Newcomers to Canada often say it is difficult to understand native English speakers. One reason for it is Phrasal Verbs.

An immigrant would say: “Only five people came to the free walking tour.”

A native speaker would say: “Only five people showed up for the free walking tour.”

Both sentences are correct. Both have the same meaning. But native speakers (and other fluent speakers of English) prefer to use phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs are mostly used in speaking and less used in writing. If you search ‘phrasal verbs’ online, you can find long lists of phrasal verbs in alphabetical order with meanings and examples. But which verbs are actually often used in conversations? Here is a list of phrasal verbs in order of importance and frequency of use in Canada. These are the verbs that newcomers often find difficult to understand.

Phrasal Verbs that Newcomers Need to Know in Canada

(in order of importance and difficulty, number 1 is the most important)

1. figure out     

In Canada, your manager often gives you a project but doesn’t give you the exact instructions on how to do it. This is Canadian culture. You need to be independent, think for yourself and try to figure it out. If you can’t figure it out by yourself, you might need to ask your co-workers to help you.

2. get along with

In Canada, it is very important that you get along well with your co-workers. This is called ‘team work’. But getting along doesn’t mean you agree with everything that your co-workers do. It means you can communicate effectively.

3. find out

Not all information will be given to you. In Canada, very often it is your responsibility to find out things. This is called ‘taking initiative’. If you need something, you need to ask questions.

4. sort out

At work and in family life there are problems. Some people like to complain about their problems. But people in Canada will respect you more if, instead of complaining, you take calm calculated actions and try to sort out your problems. If you focus on finding solutions, you will find them faster.

5. give up

Looking for a job in Canada is not easy for many newcomers. There are many new skills newcomers need to learn. But if you keep on learning and keep on looking, you will be successful. Don’t give up!


6. look forward to

Many newcomers look forward to visiting their countries, seeing their families and old friends again.

7. keep on

Don’t give up! Keep on learning English! Life of an immigrant is not easy – there are so many new things to learn! All the immigrants feel homesick in the beginning. But if you keep on learning English and learning about Canadian culture, your life will gradually become more comfortable in this new country.

8. deal with

As an immigrant, you have to deal with so many new things: you have to register your child for school and go to parent-teacher interviews, you have to learn English, you have to find a job, you have to know where the nearest walk-in clinic is, etc. You have a lot to deal with.

9. count on

As an immigrant, you have left your old friends in your first country. Now you need to make new friends so that in Canada you would have people you can count on – people who will help you in a difficult situation.

10. work out

Do you exercise? Exercising at the gym is called a ‘workout’. You can work out at the gym or in the park.

But the verb ‘work out’ has another meaning too. For example, sometimes you have a problem. But then things happen in a good way and your problem disappears. You can say that things worked out! (happy end)


11. get over

In winter, many people catch a cold or a flu. It usually takes people about seven days to get over a cold – one week and your cold is over and you are healthy again.

12. bring up

During a conversation, Canadians don’t like to bring up topics that can make other people feel uncomfortable. Canadians avoid asking people about their age, religion, money, marriage or health.

13. show up

If you attend an English class, you will notice that on different days different number of people shows up. Some days a lot of students show up. Other days less students show up.

14. run by

Teamwork and cooperation are important in Canada. Your co-worker or your manager might ask you: “Could you run those numbers by me again?” This means they want you to repeat the numbers quickly. “I have to run these numbers by my manager first.” means that they want the manager’s opinion first, before the final decision is made.

15. turn out

Some immigrants think that volunteering is something only newcomers have to do in order to get Canadian experience. They are often surprised when it turns out that even high school children have to volunteer. In fact, over 14 million Canadians volunteer their time for different reasons.


16. check out

“Check out that new store!” “Check out my new youtube channel.” These are invitations to take a look.

17. keep up

“Well done! Keep up the good work.” These are the words any person will be happy to hear when they’ve done a good job.

