If you have ever studied English as a second language, you may know that phrasal verbs (here on referred to as PVs) comprise a topic that all learners significantly struggle with, and it’s no wonder why.


First of all, phrasal verbs are unique to just a few European languages such as German, Latin, and of course, English. Therefore, if you happen to be a native speaker of a language that doesn’t have any PVs, you will most likely struggle with even a basic understanding of how the system of PVs work.


Secondly, PVs are hard to learn because they cannot be broken down into separate components to be translated; you just have to know the meaning of the whole construction. Furthermore, PVs are difficult to learn due to the fact that they have so many meanings stemming from one verb, and the only way to learn each one is to memorize all of them and practice using them in the appropriate context.


At the same time, in order to be fluent in English, you must learn to use PVs since they play a very important role in the entire vocabulary structure. 80% of all verbs in English form the basis of one or more PVs. Therefore, I think this subject is very important for all English learners at all levels, especially starting from pre-intermediate. General rule: if you ever want to be fluent in English, you must learn basic phrasal verbs.


What are phrasal verbs?


The term phrasal verb is commonly applied to a structure with two components: usually a verb plus a preposition or an adverb. For example, let’s take the verb to get. To create a phrasal verb, we just need to add a second component (for example back), and we will create the phrasal verb to get back, where to get is the main verb and back is an adverb. Further examples are: to go on, to look for, to move out, etc.


As mentioned above, the semantic structure of a PV cannot be understood based on the meanings of its individual words. Instead, it is a construction that exists as a whole, which makes its meaning very unpredictable.


Other names for PVs that you may encounter include: prepositional verbs, compound verbs, particle verbs, multi-word verbs, etc.


What is the best way to learn phrasal verbs?


As a past English learner who is now a fluent English speaker, I have found that the best way to learn PVs is to learn them in semantic groups, which means taking an actual situation in real life and learning the vocabulary that is related to it. This is the reason why I chose to break phrasal verbs into separate sections, each related to real life situations.


This article in particular will cover some of the most popular phrasal verbs that we use in regular phone conversations. It will be especially important to anyone who needs to make or receive phone calls in English. First, I will give you a list of the verbs, along with their meanings, examples of their use, and explanations as to when they’re used in a typical phone conversation. Then, I will provide you with an opportunity to practice this yourself with a couple of fun exercises. So, let’s begin the list.


Ten phrasal verbs commonly used in a phone conversation


Hold on and Hang on


These two verbs have very similar meanings, which is why I placed them together. Try to guess what they mean from the following examples:


Example #1:


  • Hi, is Jim in the office? I need to talk to him.
  • Hold on please, I will see if he is still here.


Example # 2:


  • Hi! Can you transfer me to HR please.
  • Sure thing. Please hold on the line.


Example #3:


  • Hi Jeff! I haven’t seen you in years! How are you?
  • Hi Matt! Hang on just a second, I need to close the door to my room.
  • OK.


Example #4:


  • Hi, I am Cindy Freigh from ABC.
  • Hang on, have we ever met? I don’t recall ever meeting anyone with that name.
  • Yes, we have met before.


Have you guessed the meaning yet? Both hold on and hang on mean “wait.” Specifically, it refers to waiting while you are on the phone with someone. This wait could be because you are being transferred to a different person (Ex. 1, 2) or because the person that you are currently speaking to needs to briefly pause the phone conversation (Ex.3). Sometimes it can be used figuratively; usually when a person has some doubts about what you have just told him or her (Ex 4.)


In any case, you should use these PVs when you want to pause the conversation and ask the other person to wait.


So, what is the difference between hold on and hang on?


Very good question. Although there is no difference in meaning, the PV hold on is more formal and is generally used in more official phone conversations. Hang on is used informally, usually with someone you already know.


Pick up


Example #1:


  • I need to call my friend Andy.
  • Well, pick up your phone then.


Example #2:


  • Hi, Jessica? Is that you?
  • Yes. Hi, Paul. How are you?
  • I am good. Where have you been? You haven’t picked up your phone in weeks!!!


So pick up means the following: the physical action of picking up the phone and calling someone and/or answering a call. Although the PV pick up has other meanings, I recommend that you focus on these two for now.


Put through


Example #1:


  • Hi! May I speak to the manager?
  • Sure. I will put you through. One moment please.


Example #2:


  • Is this a toy store?
  • No, this is a restaurant. But, I can put you through to someone at the store.


So, put through means to connect someone with the person they need to talk to. Secretaries, receptionists and call-center workers often use this PV to connect a caller to the person they wish to speak with.


Important: even though I will not go into many details about this rule (because it could be the subject of a whole separate article), I will mention that some phrasal verbs are called separable. This means that the object of the verb can be placed between the verb and the preposition/adverb.


As you can see with the verb put through in Example 2, the object you is placed in between the two components of the phrasal verb. This rule does not work for all phrasal verbs and the only way to know which verbs are separable and which ones are not is to develop a feel for the language.


Hang up and Get off


Example #1:


  • Did you just hang up on me?
  • No! I accidentally pressed the “End call” button.


Example #2:


  • Is this Dr. Mifflins office?
  • No, but please do not hang up. I will transfer you there.


Example #3:


  • Natalie, please get off the phone. I need to call my work.


Example #4:


  • Is everything alright?
  • No, my boss has just returned and I have to get off the phone.


