Phrasal verbs for business: S

to saddle (somebody) with

to give some a difficult task or responsibility: It’s going to a nightmare sorting out all that documentation. Apparently Jack’s been saddled with it.

to sail through

to find something very easy: Don’t worry about the final exam. You’ll sail through it.

to save (something) up

to collect or store something (usually money) for future use: Henry’s not going skiing this year. He’s saving up to buy a motor boat.

to scale (something) down

to make smaller than originally planned: Due to the recession, we’re scaling down our operations in Indonesia.

to scale (something) up

to make larger than originally planned: Due to the favourable exchange rate we’re scaling up our operations in Singapore.

to sell (something) off

to sell something, often cheaply because you need the money: Due to falling profits the company is forced to sell off its holdings in Italy.

to sell out

to run out of something because it has all been bought: The snack bar has sold out of cookies.

to give up artistic/creative integrity in return for commercial success: Small companies are often accused of selling out when they’re bought by big firms.

to sell up

to sell a house and move somewhere else or sell a business and do something else: Dave has apparently decided it’s time to sell up and move on.

to shake up

to upset or shock: The news about Deutsche Bank has really shaken up the market.

Similarly the compound noun “shake-up” means a shock.

to shape up

to improve: The market has shaped up a lot in the past year, and we’ve seen corresponding growth in profits.

to shell out

to spend a lot of money on something: I don’t understand why the boss thinks it’s OK to shell out so much money on renovating the conference room.

to shop around

to look for a good deal: If you want to find value-for-money office space you’ll need to spend a lot of time shopping around.

to shut (something) down

to close a business: BigCo was shut down two years ago after a hostile takeover.

to sign up

to subscribe: Ten people have signed up for the weekend training.

to be snowed under

to have a lot of work: We’ve been snowed under all week working on the Geronimo project.

to sort (something) out

to resolve a problem: HR have finally sorted out the problem with Sharon’s work permit. She can start work on Monday.

to spark (something) off

to cause something (usually unpleasant) to happen: The case has sparked off nationwide industrial action.

to stand in for somebody

to act as a replacement: While Douglas is away on sabbatical Andrea will stand in for him.

Similarly, the compound noun “stand-in” means a replacement.

to step down

to resign: Douglas won’t be coming back from his sabbatical. He’s decided to step down.

to step (something) up

to increase: Next year we aim to step up activity in the Middle East.


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Phrasal verbs for business: Q and R

to quit on

to stop working/functioning especially at a time of trouble: Please don’t quit on me now, just when things are getting difficult. 

Typical! I’ve got a deadline in 20 minutes and my computer’s quit on me.

to rake in

to earn a lot of money: Bob set up his own business 3 years ago. It was difficult at first, but I hear he’s raking it in now. 

to ramp (something) up

to increase, boost: This year we plan to ramp up sales, so we’re employing 3 more sales staff.

to read up on

to research: I’d like you to read up on entering the Chinese market.

to ride (something) out

to get through a difficult time: If we can just ride out this recession, we should be well positioned to take the lead on the competition.

to rip (somebody) off

to charge an excessive amount of money or obtain money unfairly: Look at this umbrella. I bought it half an hour ago from a guy at the train station and it’s already broken. He ripped me off!

Similarly the compound noun “rip-off” means something that was not worth what you paid for it.

to roll out

to launch: We’re planning a big party when we roll out the new product.

to rule (something) out

to exclude a possibility: The merger is on hold for the moment, but it may happen in the future. We’re not ruling it out entirely.

to run into

to meet somebody without planning to: I ran into Fiona in Starbucks the other day. She’s working at BigCo now.

to run through

to practise: Can I run through my presentation with you this evening. I’d really value your opinion.

to run up

to spend money on credit: Anna has run up a huge debt on her company credit card. 

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Phrasal verbs for business: P

to pack (something) in

to stop doing something: Have you heard that John has packed it in? After six weeks working on the project he’s decided it’s not worth continuing with it.

to pack (something) out

to fill up a venue: The conference hall was packed out for the CEO’s speech. There was standing room only.

to pack up

to stop doing something and put things away: It’s midnight. Time to pack up and go home!

to stop working: My computer’s packed up again.

to pad (something) out

to make a text longer by adding irrelevant content, repeating information: I don’t know why they padded out the document with all that unnecessary information.

to pan out

to develop, result: Let’s wait and see how the situation pans out before we make a final decision.

to paper over

to try to conceal a problem without fixing it properly: Isn’t there some way we can paper over the problem so the client won’t notice?

to pass (something) on

to give a message to someone: OK – no problem, I’ll pass it on when he gets back to the office.

to pass (something) round

to distribute: Can you pass round the handouts while I set up the projector?

