Updated: Jun 4
Most phrasal verbs are idiomatic. However, there are many phrasal verbs whose meaning does not change regardless of their adverbial or prepositional particles. Why? Sometimes it is to emphasize an action (sit down, stand up), and sometimes it is to encourage completeness. (clean up, finish up) On the other hand, these verbs and their phrasal verb equivalents often feel interchangeable and redundant.
So why do we use them? In short, phrasal verbs are indispensable to informal conversations. Semantically, they add a little extra spice to our speech. Even when the meaning of the verb is clear on its own--and is often preferred in formal contexts such as ceremonies, events, and speeches--the phrasal verb equivalent adds something extra. It is like a sprinkle of salt on a baked potato.
With that in mind, here are 20 redundant phrasal verbs with example sentences. Remember, the particles are often added for emphasis, to signify completeness, or simply to "add a little extra" to the sentence. By learning these phrasal verbs, you will be able to better understand and contribute to casual English speaking situations.
*Note: Unless otherwise specified, all of the phrasal verbs below are transitive and separable. Ex: "Please pack up your things." / "Please pack your things up."
call up / call
"Call me when you arrive."
"Call me up when you arrive."
"Call me up" is just a cooler way to say "Call me." "Phone" and "phone up" are also used in this way, but "call" and "call up" are more common these days.
clean up / clean
"Who cleaned the bathroom?"
"Who cleaned up the bathroom?"
"Clean up" implies cleaning completely and making an area look spotless.
continue on / continue
intransitive or transitive
"I thought the meeting was over, but he continued talking for 30 more minutes."
"I thought the meeting was over, but he continued on talking for 30 more minutes."
"Continue on" adds a bit more emphasis to "continue."
fall down / fall
"Oh my God, what happened to your hands?" "I fell."
"Oh my God, what happened to your hands?" "I fell down."
You can also say "I fell down the stairs" or "I fell down the steps" to describe the direction and medium of your fall. However, you cannot say "I fell the stairs" or "I fell the steps."
fill up / fill
"Did you fill your gas tank?"
"Did you fill up your gas tank?"
"Fill" already signifies putting something into a container, such as toys into a toy box, or juice into a cup. You could specify "Fill it halfway" or "Fill it up halfway," however.
freeze up / freeze
intransitive or transitive
"Don't leave it in the fridge too long, or it will freeze."
"Don't leave it in the fridge too long, or will freeze up."
You can also use "freeze" to talk about a person becoming shy or nervous in a social or stressful situation. Ex: "I didn't say anything. I just froze." / "I didn't say anything. I just froze up."
help out / help
"Thanks for helping me yesterday."
"Thanks for helping me out yesterday."
"Help out" is often used to say that someone volunteers somewhere. Ex: "He helps out at the homeless shelter on weekends." / "I've seen her helping out at the church." You can use "help" in these situations, but "help out" is more common and has an extra meaning of choosing and being active in helping an organization, a cause, etc.
hide away / hide
"I hid it where you won't find it."
"I hid it away where you won't find it."
If you're not sure which one to use, "hide" works in every situation, whereas "hide away" sounds a little strange in some circumstances, especially when discussing people. For example: "Caroline is very good at hiding away." / "Caroline is very good at hiding."
hurry up / hurry
"We need to hurry if we don't want to be late."
"We need to hurry up if we don't want to be late."
"Hurry up" emphasizes "hurry," especially when it's used as an imperative.
lend out / lend
"The library lends books."
"The library lends out books."
It is more common to use "lend" when making requests or offers. Ex: "Could you lend me your pencil?" "Could you lend out your pencil to me?" "I can lend you one." "I can lend one out to you." "Lend out" is very common when discussing services such as libraries, or places that allow you to borrow things.
lift up / lift
"It's too heavy. I can't lift it."
"It's too heavy. I can't lift it up."
"Lift up" is unnecessary, but it is common and emphasizes "lift."
mix up / mix (meaning: mix together)
"After you add the eggs to the flour, just mix everything."
"After you add the eggs to the flour, just mix everything up."
"Mix up" emphasizes "mix" in this case. Do not confuse this with the idiomatic "mix up," which means to confuse something or someone, or not to be in a clear-minded state. Ex: "Sorry, my brain is all mixed up today."
pack up / pack
"Have you packed your suitcase for your trip?"
"Have you packed up your suitcase for your trip?"
"Pack up" means to pack completely. It emphasizes the idea of packing everything.
return back to / return to
"Don't forget to return it to me next week."
"Don't forget to return it back to me tomorrow."
In this case, the adverbial "back" is completely unnecessary and should especially be avoided in formal contexts.
send out / send
"Did you send the letter?"
"Did you send out the letter?"
"Send out" emphasizes and adds a little more spice to "send."
shake up / shake
"You have to shake the bottle before you open it."
"You have to shake the bottle up before you open it."
"Shake up" emphasizes "shake" and makes it sound a little cooler in the process. It also encourages you to shake something very well.
sit down / sit
"You can sit if you'd like."
"You can sit down if you'd like."
"Sit down" is redundant and just emphasizes "sit."
stand up / stand
"Are you able to stand?"
"Are you able to stand up?"
In a formal situation, such as a religious service or graduation ceremony, the officiant is more likely to say "Please stand" than "Please stand up."
wait up / wait
"Wait for me, okay?"
"Wait up for me, okay?"
You can make this transitive by using the 3-word phrasal verb "wait up for" someone. "Wait up" and "Wait" are often used interchangeably when used as imperatives. ("Wait!" "Wait up!") Note that "wait" is preferred when instructing people to wait for a specific amount of time. Ex: "Wait here for 15 minutes." vs. "Wait up here for 15 minutes."
wrap up / wrap
"We need to wrap your arm with a towel."
"We need to wrap up your arm with a towel."
"Wrap up" is redundant, but it encourages you to wrap something well and/or completely.
I hope you found this useful and interesting. If you are interested in learning more phrasal verbs, you can pick up a copy of 100 Practical English Phrasal Verbs. It has only high-frequency language, only modern usages, and over 900 examples. It is a valuable resource for both, English learners and English teachers, and is available in PDF, eBook, or paperback.
I have also made many videos that teach phrasal verbs. You might enjoy some of these videos to start.
Until next time, I wish you success in your studies.