Catching Up in Business English: 25 Phrasal Verbs for Excellent Communication

Connections, which are people you have positive professional relationships with, are extremely important in business.

Connections are equally important for business English—but now I’m talking about a completely different type of connection.

Using English for business can be very easy. In business English, you can use simple words to communicate.

But sometimes, even simple words can be confusing when you mix them with other words.

When you put verbs together with other words (for example, with prepositions), it can become a whole new verb with a meaning that is different from the original verb on its own.

The phrasal verbs for the verb “look” are good examples of how the meaning of a phrasal verb can be different from the original verb.

The girl is looking into the room.

“Look into” is a phrasal verb using the verb “look.” It is often used in discussions of business. In this case, the meaning of the sentence above is very simple. It has a very literal meaning. The girl is looking, as in “seeing,” and she is looking into the room, or looking inside the room.

“Look into,” however, also means to check information about something, or to investigate something. We can make a sentence like the one above but with the phrasal verb meaning.

The girl is looking into the problem.

In the above sentence, the girl is trying to find out more about a problem.

There are many other phrasal verbs made with the word “look.” For example:

The boy is looking after his little sister.

The words “look” and “after” together form a phrasal verb that means to “take care of” or even “raise” a child. In business situations, you might hear people say things like:

My boss is always looking after his clients.

You will find a list of some more useful phrasal verbs that are used in business English below.

Advice for Using Phrasal Verbs

This is the most important thing to know about phrasal verbs: The meaning of the phrasal verb might not be the same as the meaning of the main verb.

For a great introduction to phrasal verbs in English, then be sure to watch the video below. You’ll learn common phrasal verbs and the different types within the context of popular film scenes. Learning phrasal verbs with additional context can help your understanding and comprehension.

The video is full of great content to help you learn tricky English parts in an authentic and manageable way. 

It is a good idea to think of every phrasal verb as a completely different verb from the main verb it uses. Using the example above, you can think of “look,” “look into” and “look after” as three completely different verbs.

The wonderful thing about phrasal verbs is that sometimes they are the exact, perfect word you need in a sentence. They give you more ways to express yourself. For example, the word “look into” is more general and less formal than words such as “research” and “investigate.” You can use it in more casual situations. It can also be used in a lot of different situations than it synonyms, so that makes it a great phrasal verb to remember and use.

Another good example of how phrasal verbs can help your business English is the difference between “looking at” paperwork and “looking through” paperwork. Both of these phrasal verbs involve “looking.” However, each one is a little different.

Looking through paperwork means to carefully read through the words of the documents and all the details. Looking at the paperwork is much lighter, and means that you are not reading the paperwork as carefully. Looking at papers means just glancing (looking very quickly) at the title and paper itself.

Different Types of Phrasal Verbs

There are two good ways to divide phrasal verbs. One way is based on if the phrasal verb needs an object or not. The grammatical terms for these are transitive (verbs that need an object) and intransitive (verbs that don’t need an object).

An example of a phrasal verb that needs an object is “look forward to.” Without an object, this transitive phrasal verb is not complete.

“We are looking forward to the presentation.

Without the object, “the presentation,” this sentence is incomplete. You cannot say “We are looking forward to.” This is not a complete sentence because there is no object.

An example of an intransitive phrasal verb, one that does not need an object is “get ahead.” It means to advance or make progress. This is a common phrasal verb in business as in the example below:

“Jane started working here in the mail room, but studied and worked hard to get ahead. Now she is a regional manager.”

Another way that phrasal verbs can be divided is whether they are separable or inseparable. When phrasal verbs are separable, the object can go in between the main verb and the other part of the phrasal verb. An inseparable phrasal verb cannot have anything inserted between the main verb and the other part.

An example of an inseparable phrasal verb is “come across.” “Come across” means to find something by chance.

“The salesman came across a mistake on the order sheet.”

Because it’s inseparable, the object “a mistake” can’t be put in the middle of the phrasal verb. The following sentence is wrong:

Incorrect: “The salesman came a mistake across on the order sheet.”

“Came across” must be said together, and the object comes after.

“Figure out” is an example of a separable phrasal verb. The object can go in between “figure” and “out” or it can be placed after the phrasal verb (the same as in inseparable phrasal verbs). “Figure out” means to think about something and understand it. Both of the following sentences are correct:

“Our manager figured out the problem.”

“Our manager figured the problem out.”

25 Useful Phrasal Verbs for Business with Sample Sentences

1. Deal with

Type: Inseparable, transitive

Meaning: To handle, work on

Example: Our new department head will deal with the training of new staff members.

