Phrasal verbs make up a huge category of expressions in English that careless users often misspell by substituting one-word noun forms for the standard two-word phrasal verb; for instance: it would have been a mistake for me to have written “Phrasal verbs makeup a huge category.” It is fine to write “I didn’t want to put on my makeup” (“makeup” is a noun) or “I had to take the makeup exam.” (In this example “makeup” is a noun acting like an adjective modifying another noun—“exam”. What kind of exam was it? A makeup exam.) Such nouns are often hyphenated, at least early in their history (it used to be common to write “make-up exam,” and that is still fine); but there is a strong tendency for such hyphenated forms to evolve into single words. If both versions are current, the hyphenated form is usually the more formal one.
Most phrasal verbs consist of a verb and adverb combined. Note that some of the adverbs involved can also function as prepositions, but don’t let this confuse you. In the phrase “cool down the broth” “down” is an adverb. Some do actually consist of a verb and a preposition, but these rarely cause problems. You aren’t likely to write “would you lookafter my cat while I’m gone?”
All of this is of little use if you’re not clear about what a noun is and what a verb or an adverb is. What follows is a long list of phrasal verbs (first) and their related one-word noun forms (second) with examples that may help you understand what the differences are in standard English. I’ve also included some examples in which the one-word form is an adjectival form rather than a noun.
There are some insulting phrases that I’m not including here because filters might balk at them, but if you write something like “he’s a real __________ because he tends to __________” the second blank should be filled in with a two-word non-hyphenated phrasal verb.
If the word involved is immediately preceded by “a,” “an,” or “the,” you probably need the one-word noun form. If it’s immediately preceded by “to,” you probably need the two-word phrasal verb. If you’re tempted to use a one-word spelling elsewhere, try using a two-word or hyphenated form instead. If it looks better, it probably is.
Note: What follows is not meant to be exhaustive. It does not cover every possible meaning of these expressions. The entries are just sample two-word and one-word forms in context to give you an idea of what might be suitable. Many one-word entries listed below are used in the UK mainly in hyphenated form, but I’ve followed general US patterns.
back down vs. backdown
Don’t let him make you back down. The result would be a humiliating backdown.
back up vs. backup
Back up your data regularly; then you’ll have a backup when your hard disk crashes.
bail out vs. bailout
If the government has to bail out a bank it may have to pass a bailout bill. The result is a government bailout.
beat up vs. beat-up
The thugs beat up the weaker kids. He drove a beat-up truck.
blast off vs. blastoff
The spaceship was ready to blast off. Blastoff occurred at dawn.
blow out vs. blowout
Blow out the candle. The party was a blowout.
blow up vs. blow-up, blowup
Blow up the building. A storm may blow up. A blow-up Santa Claus. Their disagreement led to a blowup. The blowup of the photo showed spinach between her teeth.
boil over vs. boilover
Don’t let the milk boil over. You have to watch carefully to avoid a boilover.
break away vs. breakaway
Some states wanted to break away from the Union. The breakaway group decided to meet separately
break down vs. breakdown
Break down this wall. Break down the argument so I can understand it. The problems in the company led to a complete breakdown.
break out vs. breakout
Escapees break out of prison. The guards try to prevent a breakout.
lift off vs. liftoff
The rocket is ready to lift off. We have achieved liftoff.
break up vs. breakup
I hope we don’t break up over this. A breakup always hurts.
brush off vs. brushoff
Brush off the cat hair. Don’t listen to that guy; give him the brushoff.
build up vs. buildup
Build up your bank account. Avoid bathtub scum buildup.
burn off vs. burnoff
Hoping that the fog will burn off. Burn off the fat. The shrubs were destroyed in the area of the burnoff.
buy in vs. buy-in
To raise the money, we had to get several investors to buy in. We needed to get buy-in from all the parties concerned.
buy off vs. buyoff
The gangsters tried to buy off the cops. The extra health insurance benefit was a buyoff for early retirees.
buy out vs. buyout
The big corporation intended to buy out its small competitors. The company offered a buyout to get some of its employees to quit.
call back vs. callback
Call back your dogs. If no one answers the first time a callback is required.
carry on vs. carry-on
You can carry on one small bag. We have to inspect your carry-on. Carry-on luggage has to fit in the overhead bin.
cash in vs. cash-in
After working for 48 years, he decided to cash in. A cash-in refinance.
cash out vs. cashout
Close down the business and cash out. A lump-sum cashout. A cashout poker tournament.