Hang up means to put the phone down, disconnect your call or finish the conversation. Usually people hang up their phones when they hear goodbye on the other end. However, sometimes they hang up when they feel that there is nothing more to say or they called the wrong person.


Get off means to stop talking on the phone, and is very similar to hang up. However, there is a slight difference. When you say “I am going to hang up,” you mean that you are going to finish the conversation because it is over and you no longer wish to proceed. When you say “I’m going to get off the phone” you mean “I will no longer be using the phone, so that someone else can use it instead.”


Call up


Example #1:


  • I need to call up my sister. I haven’t heard from her in weeks. I hope she is OK.


Example #2:


  • There is something I need to say to him.
  • Will you call him up?


Call up means to start the call. Usually, when we are planning to call someone we can say this verb: to call up.


Call back and Get back to


Example #1:


  • Hi! Is Jeff in the office?
  • No, he just left.
  • OK, I will call him back.


Example #2:


  • Hey, how are you?
  • I am good. Sorry I didn’t call you back yesterday, I was busy.


Example #3:


  • Hi! I am calling about my order. Nobody got back to me.
  • I am sorry m’am. We will process your order now.


Example #4:


  • Hi! I just wanted to say that Roy called. He asked you to get back to him.
  • OK, thanks!


Call back means to physically call someone back another time. Generally, we use this verb when we have called a person, but he or she is not there to answer the phone, so we need to call again later.


The meaning of get back to is very similar to the verb call back. However, there is a slight difference. The verb get back to has a broader definition and just means to return another person’s inquiry in general. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily mean to call someone back on the phone. Instead, it can refer to stopping by the office or even writing an email. The verb call back, on the other hand, only refers to returning a call by phone.


Turn off/on


Example #1:


  • (In the cinema) Please turn off your phones. The movie will begin shortly.


Example #2:


  • What happened to your phone?
  • I don’t know. It doesn’t work anymore. I need to turn it off and then back on again.


Example #3:


  • When the meeting ends you may turn on your mobile devices.


The verb turn off means to deactivate your phone, while turn on means to activate it.


What does a typical phone conversation look like?


Now, we will look at some typical phone conversation models in order to find out when each of the verbs we just learned is used.


Let’s look at this scheme below:



This is a graphic of what a typical phone conversation looks like.


In order to understand how it works, let’s pretend that we are trying to call a person named Peter:


Step #1: When we want to call someone, we first think about it like this: “Oh, I need to call Peter, because…”. This is known as an “intention to call.”

Step #2: We pick up the phone and make the call.

Step #3: This could go one of three different ways:

  • Step #3A: Peter doesn’t answer the phone, which typically means that we will finish our call right away.
  • Step #3B: Peter’s receptionist or secretary picks up the phone. This scenario will bring us to Step #4.
  • Step #3C: We reach Peter directly. This takes us to Step #5.


Step #4 (optional): After talking to a receptionist, we will most likely request to be transferred to Peter (4A). If he is not available, we can leave a message or just hang up and call back another time (4B).

Step #5: If we are successfully transferred, then we will talk directly to Peter. We can also go straight to Step #5 from Step #3 (skipping Step #4) if there is no receptionist to answer the call (scenario 3C). It is during this step that we have our conversation.

Step #6: We finish the call.


How to use these ten phrasal verbs in a phone conversation in real speech?


So, let’s now summarize everything in a table below, adding the verbs that we have learned to each step of the conversation.



Phrasal verbs


Step #1

Turn on

Call up

Pick up

  • I need to pick up the phone and call Peter.
  • I need to call up Peter.
  • I should turn on my phone to call Peter

Step #2


You are calling Peter.

Step #3 (scenario 3a)

Hang up

Call back

Get back to

  • No one answers. I should call back some other time.
  • There is no answer. I should hang up. I will get back to Peter another time.

Step #3 (scenario 3b)


See Step #4

Step #3 (scenario 3c)


See Step #5

Step #4 (scenario 4a)

Hang on

Hold on

Put through

  • Hi! I would like to speak to Peter please.
  • Please hold on sir. I will put you through.
  • Hi! I am calling Peter. Is he around?
  • Yes, hang on. I will go and get him.

Step #4 (scenario 4b)


See Step #3 (scenario 3a)

Step #5


This is your conversation with Peter.

Step #6

Get off

Hang up

Turn off

  • Alright. It was nice talking to you Peter. I need to get off the phone now because my mom needs it.
  • It was great to talk to you Peter. I have to go, though. I am going to hang up the phone now.
  • After talking to Peter for a long time, I should turn off my phone to save some battery life for later.


As you can see, the verbs that we have learned today can easily be used in Steps 1, 3, 4, 6.




In order to solidify your new knowledge, I have prepared some material for you to practice.


Follow this link to access a couple of exercises on the subject:


PV's used in telephone conversations




So, let’s look at what have you learned today from reading this article:


  • You have learned why you need to study phrasal verbs and why they are so important for you as an English learner who is trying to become fluent.
  • You have looked at the definition of phrasal verbs in order to better understand what they are.
  • You have learned ten very important phrasal verbs that can be used in phone conversations.
  • You have seen examples of how these verbs can be used in regular speech.
  • You have discovered what a typical phone conversation looks like through step by step examples.
  • You have figured out how you can use the verbs from our list in specific phone conversations.
  • You have practiced your new vocabulary by completing the exercises that I gave you at the end of this article.


That’s a lot, right?! I hope you liked this article and I wish you all the best of luck in your English studies!


Remember: it is better to try, fail and try again then never try!


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