Cf. to hand out

to pass (something) up

to not take an opportunity: Let’s do it. We don’t want to pass up a chance like this.

to patch (something) up

to mend something, make something better: The program doesn’t work because there’s a bug in the software. IT is going to patch it up somehow.

to pay (something / somebody) back

to repay money: John and Robert have to pay the company back for their night out during the training weekend.

to take revenge: John plans to pay Dave back for reporting on him.

The compound noun “payback” means a return on an investment or revenge.

to pay (something) down

to pay a debt over time: You pay down both the principal and the interest on your mortgage each month.

to pay (something) into

to deposit money: Please pay the fee into the account listed below.

to pay (something) off

to completely repay a debt: I suggest you try to pay off that high-interest loan as quickly as possible.

to result in success: I’m very glad your investment paid off.

to pencil (something) in

to make a provisional appointment: OK, I’ll pencil in our meeting for 3 pm Thursday. No problem if you need to change it.

to phase (something) in

to gradually introduce something new: The board plans to phase in the new management system over a period of three months.

to phase (something) out

to gradually remove something: The board plans to phase out the old management system over a period of three months.

to pick (something) up

to improve: Sales have picked up in recent months.

to learn fast: He picked up the language in only a couple of months.

to collect: Can you pick up the children from school this afternoon?

to receive: My phone’s not picking up a signal.

to pile up

to accumulate: A lot of work piled up while I was off sick.

to pitch for

to make a bid for work: Today we pitched for our biggest contract to date.

Similarly “a pitch” is a bid.

to pitch in

to work together towards an objective: If we all pitch in we should be able to meet the deadline for this project.

to play out

to progress, develop until an end result is known: Let’s wait and see how the situation plays out before we decide what to do.

to pop in

to make a brief visit: I’ll pop in to your office on my way home.

to pop out

to leave somewhere briefly: I’m sorry, John’s not at his desk at the moment. I think he’s just popped out for a sandwich.

to press ahead / press on

to continue with something: Despite the new zoning plan we’re going to press ahead with the construction project.

“to push ahead” has a similar meaning

to press for

to make an effort to persuade someone to allow something: We’re going to press for a change to the zoning plan, which will allow residential building.

to price (something) in

to include possible future costs when calculating a value: Don’t forget to price in the legal fees when calculating the full project cost.

to prop up

to support something, physically or financially: Although it’s making big losses FashionCo is being propped up by its parent company.

to pull ahead

to move in front: We’ve got to significantly increase sales this month if we’re going to prevent the competition from pulling ahead.

to pull back

to decide not to do something or end involvement in something: Due to the fall in oil prices GasCo is pulling back on its Siberian operations.

to pull (something) off

to succeed: Big thanks to Anna for pulling off a really difficult deal.

to pull out of something

to withdraw: Due to the fall in oil prices GasCo is pulling out of Siberia.

to pull together

to work efficiently together as a team: It’s a tight deadline, but if we pull together we can pull off this project.

to pump (money) into

to invest lots of money in something: Despite pumping a lot of money into this company we’re not seeing any returns.

to push (somebody) out

to force somebody to leave: The new CEO plans to push out the HR director.

to push (something) through

to force something to be accepted: Even if the boss doesn’t like it we’re going have to push it through somehow.

to put across

to communicate a message: I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re trying to put across.

to put (something) back / to put (something) off

to postpone: Due to delays in the building’s construction we will have to put back the opening date.

to put (something) forward

to suggest, propose: Robert put forward a great idea. Tell us about it Robert.

to put (someone) through

to connect on the telephone: Please hold the line while I put you through.

to put (something) together

to assemble: He was up till three in the morning trying to put together some Ikea furniture.

to put towards

to contribute money: If our application for EU funding is successful we’ll put the money towards research.