catch up vs. catch-up
Wait for me to catch up. We’re not getting anywhere; we’re just playing catch-up.
cave in vs. cave-in
The kids kept begging to go to Disney World until they got me to cave in. The miners were trapped by a cave-in.
change over vs. changeover
We want to change over to a Web-based billing system. Accounting will be in charge of the changeover.
check in vs. check-in
You must check in before boarding the plane. You must complete check-in before participating in the meeting. The check-in procedures have been simplified.
check out vs. checkout
Check out the book from the library. Check out the cute lifeguard. Wait in the checkout line. Checkout is at 10:00 AM.
check up vs. checkup
I thought I’d check up on how she was doing. Go to the doctor for a checkup.
chill out vs. chill-out, chillout
Relax, man; chill out! This is my chill-out time. Chillout music.
clamp down vs. clampdown
The city is going to clamp down on illegal parking. I’ve gotten five tickets since the clampdown began.
claw back vs. clawback
The government needs to claw back some of the revenues it lost last quarter. The clawback will hit the incomes of some poor families especially hard.
clean out vs. cleanout
Clean out the refrigerator. Remove the cleanout to clear the clogged sink drain.
click through vs. clickthrough
Click through to claim your free iPod. The ad had a high clickthrough rate.
close in vs. close-in
The officers began to close in on the suspect. I hate commuting; I’d rather live close-in.
close out vs. closeout
Let’s close out our stock of VCRs. We can get rid of them in a closeout sale. I bought this sweater cheap on closeout.
close up vs. close-up, closeup
The car doesn’t look so good close up. We’re going to close up the beach house for the season. High-definition video shows wrinkles clearly in a close-up (or closeup).
come down vs. comedown
Come down and see us in Baja this winter. From CEO to janitor: what a comedown!
come on vs. come-on
He tried to come on to me. Come on, you know you really like washing the car. The enticing offer was just a come-on.
cool down vs. cool-down, cooldown
Cool down in the shade for a while. Allow some time for a cool-down period after running. Before working out, do a warmup; and afterward, a cooldown.
cop out vs. cop-out, copout
When it was his turn to wash the dishes he would always cop out. That lame excuse was a real cop-out (or copout).
crack down vs. crackdown
The coach is going to crack down on players using steroids. Management insisted on a crackdown.
cut back vs. cutback
I’m trying to cut back on French fries. A government cutback.
cut out vs. cut-out, cutout
Cut out the fat. He put a cut-out (or cutout) in the exhaust pipe. A cut-out valentine.
die off vs. die-off
The honeybees began to die off. When the meteor struck the earth it caused a huge die-off.
draw back vs. drawback
The threat of a beating caused him to draw back. The drawback of the plan was they they didn’t have a car for the getaway.
draw down vs. drawdown
Draw down your savings to invest in my company. After the drawdown it wasn’t clear that there was enough water left in the reservoir to supply the town for the summer.
dress up vs. dress-up, dressup
We’ll dress up for the party. The girls like to play dress-up (or dressup).
drive by vs. drive-by
Drive by the house to see whether it looks occupied. It was a drive-by shooting.
drop off vs.drop-off
Drop off the cleaning on your way to work. A drop-off in attendance. Cell phone drop-off locations. A steep drop-off in attendance.
drop out vs. dropout
If you drop out of school, you’ll regret it later. You don’t want to be a dropout.
face off vs. face-off
They will face off against each other on the talk show. A hockey game begins with a face-off.
fall back vs. fallback
The soldiers had to fall back and regroup. Just in case we need a fallback (or a fallback alternative).
fall off vs. falloff
Quality began to fall off. There was a falloff in quality.
fill out vs. fill-out Fill out the forms to apply for the scholarship. The fill-out forms are available on the Web site.
fix up vs. fix-up
Fix up the basement as a home theater. The only date he could get was a fix-up. A novel made up of related short stories is sometimes called a “fix-up.”
flame out vs. flameout
When they entered the tournament I knew their team would flame out. The jet suffered a flameout. Their career ended in spectacular flameout.
flare up vs. flare-up, flareup
Dripping fat causes the charcoal to flare up. The conflict will flare up. A flare-up (or flareup) of flu.
fly by vs. flyby
In this fascinating class time will just fly by. The space probe was designed for a flyby of the Planet Mongo.
fly over vs. flyover
You’ll fly over our house on your way to the airport. The Air Force Blue Angels staged a flyover to mark the beginning of Seafair. In the UK, an overpass is a flyover.
