Effectively Communicating English with Multiple Meaning Phrases

The Importance of Multiple Meaning Phrases

128628642909LyZ4[1]There are benefits to using phrasal verbs in conversational speech. When you use them, your speech sounds more American. It connects you on an emotional level to your American communication partners.  When I was speaking and listening to Spanish as an American, figurative Spanish language gave me trouble.  I was visiting a family in Mexico.  Statements like “No llego la sangre al rio” confused me.  The literal interpretation in English was “The blood didn’t arrive at the river.”  The Spanish figurative meaning was “Things didn’t turn out badly despite that expectation.”  After a native Spanish speaker explained the meaning, I understood it.  I knew that if I used the Spanish phrases and idioms that the native speakers used, I would be able to connect on more of an emotional level.  Therefore, I tried to incorporate it into my Spanish speech.

Common Problems

Phrasal verbs cause difficulty for people who are speaking English as a second language.  There’s a good reason.  One phrasal verb often has different meanings. For example, “make up” has two different meanings: to reconcile, and to fabricate. Don’t confuse the verb “make up” with the noun “make-up.” Another example of a phrasal verbs that functions as a noun because it contains a hyphen is “take-out.”  It refers to food ordered from a restaurant and taken home.

Definition, Example, Strategy

A phrasal verb consists of a verb and a preposition or an adverb that modifies or changes the meaning.  Listed further below are some additional phrasal verbs and their meanings.  They are examples of figurative language.  Figurative language consists of words that mean something different than their literal interpretations.  For example, if someone “cuts out” soda from her diet, she didn’t actually take a scissors and cut out the can of soda.  She removed the soda from her diet.  It’s best to memorize the meanings of the phrasal verbs as a whole rather than focusing on the individual meanings of the words.

Phrasal Verb Examples: Matching Exercise

Pair the following example sentences with their phrasal verb definitions.  Read the sentences aloud, practicing any American accent techniques you already know.  This exercise will help you incorporate these multiple meaning phrases into your everyday speech.

Break in: to make softer with use; to enter without permission

  • I needed to break in my new leather shoes.
  • The thief broke in to the house.

Bring up: to take care of and nurture; mention a topic for discussion

  • It wasn’t the right time to bring up my concern.
  • He was focused on bringing up his daughter to tear others with respect.

Cut out: to stop participation; to remove something using scissors; to remove an item

  • I cut out soda from my diet.
  • The children cut out heart shapes for Valentine’s Day cards. I’m cutting out early.

Pick up: to physically arrive in a vehicle and provide a ride for someone; to resume; to physically lift an object; to romantically approach someone; to briefly stop at a store and purchase something

  • I reached down to pick up the piece of paper that I dropped.
  • I’m going to stop and pick up some milk on my way home from work.
  • She found him intelligent and handsome and wanted to pick him up.
  • My daughter asked “Can you pick me up at 7 o’clock?”

What other phrases can you think of that mean something different than their individual words?  What American English figures of speech can you think of?  Decide in which contexts you can use them and put them and incorporate them into your functional speech.

Figurative Language Benefits

Using phrasal verbs in your everyday conversation makes your English listeners more comfortable communicating with you. Memorizing and practicing American English phrasal verbs in your everyday conversation will allow you to sound more natural in your American English language.  It will open up more room in your communication partners’ minds to focus on what you’re saying and not how you are saying it.  It will also provide more of an emotional connection.  Enjoy “coming up” (this is also a phrasal verb) with some common American figures of speech.  Take it to the next level by using them in everyday situations .  You’ll feel more empowered using the American English language.


Kellem NegasiNovember 8th, 2013 at 11:54 am

Very nice and helpful I really liked it.

Cher GundersonNovember 8th, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Kellum, thank you. I’m glad you found this article helpful. Were there any others you found beneficial? I always enjoy feedback so I can write more of what is helping people.

Kind regards,


Kellem NegasiNovember 17th, 2013 at 12:30 am

The other thing that i liked most is your detail explanations and elaborations. You are doing great. keep it up. But do you mind if you write me on my email


i would really love to talk with you. As i am esl learner i want to ask you about some things on the language.

Cher GundersonNovember 17th, 2013 at 10:48 am

Kellem, I will contact you via email.


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