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Phrasal verbs for business: N and O

to nag at

to repeatedly complain or criticise: The boss keeps nagging at me to find more clients, but I’ve already found more than anyone else.

to nail (something) down

to understand fully: I want to nail down exactly how this new legislation will affect us.

to achieve something: Well done everybody, I’m really glad we nailed that project down.

to narrow (something) down

to reduce the number of options: We’ve got over fifty potential sites for the new office premises, so let’s narrow down our options and produce a short list.

to nip out

to go somewhere for a short time: Sorry, Mr Matthews is not available right now. He’s just nipped out of the office for a moment. He should be back in 10 minutes.

to nose out

to discover (secret) information: I heard a rumour that the competition is planning to start operations here. John – see what you can nose out about it.

to note (something) down

to write brief information: What I’m going to say next is important, so please note it down.

to open up

to start talking freely about something: I didn’t think she would tell me anything about the merger plans, but after a couple of glasses of wine she really opened up.

to allow access to the market: Since the sanctions were lifted the country has opened up for foreign imports and investment.

to opt for

to choose: Fiona prefers the red one, but I would opt for the blue.

to opt in

to choose to join something: The country opted in to the free trade area in 1996.

to opt out

to choose not to join something: Britain chose to opt out of the Schengen zone.

The compound noun “opt-out” means an option not to take part in something.

to order (somebody) around

to tell somebody to do something in an unpleasant way: I hate the way the boss orders me around all the time.

to own up

to confess: You know who broke the coffee machine? It was Michael – he owned up yesterday. He put the beans into the wrong container and completely jammed it.


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Phrasal verbs for business: M

to make do with

to accept something that is unsatisfactory because you have no choice: Sorry guys, but you’ll have to make do with the old coffee machine. The company hasn’t budgeted for a new one this year.

to make it

to arrive: Although his plane was over three hours late, John made it to the meeting on time.

to succeed: Although we had a really tight deadline the team finished the project on time. Thanks guys – I knew you could make it.

to make of

to understand: I don’t know what to make of the client’s behaviour. It doesn’t make any sense.

to make off with

to steal: We’ve just found out that Dave made off with two company laptops before he was fired.

to make (something) out

to be able to see or hear something: The phone line was so bad I could hardly make out a word he said.

to see a detail: If you look closely at the satellite photograph you can just make out my house.

to understand a person’s character (make somebody out): The new guy started in the office today. I can’t make him out. He wears really cool clothes, but he acts like a total geek.

to make (something) up

to invent a story: You know that new guy in the office? He’s been fired. It turns out his CV was totally made up.

to make up for

to compensate: I really sorry I was available to help yesterday. Let me make up for it. Can I buy you lunch?

to mark (something) down

to reduce the price: Supertech has marked down ipads by 20%.
The compound noun “markdown” means reduction.

to mark up

to increase the price: They always mark up products by a big margin in tourist shops.
The compound noun “mark-up” means reduction.

to measure up (to)

to reach the required standard: We always interview candidates at least three times to ensure they measure up.

to meet up (with sb.)

to meet somebody briefly: I met up with the client when I was in London.

to mount up

to accumulate: The firm’s profits have not met targets for two years and debts are mounting up.

to move (something) ahead / along

to progress: We’re moving along with the project nicely, and provided there are no problems we should be able to meet the deadline.

to move on

to make a change: My ten years at the firm have been an unforgettable experience, but now it is time for me to move on.

to muddle through

to achieve something without the required knowledge or experience: I hear your personal assistant is off sick this week? I’m sure you’ll muddle through somehow – you always do!

to mug up (on)

to study something quickly: Apparently the play is entirely in French. He says he’s going to mug up on his French before he goes.

to muscle in (on)

to become involved in something despite opposition to your involvement: Richard is now muscling in on the marketing department, despite Andrea telling him very clearly that she does not need his help.

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Phrasal verbs for business: K and L

to keep at

to continue: Thanks to everyone for keeping at it despite all the problems.

to keep in with

to maintain good relations with: We can’t afford to lose Jack as a client, so we’re going to have to keep in with him, despite how he treated Bob.

to keep off

to avoid talking about a particular subject: I think it best if we keep off the fees issue during the meeting.

to avoid consuming something: I’m keeping off meat at the moment.

to not walk on: Keep off the grass.

to keep on

to continue: I know it’s late, but we’ve got to keep on going until we’ve completed the draft.

to keep to

to stay within limits: We’ve got to keep to the EUR 25,000 budget.

to keep up with

to move at the same rate / stay up to date: If we don’t innovate we’re not going to keep up with the competition.

to key in

to enter information into a computer: You need to key in all the data into the form, then click send.

to knock (something) off

to stop working: I’m planning to knock off at around 5:30 this evening. So I’ll meet you in the pub at 6.

to produce something quickly: The manufacturers say they should be able to knock them off at a rate of about 100 an hour.

to reduce the price: They’ve knocked $20 off the price of all their tablets.

to knuckle down

to make a great effort: We’ve got a very tight deadline for this project so we’re all going to have to knuckle down.