fold up vs. fold-up
Fold up the sheets before you put them away. We have a fold-up treadmill.
follow through vs. follow-through
He invited everybody to the birthday party but he failed to follow through by ordering a cake. The secret to a good golf swing is the follow-through.
freak out vs. freakout
Calm down, don’t freak out. It was wild: a real freakout.
freeze out vs. freeze-out
The large investors tried to freeze out the small ones. Victim of a freeze-out. A freeze-out plug.
gad about vs. gadabout
I like to gad about to different parties. My friends say that makes me a real gadabout.
get away vs. getaway
We want to get away for the winter. A trip to New Zealand seems like a good getaway.
give away vs. give-away, giveaway
I’m trying to give away my old VCR. The bank promised every new customer a giveaway. Unfortunately their giveaway gifts turned out to be shares of their worthless stock. Her expression was a dead give-away (or giveaway).
give back vs. giveback
He had to give back the comic book. Management insisted on a health benefit giveback when it negotiated with the union.
go ahead vs. go-ahead
We decided to go ahead with the project. The city permit office gave us the go-ahead.
go by vs. go-by
How time does go by. He lost interest in her and gave her the go-by.
goof off vs. goof-off
I don’t feel like working today; let’s just goof off. That guy is a lazy goof-off.
hand out vs. handout
Hand out the cookies at snack time. He was begging for a handout. On every street-corner there’s someboy distributing handouts.
hang out vs. hangout
We don’t have to go any place special; let’s just hang out together. The Harbor Pub is a popular Island hangout.
hang up vs. hangup
Hang up your coat. I have a real hangup about robocalls; I just hang up on them.
hold back vs. holdback
She couldn’t hold back her tears. The lender insisted on a 20% holdback until the project was done.
hold out vs. holdout
Hold out for a better deal. Most of the partners agreed to the merger, but there was one holdout.
hook up vs. hook-up, hookup
Go out and see who you can hook up with. I wasn’t really interested in him, he was just a casual hookup. We just had a hookup.
keep away vs. keepaway
I try to keep away from cheeseburgers. They were playing keepaway with with his backpack.
kiss off vs. kiss-off
Just kiss off the ones you don’t like. Give them the kiss-off.
knock down vs. knock-down
Knock down the furniture for shipping. I got it at a knock-down price. It was a knock-down, drag-out fight.
knock off vs. knockoff Knock off the arguing with your sister. That isn’t a real Coach bag; it’s just a cheap knockoff.
lay off vs. layoff
The company wants to lay off more works. This will be a devastating layoff.
lay out vs. layout
Lay out the body for the funeral. You’ll have to lay out some serious money for that granite countertop. We need a more efficient kitchen layout.
let down vs. letdown
Let down your hair on your birthday. The bad review my boss gave me was a real letdown.
lie down vs. lie-down
Take your shoes off before you lie down on the bed. Why don’t you have a good lie-down?
lift off vs. liftoff
The rocket is ready to lift off. We have achieved liftoff.
live in vs. live-in
They want a nanny to live in: a live-in nanny.
lock down vs. lockdwon
Lock down the prison. The prison reacted to the riot with a lockdown.
lock up vs. lockup Lock up the house when you go on vacation. Throw the mugger in the lockup.
log in vs. log-in, login
Log in to your account. Enter your log-in ID. Your log-in (or login) is complete.
log off vs. log-off or logoff
Log off when you leave the bank site. Complete your log-off (or logoff) by clicking here.
look in vs. look-in
Look in on me when you come by the hospital. The nurse gave me a quick look-in during her rounds.
look up vs. lookup
You can look up the name of the first owner of your house in the local library. You can do a zip code lookup on the USPS site. The spreadsheet provides a useful lookup function.
look out vs. look-out
Look out for falling rocks. Pull over onto the look-out and admire the mountains. The bank robbers were caught because theey forgot to use a look-out. If you don’t want to use a password to secure your laptop, that’s your look-out.
make do vs. make-do
Since we can’t afford to buy a new car right now, we’ll just have to make do with the old one. The tarp works as a make-do tent.
make up vs. make-up, makeup
Make up your mind. Take the make-up exam. Put on makeup.
mark down vs. markdown
If they mark down the sweaters, I’ll buy one. There was a big markdown on last year’s model.
mark up vs. markup
Mark up the document. Mark up the merchandise. The markup on this face-cream is about 500%.