18. run out of

At home, if you have run out of eggs or rice, you need to go shopping. At work, if you’ve run out of supplies, it’s time to check the supply cabinet or perhaps order some more.

19. set up

“Set up” can be a good thing, for example, you can set up a new email account or set up a meeting.

“Set up” can be a bad thing if a person did it to another person. “He set me up.” means one person wanted the other one to fail. Not nice.

20. point out

When something is important and you want other people to listen carefully, you could say: “I’d like to point out that this benefits both sides. It’s a win-win situation.”


21. get rid of

What do you do with stuff (things) you don’t want to keep? You get rid of them. You can throw them in the garbage, recycle or donate them.

22. put off

Summer in Canada is a wonderful time for a picnic. But if it’s raining this weekend, we will have to put it off till next weekend.

23. end up

The restaurant we wanted to go to was packed (too many people), so we ended up going to another restaurant across the street.

24. come up with

In Canada, when you come up with an idea on how to improve something in your company, it’s always good to share it with your manager. Your manager might not use your idea but they will have a very good opinion about you.

25. pass away

In Canada, people avoid using the word ‘died’ when talking about somebody’s close relative. It’s much more polite and tactful to say “His mother passed away.”


26. act up

All children act up sometimes when they cry for no reason or refuse to listen to their parents. On the other hand, a photocopier or a computer can be acting up too when they don’t work properly.

27. come across

When you go for a job interview in Canada, you want to make a good impression. You want to come across as a confident, enthusiastic, knowledgeable person who is also positive and cooperative.

28. put up with

Not all your co-workers will be nice and wonderful people. Some co-workers could be negative and annoying. Those people you would have to put up with. The best way is to stay neutral – neither agree nor disagree with them.

29. mix up

Mistakes happen. “I’m sorry, there’s been a mix up,” are the words you could use to apologize to a client for a mistake.

30. move on

Many supermarket are installing the self check-out machines. A cashier who worked at a local supermarket for many years lost her job. “Well, I guess it’s time to move on,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go back to college. Now is the best time.”


The best way to learn a phrasal verb is to remember a sentence in which it is used. This way you will never make a mistake and always use it correctly.




Idioms are words and expressions. These expressions have special meanings. English has many idioms. If you search online, you can find long lists of idioms and their meanings.

Native speakers (and other fluent speakers of English) use a lot of idioms, especially in speaking.



Group 1: Everyday idioms – idioms you need to learn and use every day yourself

Group 2: Often-used idioms – idioms you need to understand when listening and reading, but don’t need to use

Group 3: Sometimes or rarely used idioms– if you find one, check the dictionary or ask the speaker “What do you mean?”

English has many HUNDREDS of idioms. Some students make a mistake of trying to learn them all, try to use them when speaking and then get surprised when other people don’t understand them.


YOU ONLY REALLY NEED TO LEARN IDIOMS FROM GROOUP 1 AND 2: everyday idioms to use, and common idioms to understand other people.




A: Can I use your pen?

B: Go ahead.

‘Go ahead’ is an idiom. It means ‘Do it’. This is a Group 1 idiom – it is used every day.


A: You almost got hit by a car?! Oh my god!

B: Yeah, it was a close call.

‘Close call’ is an idiom. It means ‘a dangerous situation when a bad thing almost happened’. This is a Group 2 idiom – you need to understand it but don’t need to use it yourself.


A: Are you okay?

B: Charley horse.

A: What do you mean?

B: Oh, I have a leg cramp.

‘Charley horse’ is an idiom. It means ‘a leg cramp’. It’s a Group 3 idiom – it’s rarely used. When you don’t understand something and think it may be an idiom, it’s always okay to ask: “What do you mean?”


Noticing Idioms

Noticing idioms while listening and reading is an important skill. You know that English has a lot of idioms, so you need to learn to notice them.


Each of the sentences below has an idiom in it. Can you find it ?

The engineers worked around the clock to finish the project.

She was a bit under the weather but still decided to go to work.

He was completely out of shape and 150 pounds overweight when he decided to join the gym.