to lay (somebody) off

to make employees redundant: BigCo laid off half of their marketing team yesterday.
The compound noun “layoff” means the action of making employees redundant.

to let (somebody) off

to not punish: The CEO must have known about the tax evasion, but the courts have let him off.

to live off

to use money earned: My salary isn’t much, but it’s enough to live off.

to live up to

to meet expectations: The site didn’t live up to expectations. I think we’ll have to look elsewhere.

to look into

to research: Bill – can you look into the tax aspects of this transaction?

to look out

to be careful: Apparently there are several permitting issues that we need to look out for before we go ahead with construction.

to look (something) over

to inspect: We looked over the site, and we don’t think it meets our requirements.

to look through

to read quickly: I looked through the contract last night. I’ll read it properly when I have time this afternoon.

to look (something) up

to consult a reference book or the internet: What’s the capital of Kiribati? Can somebody look it up?

to look up (intransitive verb)

to improve: Analysts are saying that the market should look up next year.


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Phrasal verbs for business: I and J

to iron out

to remove minor problems: We should be able to iron out these issues once the project has got started.

to jazz (something) up

to make more interesting: I think we need to jazz up the sales brochure with more pictures, more colour etc.

to jot (something) down

to make brief notes: Give me a minute to jot down this idea before we move to the next point.

to jump at (the chance)

to accept eagerly: They offered us much more work than we were expecting and we jumped at the chance to do it. It could be our big break.

to jump on

to criticise strongly: I suggested we offer this part of the work to the graphics team. After all – it is design work. But she totally jumped on me. So we’re going to be doing it ourselves.

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Phrasal verbs for business: H

to hack into

to break into a computer system: The company computer system was hacked into at the weekend.

to hammer (something) out

to negotiate hard and come to an agreement: The meeting went on until 2 am before they had hammered out an agreement.

to hand (something) in

to submit work: We handed in the application at 16:55, just five minutes before the deadline.

to hand (something) out

to distribute: I’ve got some printouts of the presentation that I’ll hand out at the end.

The compound noun “handout” means the item distributed.

to hand (something) over

to give: We’ll hand over all the documentation at the closing of the transaction.

The compound noun “handover” means an exchange or transfer.

to hang back

to stay behind/not move forwards: The buyer wants to hang back on the transaction for the moment.

to hang up on

to end a phone call: He just hung up on me while I was talking. How rude!

to hinge on/upon

to be determined by: The success of the project hinges upon the co-operation of all the people involved.

to hit back

to respond to a verbal attack: Despite all my hard work she criticised me at the meeting, so I hit back hard.

to hold out

to resist: They offered us a much lower price than we’re prepared to accept, but we’re holding out for at least $25 mln.

to home in on

to target: BigCo is homing in on Little and Sons. I think they’re planning a takeover.

to hush (something) up

to keep something bad quiet/hidden: This could be bad for the company’s reputation. Let’s do everything we can to hush it up.


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Phrasal verbs for business: G

to gear up for

to prepare for something: Are we all geared up for the inspection tomorrow?

to get ahead

to make progress, to advance over competitors: The only way we’re going to get ahead is if we offer something different to the competition.

to get along (with)

to have a good relation with someone: Tom – you get along with Jane better than the rest of us, so can you talk to her?

to get around/round

to avoid a problem: If we want John to work at the Siberian plant we’ll have to find some way to get round the visa restrictions.

to get around/round to

to make an effort to do something: Have you got around to looking at the accounts yet?

to get away with

to achieve something despite not following the rules / to not get caught despite doing something wrong: I can’t believe the company got away with employing it’s entire workforce without paying any social security contributions.

to get behind somebody

to give support: Angela is doing the charity run next week, so let’s all get behind her and donate some money.

to get behind with

to be in arrears with payments: He’s got behind with his mortgage payments and the bank is threatening to repossess his house.

to get by

to cope: Will you be able to get by next week with Joe and Sam both off on holiday?

to have just enough money to live on: Although my husband’s just lost his job I think we’ll get by on what I earn.

to get down to

to start seriously doing something: OK guys, it’s time to get down to work.

to get something over with

to start and finish an unpleasant task instead of delaying it: I know it’s a really boring task, but we’ve got to do it, so I think it’s best if we get it over with as soon as possible.

to get through

to endure an unpleasant task, situation: I understand how difficult it is, but I’m sure you’ll get through it.

to do well at something: Despite the fact that Henry is still recovering from an illness he got through the race and finished in the top five.