mash up vs. mashup
Mash up the carrots with the potatoes. Her recording is more a mashup than a remix of those songs.
mix up vs. mix-up
Mix up the paint for the doghouse. There had been a mix-up at the bank.
mop up vs. mop-up
Mop up the spilled milk. It was a mop-up operation.
opt out vs. opt-out
Opt out of the mailing list. The Direct Marketing Association offers an opt-out service.
pass through vs. pass-through Can ultraviolet light pass through the lenses? There was a pass-through between the kitchen and dining room. What is the pass-through rate?
pay back vs. payback
Pay back the loan. The water baloon was payback for the wedgie.
pay off vs. pay-off, payoff
We hope to pay off our mortage soon. Our investments are beginning to pay off. His gamble had a disappointing payoff (or pay-off).
phase out vs. phase-out
Let’s phase out the old models next month. The phase-out is just about complete.
pick up vs. pickup
Pick up the trash and throw it in your pickup.
pig out vs. pig-out, pigout
Try not to pig out at the buffet. After last night’s pigout (or pig-out) I need to go on a diet.
pin up vs. pin-up
Pin up the hem. A photo of Betty Grable in a swimsuit was a famous WWII pin-up (or pinup). She was a pin-up girl.
play back vs. playback
Play back the recording. On old tape recorders the record head was usually to the left of the playback head. We listened to the playback. Asha Bhosle is a famous playback singer in Bollywood movies.
plug in vs. plugin
Plug in the vacuum cleaner. This is a cool Photoshop plugin (or plug-in).
pop out vs. pop-out
The zits began to pop out all over her chin. The car has a pop-out windshield.
press on vs. press-on
If we’re going to make base camp by sundown we need to press on. Before PageMaker, we used to create the headlines in our newsletter with press-on type.
pull apart vs. pull-apart
The teacher had to pull apart the two kids who were fighting. Our bakery makes really good pull-apart rolls. They make a whole-wheat pull-apart.
pull down vs. pull-down
Pull down the shades. Make your selection from the pull-down menu.
pull off vs. pull-off
Can the team pull off an upset next Saturday? You can get a great view from the next pull-off on the highway.
pull over vs. pullover
Pull over and let me drive for a while. Would you rather I knitted you a cardigan or a pullover? It was a pullover shirt.
push up vs. push-up
We got ready for the last push up the mountain. She did a one-handed push-up. She wore a push-up bra. She ate a push-up pop.
put down vs. put-down
Put down the gun. It was an insulting remark, a real put-down.
put on vs. put-on
Put on the kettle for tea. His pretence of indifference was just a put-on. It was a put-on expression.
ring back vs. ring-back
When you get my message, please ring back immediately. After dialing, you hear the ring-back tone.
rip off vs. rip-off, ripoff
Rip off the plastic wrapping to get at the game. They tried to rip off our design. Their version was a total rip-off. They charge rip-off prices.
roll back vs. roll-back, rollback
Roll back the prices. The store announced a price roll-back (or rollback).
roll over vs. rollover The vans tended to roll over. Roll over your IRA into a Roth. Yesterday on the highway there were two collisions and a roll-over (or rollover). They put a rollover at the top of their home page.
rub down vs. rubdown
Rub down the beef with an herb mixture. After the game you need a rubdown.
run about vs. runabout
These lamps will run about $100 each. This kind of little car is called a runabout.
run around vs. runaround
I had to run around all morning to get everything ready for the party. When I asked him for a straight answer, he gave me the runaround.
run off vs. runoff
Run off with the circus; catch the runoff from the gutters.
run up vs. run-up
Run up the stairs. The scandal broke out during the run-up to the election.
screw up vs. screw-up, screwup
Screw up your courage. Try not to screw up. It was a terrible screwup (or screw-up). He was a notorious screwup (or screw-up).
sell off vs. sell-off
Sell off the rest of the stock. Concerns about the economy triggered a sell-off on Wall Street today.
send up vs. send-up
She wanted to send up typical romance novels. Her book was a send-up of the kind she liked least.
set aside vs. set-aside
Set aside some money for your vacation. To get the agricultural subsidy we made the old cornfield a set-aside.
set back vs. setback
The late spring snows set back our camping trip for several weeks. The loss of the grant was a real setback. The zoning ordinance prescribes a ten-foot setback.
set up vs. setup
You can set up your iPhone account at the store. Bring your own bottle and the restaurant will provide a setup for you. This was just a setup to trap unwary consumers.
