Phrasal verbs present big challenges to learners of English. Before we explore this topic a little more, let’s make sure we understand what a phrasal verb is.

A phrasal verb is a phrase that is made up of a verb and a ‘particle’ (a shorter word, which is usually a preposition or an adverb). For example:

to enter [verb] into [preposition] (a contract)

to fill in (a form)

Phrasal verbs may have one, two, or more, particles. The particle often changes the meaning of the verb it is attached to, and sometimes drastically. The main particles you will see used in phrasal verbs are:

in, on, up, away, by, about, over, round (or around), out, off, down, back, through, along, forward, into

To make matters even more complicated, the phrasal verb may change its meaning completely, depending on the context in which it is used. For example:

to turn up

to turn up may mean ‘to arrive’.

I turned up late to the meeting.

It may also mean ‘to increase an aspect of something’, such as increasing the volume on a music system’.

Can you turn up the volume, please?

If you want, or need, some more general information on phrasal verbs, the British Council website [1] offers an excellent and clear explanation.

As stated above, phrasal verbs present several challenges to English learners. These include:

· the fact that their meanings often cannot be easily worked out from the individual words alone – however, here, context may sometimes help.

· the fact that there are so many of them – some say 10,000 or more.

· the fact that English people use them all the time, especially when speaking.

It will not surprise you to learn that phrasal verbs are used as much in legal English as in general English. We have seen one example already: to enter into (a contract). In this occasional series, we will explore phrasal verbs.

Look at the following conversation between two lawyers, Paul and Fiona. It contains eleven phrasal verbs (one you will recognise – ‘to enter into’). Can you:

1. Find the other ten phrasal verbs?

2. Work out (discover by effort) what each one means in context?

The Answer Key is at the end of this post.


Paul: Have you fixed up a meeting with your new client yet?

Fiona: Well, I had one set up for yesterday evening, but he had to call it off at the last minute. Something else came up.

Paul: That’s a shame. I always hate it when clients don’t show up.

Fiona: Me, too. However, he sent me a long email setting out what he wants.

Paul: Oh? And what’s that?

Fiona: His company wants to branch out into the Asian market. He wants to enter into negotiations with a Chinese company. He thinks that if he can pull off a deal, his company will really start to take off.

Paul: Well, he’s come to the right person. I know you are very clued up in relation to the Asian market.

If you want an interesting and informative source and resource for phrasal verbs, I would suggest you follow the informative and entertaining @77phrasalverbs on the Twitter platform and the YouTube channel:

Text Notes:



1. to fix up – to arrange

2. to set up – to arrange

3. to call off – to cancel an arrangement (Notice that in the text, the verb was separated from the particle!)

4. to come up – to happen unexpectedly

5. to show up – to arrive

6. to set out – to make something expressly clear (orally or in writing)

7. to branch out – to do something different to what you normally do, to expand

8. to pull off – to achieve, to be successful in doing something

9. to take off – to be successful

10. (to be) clued up – to have deep knowledge or expertise

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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