2. Take over

Type: Separable, intransitive
Meaning: To get control or responsibility for something
Example: Tom will take over the sales department and become its new manager.

3. Look into

Type: Inseparable, transitive
Meaning: To investigate, learn more about
Example: We are now looking into new software to use in our training.

4. Look up to

Type: Inseparable, transitive
Meaning: To respect
Example: Many of our co-workers look up to Jill, and she is well-liked by her customers as well.

5. Look for

Type: Inseparable, transitive
Meaning: To search
Example: They are looking for a candidate who can speak both Chinese and Portuguese.

6. Look through

Type: Inseparable, transitive
Meaning: To search many things
Example: They had to look through all of last month’s receipts to find the one they wanted.

7. Catch on

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: To finally understand, to understand something that other people already understand
Example: Jim learns quickly, therefore he caught on after trying only two times.

8. Get ahead

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: To move up in position, improve your career
Example: My boss told me that if I wanted to get ahead, I would need to work a little harder.

9. Drop in

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: To make an unexpected visit
Example: I am always nervous when our CEO drops in.

10. Drop off (1)

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: A sharp decrease
Example: At the end of summer there was a drop off in sales of bottled water.

11. Drop off (2)

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To deliver
Example: The new receptionist dropped our plans off on her way home.

12. Fill in (1)

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To write or type an item on a form
Example: You can’t go on to page 2 until you fill in every answer on page 1.

13. Fill in (2)

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: To do a job or hold a position temporarily
Example: When the president is away, the vice president will fill in.

14. Bring up

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To say or introduce a topic or issue
Example: Whenever we have a meeting, our manager brings up the fact that we are improving every month.

15. Break down

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To explain something or divide something into parts
Example: The new security system seemed confusing until Mary broke it down into five easy steps.

16. Hold up

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To cause a delay
Example: The bad weather is holding progress up on the new bridge.

17. Turn down

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To reject, say no to 
Example: Larry turned down a job at another company so that he could continue his work here.

18. Think through

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To consider carefully and thoroughly
Example: The marketing team did not think it through carefully before giving the product such a silly name.

19. Spell out

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To say something in a simple way
Example: Don misunderstood the question so we had to spell it out for him.

20. Point out

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To indicate or show something
Example: Everyone at the meeting was surprised when she pointed out the accounting department’s mistake.

21. Cut down

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To reduce, make something less
Example: We will be cutting down the electricity bill by installing solar panels.

22. Cut out

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To completely remove or erase
Example: Last year we cut out spending on TV commercials in order to increase spending on radio commercials.

23. Call off

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To cancel
Example: The department meeting was called off this week so please use your time wisely.

24. Chip in

Type: Inseparable, intransitive
Meaning: To give some help
Example: If everyone chips in, we will be able to finish the job by lunch time.

25. Put off

Type: Separable, transitive
Meaning: To postpone, delay
Example: The construction on the new building was put off because of all the rain this summer.

Mastering Phrasal Verbs for Business

Phrasal verbs, along with idioms and proverbs, can be a little hard to learn and remember in English because they are not always logical.

One important thing you can do to improve your ability with phrasal verbs is to notice them when you hear them or read them. The best way to use phrasal verbs correctly is to copy the way people around you use them. If you like to take notes to remember good English vocabulary words, you can keep a list of phrasal verbs as well.

The best places to find phrasal verbs are in business emails, and in movies or tv shows with a business or economics theme. Many phrasal verbs are informal ways to say things, so you can pick up on more of them in informal communication such as emails and conversations.

When you are not sure how to use a phrasal verb or what it means, you can search Google for “define [phrasal verb]” (for example, “define looking through”) and get a list of dictionary definitions. You can also Google the phrasal verb in quotations to look for sample sentences using it.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, sometimes two words together such as “look into” may seem to be a phrasal verb, but are just the verb with a preposition. This is true for others such as with “hold up.” You can make the two following sentences:

The weather is holding up the bridge construction.

The stone pillars are holding up the bridge.

Both of the sentences are correct, but only the first one uses a phrasal verb with a unique meaning. The second one is a sentence with a preposition.

Another great way to pick up new phrasal verbs is to just look down the list of meanings when you look up a verb in the dictionary. Phrasal verbs are usually listed under the alternative meanings for verbs so it is a quick and easy way to increase your knowledge.

Lastly, as with much of the English language, there are no absolute rules about phrasal verbs, their meanings, or when to know if they are transitive, intransitive, separable or inseparable. It’s best to remember them by using them, listening for them and trying them out. The best way to improve is to be fearless and try to use new words whenever you get a chance.

Good luck!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe