There comes a time in the life of an English student when he or she has to face the inevitable: phrasal verbs!! Even teachers do not look forward to this part of teaching. However, phrasal verbs should just be seen as vocabulary. There’s no point in trying to guess the meaning in many cases, even though there are a few simple examples like, “I got on the bus,” which is obvious!


A teacher will probably approach the explanation of phrasal verbs by either taking one verb at a time, followed by the various prepositions, or one preposition preceded by different verbs.


In this article, I am going to give the meaning of some of the most common verbs followed by off and examples of their use in sentences. It is not enough to learn the meaning of the phrasal verbs, it is important also to put them into practice. A great way to practice phrasal verbs is to read a woman’s magazine in English. They are packed full. Ironically, an English newspaper is far easier for a foreigner to read than a magazine. Some phrasal verbs can have three separate meanings, all different, and it is the context, like in so many instances with English, that reveals which meaning is being used.


Here follows a list of phrasal verbs with off, with the definition and an example of each:


Back off: withdraw from.


  • “A guy talked to me at the disco. But I backed off because he had strange hair.”


Burn off: used specially when reducing fat through exercise.


  • Long distance running is an excellent way to burn off fat.”


Buzz off: a polite way to say “go away,” as in the buzz of a bee.


  • First person: “You don’t look very happy today.” Second person: “Oh, buzz off!”


Call off: cancel.


  • “The meeting was supposed to be today at 12 pm, but it’s been called off. It’s going to be tomorrow instead.”


Cool off: when you feel hot and want to feel cooler.


  • “It’s 40 degrees outside. Thank goodness for air conditioning, at last I can cool off.”


Dash off: go somewhere in a hurry.


  • “Sorry, dear. I can’t stop now, I have to dash off to my mother’s house.”


Drive off: drive a car away, often quickly.


  • “I saw the accident, but the car drove off before I could see the number plate.”


Drop off: to deliver something or someone.


  • “My friend dropped off the book I was waiting for.”


Fall off: fall from something like a motorbike, bike or horse.


  • “I’ve fallen off horses more times than I can remember.”


Fobb off: give someone an excuse for something you should have done.


  • “My boss was asking about the report. I fobbed him off by saying it would be finished by tomorrow. I haven’t even started!”


Go off: 1) when there is a sudden noise, like a firework, or, 2) when food goes bad.


  • 1) “All was quiet, then suddenly there was a loud bang of fireworks going off.”
  • 2) “Don’t eat that cheese! There are green things growing on it. It’s gone off!”


Laugh off: when something is wrong and the person makes light of it.


  • “I told James that he was getting fat. But he just laughed it off.”


Lay off: get sacked or fired from your job.


  • “They say the company is going to lay off fifty employees in the next three months.”


Make off with: to go away with something that is often not the person’s property.


  • “He seemed so trustworthy but he made off with a silver teapot.”



Pair off: to get into couples.


  • “Now pair off and the tango will begin!”


Pay off: pay a debt.


  • “I’ve paid off my credit card in full. That’s a relief!”


Polish off: finish, talking about food.


  • “He said he wasn’t hungry, but he polished off all the smoked salmon.”


Put off: procrastinate.


  • “I’ve got a very difficult essay to write. I’ve been putting it off all week.”


Rub off: be influenced by.


  • “That naughty brother of yours is rubbing off on you. Your bedroom is a real mess.”


Scare off: frighten somebody away.


  • “What a shame. The man at the pub seemed so nice. I think I scared him off when I told him I have three children.”


Sell off: sell something, often at a very cheap price.


  • “Due to lack of money, they had to sell off their house.”


Show off: boast.


  • “Look at the way she’s dancing. She’s just showing off.”


Sneak off: go away without telling anyone.


  • “Where’s Tony?” “He’s not here. He must have sneaked off.”


Stop off: to stop somewhere on a journey, also to spend the night.


  • “Oh look, what a lovely hotel. Shall we stop off there for the night?”


Switch off: to turn off an electrical device, like a light switch, stereo.


  • “I’ve got a terrible headache. Please can you switch off the stereo?”


Take off: 1) To remove something, such as clothing 2) When a plane goes up into the air.


  • 1) “It’s hot in here. I think I’ll take off my jumper.”
  • 2) “The plane has taken off. Now we’re airborne.”


Tell off: reprimand.


  • “The children were making too much noise and I told them off.”


Tip off: give someone insider information.


  • “I was tipped off by a stockbroker about a certain increase in the value of some shares.”


When you use a pronoun in the sentence you split the verb and the preposition.


For example: “I told them off.”


When you use the full subject you do not split the verb and the preposition.


For example: “I told off the children.”


I decided to explain just some of the verbs followed by off. The meaning I have given to each of them is my own and so are each of the examples. I hope the examples are clear and explain how the phrasal verbs can be used in certain contexts. There is an extensive amount of phrasal verbs. Much is available online. I believe my list is already quite long. As there are so many phrasal verbs in English, the best thing to do is to approach them a little at a time in bite-sized chunks.


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