Same Phrase, Different Meanings

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Recently I read two articles back-to-back in which the phrasal verb to make up was used with two entirely different meanings. That set me thinking about phrasal verbs that have two or more meanings.

For starters, to make up is used with at least four different meanings.

to compensate for
The two systems must determine by June 1 how they will cut or make up that loss.

to comprise
Cloud computing services make up a growing portion of that segment, Savvis said.

to invent
Directors make up rules as they go along and have an attorney helping them do this at owners’ expense.

to reconcile
So, forget that quarrel and make up already.

Here are some more.

to pass on
to transfer to someone else
There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.

to decline
She looked at the boiled crawfish carcasses with all the little legs and said, “I’ll pass on these.”

to die
My father passed on in February and my mom, age 71, came to live with me in August.

to go over
to examine, review
He sat down with his offensive coordinator to go over the playbook the next day.
This is where the children and the teacher go over what they have done that day.

to succeed, produce a positive effect
He was not certain that the film would go over with the test audience.

to change loyalties
Many disenchanted government supporters may abstain rather than go over to the opposition.

to keep up with
to move at an equal pace (literally and figuratively)
She trained us so well that we can keep up with Lori, who is an amazing cyclist.
Probably the biggest challenge for the Aakash will be to keep up with the times.
That’s far below the 125,000 per month needed to keep up with population growth.

to consume at the same rate
Get rid of the cluttered excess you bought to keep up with the Joneses.

to stay in contact with
It was her first year of teaching, and I keep up with her all these years later.

to hold on
to grasp; maintain one’s grip
He could see that she was slipping. “Hold on! I’m coming to catch you.”

to wait
He finally broke off and told her to hold on a second because Daddy was talking.

to join up
to become a member of the armed forces or other organization
Longing to become a Marine, he joined up the day after his eighteenth birthday.
Union organizers urged the workers to join up.

to meet someone at a particular place
Later he was to join up with his wife for rallies in Lexington and Louisville.

to turn down
to lower
Turn down the heat, season the meat, then add back the vegetables with the wine.

to decline
They sign up for roles in eccentric movies and turn down parts in surefire hits.

to take care of
to provide for the needs of
This means he would have to work less or quit his job to take care of his child.
Volunteers have stepped up to take care of the animals and to clean the shelter.

to deal with something that requires effort
It will probably make me fat, but I’ll take care of that when and if it happens.

to kill
A light mist of rubbing alcohol once a week will take care of any scale insects.
The mobster hired a hitman to take care of the government’s witness.

My heart goes out to ESL learners.

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5 thoughts on “Same Phrase, Different Meanings”

  1. Doing a crossword puzzle today, I was reminded of this column. You are given a word or a phrase with no context, and you have to think of all the possible denotations and connotations. Sometimes I’m stumped until I come back to it later and realize I was thinking about it as a noun when it was really a verb, for example. Crosswords are verbal calisthenics.

  2. Surely other languages have similar issues. But yes, idioms are one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language.

  3. Rosalie,
    Thanks for the comment. It’s nice to be thought of. I admire you for doing crosswords. I’ve never been any good at them.

  4. Thebluebird11,
    I didn’t mean to imply that English is any harder to learn than any other language. If anything, English grammar is much easier than many. For the past year, I’ve been learning Dutch.One idiom, meaning “to get straight to the point,” is “Met de dear in huis vallen.” Literally: “to fall with the door into the house.”

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