Phrasal Verbs: BREAK

In my first article about how to learn phrasal verbs, I mentioned that you should group your phrasal verbs together with a common verb. Today’s common verb is ‘break‘.

I also mentioned that conjuring mental images and stories to help memorise each expression will help, so let’s take a look at a few phrasal verbs and think of some images to go with them.

Break away

Meaning: To separate one from another or group.

The cyclist broke away from the group and took the lead.
The boy tried to break away and run, but his mother kept hold of his arm tightly.


Break down

Meaning: 1. To stop functioning. 2. To lose control of your emotions.

“I’m sorry I’m late, my car broke down on the way to the office.”
“John broke down when he heard the terrible news.”

break down

‘Breakdown’ can also be used in a noun as a single word:

“When Steven turned 50, he suffered from a mental breakdown.”

Break into

Meaning: To enter by force. Basically it means ‘to break something‘ to get into the room.

“Burglars broke into my car last night and stole my wallet.”
“I forgot my keys so I had to climb the fire escape and break into my own house.”

Break-in‘ is the occurrence of this verb as a noun.

“There was a break-in at the school on the weekend.”

break in

Break in

Meaning: To use something new until it becomes comfortable.

Before you wear your high heel shoes to the party, you should wear them around the house to break them in.
The horse needed to be broken in before the little girl could ride it.



Break out

Meaning: To happen suddenly.

“A riot will surely break out on the streets when the election results are announced.”
“The ebola virus broke out again in 2016 and affected medical personnel in the US and UK.”
“Her husband hates movies where people suddenly break out into song and dance.”

Breakout can also be used as a noun in a single word to describe the event when something occurs suddenly or gains quick success and fame.

“Moulin Rouge was the biggest breakout movie of the year.”
“Titanic was arguably Leonardo Dicaprio’s breakout movie role that gained him critical acclaim in Hollywood.”
“Lisa had a pimple breakout on her face the day before her wedding.”


Break out of

Meaning: To escape by force. This is perhaps the opposite of ‘break in‘.

“Several prisoners broke out of jail.”
“He needs to break out of this vicious cycle if he is going to beat his addiction.”


Break up

Meaning 1: To end a romantic relationship. Think of ‘breaking hearts’.

“Charlie and Sam broke up last week.”

If a person ends the relationship, you must add the word ‘with‘.

“She broke up with him after five years.”

break up

Meaning 2: To divide and disperse pieces of a bigger whole.

“He broke up the company and sold off the pieces to the highest bidder.”
“I will break up the block of chocolate to put into the cake.”

Remember, learn these as completely new vocabulary from their singular words.

The Cookie Chef.


Phrasal Verbs: BACK

Everyone tells me that they have trouble learning phrasal verbs. In my first post about phrasal verbs, I mentioned that you need to learn the expressions as a whole, and try to think of stories or pictures to go with them.

Therefore I will start creating regular posts with a few phrasal verbs with a common word and an image to remember.

Today’s phrasal verbs are:

Back away

To escape by moving backwards if you are afraid or disgusted.

e.g. “He backed away slowly from the snake to avoid being bitten.”


Back off

To withdraw from confrontation or action.

e.g. “The bully at school was harassing me so I told him to ‘back off‘.”

e.g. “Back off or someone’s gonna get hurt.” (heard on the street)

Back down

Similar to ‘back off’. To withdraw from a confrontation or action.cancel an action but also to admit defeat or give up. (Think of how you move when you admit defeat: backwards and down.)


e.g. “I will never back down from a fight.”

Back up

Two meanings:

  1. To provide support or give encouragement. (Think of how a book is supported on a shelf or you support an exhausted friend, by pushing them up from the back.)

    e.g. “When I meet with my boss tomorrow, I know my colleagues will back me up.”

    e.g. “Even though they fought often at home, the boy would always back up his little sister at school.”

  2. To save a file or folder in another place to avoid it being lost.

    e.g. “I lost all my homework because the power went out and I hadn’t backed up my files.”

    e.g. “Make sure you back up your work to the server at the end of every day before you leave the office.”

Multiple Wired to Backup

One extra point: There is also a noun “backup” (one word) which refers to the copy of the file/folder or an alternative.

e.g. “Make sure you have a backup plan if plan A doesn’t work.”.

e.g. “I have a backup copy of the report on my USB stick.”

Try to use some of these phrasal verbs in your sentences this week!

The Cookie Chef.

Five Tips to Learning Phrasal Verbs

The most common frustration I hear from English learners is how difficult it is to learn phrasal verbs. They are almost non-exisistent in other languages, and so I am always getting requests to write how to learn them.

First of all, what is a phrasal verb?

Verb + adverbial OR prepositional particle

agree with

Why are they so difficult to learn?

You might know the meaning of the verb and the particle when they are used independently, however when used together this changes the meaning. Also, I know how difficult prepositions can be in English!


Some tips for learning phrasal verbs

  1. Learn them like a single expression – not each word independently
  2. Use them in full sentences
  3. Remember them with images, stories or actions
  4. Find an example from your life to apply them in context
  5. Group them by common particles and you may notice some of the verbs have the same meaning – for example:
  • “bump into” and “run into
  • “hold on” and “hang on
  • “sort out” and “iron out
  • “rely on” and “count on

Phrasal verbs are very commonly used in both formal and informal English, so it’s important to not avoid them and it’s the best way to get familiar with prepositions!