as being closed down. 


Did you hear that Macy’s might be closing down soon? Amazon is too big of a competitor. 


Run by/past

To run something by or past someone means to check (or double-check) something with them. 


I’ve seen the new product description but you’ll need to run it by the line manager before it is submitted. 


Sign off on

To sign off on something means to give your approval to something. 


You must check to see if John has signed off on that proposal. We can’t proceed with the project without his permission. 

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