I’m just going to grab a bite to eat first and then I’ll come over to your place.

My friend loves window-shopping but I hate it.

My co-worker called and said that she was running late and that we should start without her.


For example, in the first sentence the idiom is ‘around the clock’. It means work 24 hours a day, work non-stop day and night.

Is it an idiom from Group 1, Group 2 or Group 3?

You need to ask somebody (your English teacher or your English-speaking friends). Your question will be: “Is this idiom used every day, often or not very often?”

Or, you could start noticing how many times you see/hear this idiom – if you see it many times, it means it’s from Group 1 or Group 2 and you need to learn it.



Group 1 Idioms


Good news: Group 1 is not big! These are the words and expressions native speakers usually use in conversations.

Look through the list below. How many of them do you already know and use?


sounds good (I like your idea, I agree)

A: Do you want to go see a movie tonight?

B: Sounds good.

feel free (you can do it)

Feel free to borrow any of my books.

be in shape (strong body)

She does yoga every day. She is in really good shape.

feel like (want)

What do you feel like eating?

get together (meet with somebody)

We get together with our friends every second Saturday.


keep in touch (keep contact – email, phone, etc.)

Many immigrants keep in touch with their relatives and friends on Facebook.

do the dishes (wash the dishes)

When my wife cooks, I do the dishes.

be under the weather (feel a little bit sick)

She was a bit under the weather yesterday but still decided to go to work.

catch a cold (get sick)

Many people catch a cold in winter.

give a ride (drive somebody in your car)

I needed to go to the airport so I asked my friend to give me a ride.


be/go on a diet (try to lose weight)

My friend went on a diet and lost 30 pounds.

for sure (100% yes)

Don’t worry, I will help you for sure.

garage/yard sale (house owners selling the things they don’t need for a lower price)

I bought some nice plates at a yard sale for just one dollar each.

go window-shopping (when you go to a store to see and try the clothes on but don’t want to buy, just doing it for fun)

My cousin likes window-shopping but I hate it.

have a good time (enjoy)

Hope you have a good time at the party! Enjoy!


I’m afraid not (sorry but no)

A: Will you join us for the party?

B: I’m afraid not. I have too much to do.

junk food (food that has too much sugar, too much salt and too much oil in it but no vitamins)

I know junk food is not good for your health but I still eat it from time to time.

right away (immediately)

The  bought a new house but sold it right away.

keep in mind (remember)

Keep in mind that the hotel will require you to give then your credit card number.

make sure (check, remember)

Make sure that you come 10-15 minutes in advance and bring a copy of your resume with you.


no way (I’m surprised, I cannot believe it)

A: My daughter is pregnant. I’m going to be a grandma!

B: No way!

take a break (get some rest)

We’ve been working hard all morning. It’s time to take a break.

on sale (lower price)

During the Boxing Week you can find some good TVs on sale.

potluck (a party when everybody cooks or buys and brings some food to share with other people)

We decided to have a Thanksgiving potluck at work.

rush hour (7am till 9am; 4pm till 7pm – busy time on the roads)

Traffic in the city is pretty bad during the rush hour.


be running late (be too far, will not come on time)

She called and told us she is running late. We will have to start without her.

make sense (has meaning)

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do.” (quote from Steve Jobs)

second-hand (was used by other people before)

Many Canadians see no problem with buying second-hand things.

shake hands (touch each other’s hands web to web and pump twice)

Canadians shake hands only once – on the day when they meet a person for the first time.

take it easy (relax)

It’s weekend. I’m going to take it easy and just relax.


as soon as (when, quickly)

It gets dark as soon as the sun sets.

be about to (almost do it)

I was about to leave the building when a co-worker asked me for help.

do a favour (help)

Can you do me a favour? Can you bring this box upstairs?

on my way (coming, going by car or public transport)

I was on my way to work when my car broke down.

take turns (when 2 or more people change: one does something, then the other one, etc.)

Me and my husband take turns using the car. He has the car Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I use it on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.