to be accepted: The bill got through parliament with minimum amendments.

to get through to

to contact especially by phone: I phoned your mobile three times yesterday but couldn’t get through to you.

to get together

to meet socially: Let’s get together sometime next week for lunch.

to give (something) up

to stop doing something: She gave up her career when she had children.

to stop trying: He ran the marathon on Sunday, but he gave up after 10 km.

to go after

to try to get something: When he goes after something he usually gets it.

to go ahead with

to proceed with something: When we receive the final permit we can go ahead with construction.

to go against

to be contrary/unfavourable to: So what’s the plan if the court verdict goes against us?

to go it alone

to do something by yourself: John left the firm last year. I think he’s going it alone now – running his own business.

to go over

to review/revise a document: If you send me the contract this evening I can go over it tonight and send it back to you first thing tomorrow morning.

to visit: We went over to the client’s office last week for a meeting.

to go through with

to achieve/complete something: When he said he was planning to climb Mount Everest I never thought he’d actually go through with it.

to go under

to go bankrupt: John’s first business went under, but that didn’t stop him establishing another one.

to go without

to cope without having something: The coffee machine’s broken! I can’t go without my morning’s cappuccino!
Cf: “to do without”


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Phrasal verbs for business: F

to face up to

to accept something unpleasant: We’re going to have to face up to the fact that we’ve just lost our biggest client.

to fall back on

to use in an emergency: If this plan doesn’t work we’ll fall back on plan B.

Similarly the compound noun/adjective “fallback” means an alternative.

to fall through

to fail: Unfortunately the plan fell through at the last minute.

to fall out

to quarrel / disagree / stop being friends: David and John we’re getting on fine until that business with the tax inspector caused them to fall out.

to farm (something) out

to contract work to someone else / to outsource: As the graphics department is already working to capacity on the ABC project we’ll have to farm out the design work on this new project.

Cf. “to contract out”

to feel up to

to feel capable of doing something: I’m not going to make it to the party tonight, I’m afraid. I just don’t feel up to it.

to fend for

to take care of yourself or others / to cope: You’ll be able to fend for yourself while we’re away at the conference won’t you?

to fend (something) off

to defend against something: Do you think we will be able to fend off a hostile takeover?

Cf. “to fight off”

to ferret (something) out

to look for and find: The invoice must be in the files somewhere. Angela, can you try to ferret it out?

to file for

to make a legal application / submission: The company filed for bankruptcy three months ago.

to fill in for

to do someone else’s work for them: I’ll fill in for Sarah while she’s away.

Cf. “to cover for”

to fill (someone) in

to provide information to someone: Please ask Laura to fill you in with the details.

to fill (a form) in /out

to complete a form: Please fill in this form while you’re waiting.

to firm (something) up

to make something clearer, better understood: We need to firm up our standpoint on this issue before we enter negotiations.

to fit out

to provide necessary equipment / complete and furnish premises: The Lessee will fit out the premises upon the handover of the premises from the Lessor.

Similarly the compound noun “fit-out” means the equipment.

to fizzle out

to end unsuccessfully: The project fizzled out due to lack of interest from the management board.

to flag (something) up

to draw attention to / highlight an issue: Make sure you flag up the outstanding electricity bill in the meeting with the tenant.

to flesh (something) out

to add information or detail: You need to flesh out the non-competition clause with exact descriptions of the activities the employee cannot undertake.

to flush (something) out

to clean the inside of something: The pipes were blocked until the plumber flushed them out with a very strong chemical solution.

to get something or someone out of hiding: Somebody in the marketing department must have divulged the idea. But Who? Joanna, do you think you can flush him out?

to flog (something) off

to sell (usually cheaply): I heard that he flogged off his shares in the company for half their value.

(also “to flog”)

to fob (somebody) off

to tell a lie: He fobbed the boss off with a story about his washing machine leaking, but actually he just spent the morning in bed.

to follow (something) through

to continue until something is completed: There’s no point starting a project unless you intend to follow it through.

to follow (something) up

to take action on something: He said the bank had made a mistake and had taken $500 out of his account. But he never followed it up. It’s probably too late to do anything about it now.

to forge ahead

to make a lot of progress: We’ve been forging ahead with our international expansion plans, with branches opening in Dubai, Moscow and Beijing all within the last two months.

to freshen (something) up

quickly improve the appearance of somebody or something: Can you freshen up our standard advice letter and make it look like we’ve produced a bespoke document for this client?

to frown on

to disapprove: The boss really frowned on Robert taking that call during the meeting.

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