Phrasal Verb Synonyms / Phrasal Verbs that Mean the Same Thing (Includes GIFs & Practice Questions)
Updated: Mar 12
Recommended level: Upper Intermediate/Advanced
English has a lot of phrasal verbs. Luckily, phrasal verbs have synonyms. This means, in some cases, you can use more than one phrasal verb to say the same thing. This is good news because it means you have more options when you're speaking, so even if you don't know one of these phrasal verbs, you might know and be able to use another. This resource is meant to help identify and practice some common phrasal verbs that are exactly the same or similar.
cut back / cut down [on something]
to reduce one's use or consumption of something (usually a bad habit or something done in excess)
"The company needs to cut back on spending."
"I'm trying to cut down on alcohol." (or "on the amount of alcohol I drink/consume.")
When you think "cut back," think of cutting (or chopping) something horizontally, like this:
When you think of "cut down," think of cutting (or chopping) something vertically, like this:
In both cases, you are trying to cut, or reduce, your consumption or usage of something. You can cut back or cut down on many things. Usually, they are things that are bad for us, or things that we are using too much, consuming too much, or doing too much. Here is a list of things that are commonly used with "cut back on" and "cut down on": sugar, alcohol, coffee, spending, screen time, smoking, junk food, eating out, video games.
Practice: What is something you'd like to cut down on?
drop by / pass by / pop by / stop by / swing by [a place]
to make a quick visit somewhere (usually while you are on your way to somewhere else)
"Could you pass by my office after school?"
"I'll pop by your place before I go to work."
"I need to drop by the bank this afternoon."
"I stopped by your apartment this morning, but you weren't there."
"Your brother swung by my place last night."
"Pass by" and "stop by" are the most common and standard phrasal verbs in this group. If you are familiar and comfortable with the people you're talking to, and you'd like to use something a little more casual, you can use "drop by," "pop by," or "swing by." These are considered slang.
Practice: Do you need to pass by anywhere today or tomorrow?
mess up / screw up [something]
to make a mistake, or to cause something to fail or go wrong
"I screwed up. Deborah broke up with me."
"How many questions did you mess up on the test?"
We all make mistakes, and we all cause things to fail sometimes. Other ways to say this are "Everyone messes up sometimes," or "We all screw up sometimes." You can use the phrasal verbs "mess up" and "screw up" by themselves or with an object. For example, you can screw up your chance to get a new job. You can also mess up a relationship if you do something which causes it to fail.
You can screw things up or mess things up by accident or on purpose. For example, "You screwed up my phone settings. What did you do?" "Sorry, I think I pressed something by accident." / "I messed up his project on purpose. I feel terrible about it now."
You can also transform "mess up" and "screw up" into the adjective phrases "messed up" and "screwed up." For example, "She's still messed up after the breakup," or "She's still screwed up after the breakup." If someone is "messed up," they're emotionally confused and unstable. If you say that a situation is "messed up" or "screwed up," it's chaotic, unjust, and abnormal. The most common sentence to describe a situation like this is "That's messed up."
Practice: How do you feel when you mess up? What do you do if/when this happens?
push back / put off
to postpone something (a meeting, an appointment, a reservation, an event, a decision)
"Could we put off the meeting until 2 o'clock?"
"He had to push back the appointment because of a family emergency."
Sometimes, emergencies happen and we have to postpone (meaning, delay) our meetings, appointments, reservations, events, or decisions. This is where "put off" and "push back" are useful. They are most common in office settings, but you can use them in your daily life as well. For example, "Could we push back our dinner plans until 6pm?" or "I'm sorry, but would it be okay to put off our kids' playdate until tomorrow?"
Practice: When was the last time you had to push something back on your calendar?
turn up / crank up
to increase the level or intensity of something (volume, temperature, difficulty, etc.)
"Could you turn the volume up a little bit? I can't hear the dialogue properly."
"Crank up the heat! It's freezing in here."
You can turn up or turn down the volume on your computer. If you're comfortable and familiar with the people around you, and you want to use some slang, you can use "crank up" instead. You can crank up the intensity of a workout at the gym. You can turn up the heating in your house. You can crank up the difficulty in a video game. In all of these cases, you are increasing the level or intensity of something.
Practice: Was this resource a good level for you, or do you wish I had turned up the difficulty even more?
Well, that's it. If you would like to practice your written English, you can write your answers to the practice questions in the comments.
Finally, if you enjoyed reading this and you would like to learn MORE phrasal verbs, consider purchasing a copy of my book, 100 Practical English Phrasal Verbs. It has over 900 example sentences, multiple definitions and usages for each phrasal verb, and 20 context-based lessons. Take a look and thank you for supporting my work.
Until next time, I wish you success with your studies!