Learn Phrasal Verbs with Songs

One of the things that can be difficult for English learners is understanding the grammatical structures known as phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs combine verbs and prepositions to make idiomatic expressions whose meaning is usually not obvious by understanding the individual words. They are used a lot in both written and spoken English.

To improve your listening and speaking skills, it isn’t necessary to spend much time deconstructing grammatical structures, so I don’t recommend that you spend a lot of time studying lists of phrasal verbs.

Instead, I prefer to help you understand what you are actually hearing or reading, so that you can reproduce these phrases in a natural, easy way when you speak.

Here are some common phrasal verbs:

to hang on, to get away with, to make up, to hand out, to put up with, to set aside, to put forward, to kick around with

These are groups of words with a verb (an action word) and a preposition (e.g. aside, around, on, with).

There are a few great ways to acquire phrasal verbs naturally, in a real-world context, namely by reading or listening to stories (as in my program Success with Stories), watching movies or TV programs, and listening to music.

Here is a fun song called “Hang On” by Smash Mouth that uses quite a few phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. While you are listening to it, read the lyrics below, with my explanations in italics.




Things are getting weird, things are getting tough

To get weird: to become strange or bizarre

To get tough: to become difficult, to get hard

Nothing’s making sense, but you keep on looking up

To keep on: to continue, To look up – to be positive

They tell you to be true, you’re trying every day

To be true: to be true to yourself, to do what feels right for you

To keep it on the real, still you gotta find a way

To keep it on the real: to stay real, authentic

To make your mama happy, to make your papa proud

You wanna turn it up, but all you hear is tone it down

To turn it up: to do more, to be more excited, to increase the volume or intensity

To tone it down: to lower the volume, to not be so excited, to calm down

So gather round, I’m here to say

To gather round: to get in a circle, to make a circle in order to listen to someone speak

You’ll never make everybody’s day

To make someone’s day: to make another person happy

But while you’re around, you might as well

Catch the tiger by his tail

To catch the tiger by his tail: to do something risky, to take a risk, to go for it

And hang on, hang on, hang on

To hang on: to hold on, to not let go, to keep doing what you want

Everybody just

Get on, get on, get on, get started

To get on: to join in, to do the same thing as the others, in this case, take risks, do what you love

And go on, go on, go on

To go on: to continue, to keep doing something

Everybody, just hold on

Sometimes I wanna cry and throw the towel in

To throw in the towel: to give up, to stop doing something because you think you won’t succeed or win

They try to beat me down, but I’ll take it on the chin

To beat someone down: to bother someone so much that they eventually quit, to get someone to stop

To take it on the chin: to stand up to criticism, to not stop doing something just because someone criticizes you, to continue to do what you want

And everywhere I go, the people are the same

They just wanna know that everything will be OK

When things are getting rough, you’ll turn it back around

To get rough: to become difficult

To turn it back around: to do something in the opposite way to achieve a goal

You gotta turn it up, when they tell you tone it down

To turn it up: to do even more, to increase the volume or activity or energy

To tone it down: to calm down, to be less active or energetic

Feel free to share this post with your friends who are also learning English, and therefore may find it useful. Thanks! ~ Lisa