shake down vs. shakedown
The gangsters tried to shake down the merchants for protection money. Some refused to give in to the shakedown.
show off vs. show-off
Let me show off our new kitchen. She’s a real show-off.
shut in vs. shut-in
The dog was shut in all day. He was a sickly shut-in.
sign in vs. sign-in
Sign in at the registration desk. Here’s the sign-in sheet.
sign on vs. sign-on
Sign on to the project. Television stations used to display a test pattern for fifteen minutes before sign-on.
sit down vs. sit-down
Sit down and have a cold one. Go to a sit-down restaurant.
sit in vs. sit-in
Sit in this chair. The students staged a sit-in protest. The college president denounced the sit-in.
sleep over vs. sleepover
If it gets too late, you can sleep over here. Their daughter invited six friends for a sleepover.
spin off vs. spin-off
You can spin off a new TV series from an old one, like Frasier from Cheers. Crankshaft is a spin-off from Funky Winkerbean.
spin out vs. spinout
Don’t let your car spin out on the ice. The spinout sent the car into the ditch.
spit up vs. spitup
The baby spit up most of its lunch. My blouse was covered with spit-up.
start up vs. startup
Start up the engine. We need investors to fund our startup. They got a start-up grant.
stand out vs. standout
Mindy tends to stand out on the basketball court. She’s a real standout.
stick up vs. stickup
Stick up these posters around town. This is a stickup!
strike out vs. strikeout
Strike out the first paragraph. There were three strikeouts in the first fifteen minutes of the game.
tag along vs. tagalong
Her little brother always wanted to tag along. She thought he was an irritating little tagalong.
take off vs. takeoff, take-off
Well, I think it’s time for us to take off. Fasten your seatbelt before takeoff (or take-off).
take out vs. takeout
Take out the garbage. Let’s eat takeout Thai food tonight.
take over vs. takeover
The vice president of the club will take over while Patricia is on vacation. That corporation staged a takeover of ours.
tear down vs. teardown
Tear down the old barn. We bought the place just for the lot; the house was a teardown.
tip off vs. tipoff, tip-off
He tried to tip off the police about the planned robbery. The police ignored the tip-off (or tipoff). I was busy buying a hotdog and missed the tip-off.
touch down vs. touchdown
The astronauts reported they would soon touch down on the moon. The plane skidded slightly on touchdown. The quarterback scored a touchdown.
touch up vs. touch-up
Touch up your make-up. She gave her make-up a quick touch-up.
trade in vs. trade-in
Let’s trade in the old car. We should get a pretty good trade-in price.
trickle down vs. trickle-down
They hoped the money would trickle down to the people who needed it the most. But many people are skeptical about the trickle-down theory.
try out vs. tryout
They want to try out for field hockey. The tryout is tomorrow.
turn down vs. turndown
Turn down the covers on the bed. Turn down the offer. The economy went into a turndown (also known as a downturn).
turn on vs. turn-on
Turn on the lights. A pet chimpanzee can turn on you. She found his accent to be a real turn-on.
turn over vs. turnover
The engine wouldn’t turn over. I like to have an apple turnover with my morning coffee. The bomb squad had a high turnover rate of personnel. There was just one turnover in the game’s last quarter.
wake up vs. wake-up
I need to wake up early tomorrow to catch a plane. I need a wake-up call.
walk in vs. walk-in
I prefer to take a very short walk in the rain. Between appointments I manage to squeeze in the occasional walk-in. Our bedroom has a walk-in closet.
warm up vs. warm-up
Before playing, we need to warm up. Come early to give time for the warm-up. Wear a warm-up suit.
wash out vs. washout
I couldn’t wash out the stain. You can’t get here on the old road; there’s been a washout at the first curve. The initially enthusiastic candidate turned out to be a real washout.
weigh in vs. weigh-in
All jockeys have to weigh in before the race. I’ll see you at the weigh-in.
white out vs. whiteout, white-out
In the days before personal computers we used to white out our mistakes. We used a lot of liquid white-out. The huge snowstorm caused a total whiteout (or white-out).
wind up vs. windup
Wind up the kite string. Here’s the windup, and the pitch—it’s a strike!
work out vs. workout
Go to the gym to work out. Do your workout every day.
write down vs. writedown
Write down the telephone number. Our accountant said the property was overvalued and recommended a writedown.
write off vs. write-off
We had to write off the bad debts. We took a write-off on the loss.
write up vs. write-up
He said he would write up an account of the meeting. That was a great write-up about you in the paper.