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Phrasal Verbs: Come Back, Come Up

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Phrasal Verbs: Come Back, Come Up
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Braveheart was released over 20 years ago, yet is still popular among American movie-lovers today.

The 1995 film tells the story of William Wallace, a Scottish knight who led a rebellion against English rule.

Actor Mel Gibson directed the film and also played Wallace. In the movie, he said the following lines:

“Would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance … to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!”

Today we will explore Gibson’s statement. Specifically, we will study how he used a very common phrasal verb.

But first, let us begin with a few definitions.

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are made up of two or more words - verbs and particles. The particle is often a short word like back or up.

When used together, the verbs and particles have an idiomatic meaning. In other words, the phrasal verb means something other than what the individual words suggest.

As we have noted in other programs, the English language has thousands of phrasal verbs.

The good news is that some phrasal verbs are more common than others are.

Norbert Schmitt and Mélodie Garnier are language experts. They developed a list which ranks the most common phrasal verbs. They called it the PhaVE list.

We talked about some of the most common phrasal verbs in another Everyday Grammar program.

Today, we will explore two common phrasal verbs. They both have the verb “come.” They are come back and come up.

#1 Come back

Schmitt and Garnier put come back at #3 on their list.

When English speakers use come back, they almost always mean to return to a place or a conversation topic.

Think back to the lines from Braveheart:

“…for one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!”

Mel Gibson said come back with the meaning of returning to a place. The word here suggests that he is talking about a place.

How might an English speaker use come back to mean to return to a conversation topic?

Here is an example. Imagine you are watching some kind of a debate on television, or TV. It could involve politicians, political commentators, or even news broadcasters.

1: I understand you.

2: I’m not sure that you do, I keep coming back to this point…

In the exchange, you heard the speaker say, “coming back to this point.” The words “to this point” suggest that the speaker is talking about returning to something said earlier.

#2 Come up (Come up with and come up)

Now, let us turn to a different phrasal verb: come up. Schmitt and Garnier put it at #4 on their list.

English speakers use come up in different ways.

One common way is to add the word with. So, English speakers often use the expression come up with.

Come up with often means to bring forth or produce.

Imagine you are at a high-tech company in the United States. An employee describes a very good idea or answer to a problem. You might ask, “How did you come up with that idea?”

In this case, you are asking how the employee thought of the idea. You are asking for the steps that led the employee to form their idea.

Think of come up with as an intelligent phrasal verb. Intelligent people come up with solutions to problems.

English speakers use come up without the word 'with' to mean something different: “happen soon.” When speakers use come up, they often use it in the present progressive tense.

For example, TV or radio broadcasters often say, “a new program is coming up,” or “a shocking interview is coming up after the break.”

In both cases, the speaker is using coming up to suggest that something will be happening soon. The verb tense can also give you an idea about what they are suggesting.

Closing thoughts

Now, let’s come back to our main subject: phrasal verbs.

Learning phrasal verbs is not easy. But you can make the learning process easier by studying and using small numbers of them at a time.

Over time, you will slowly build up a set of many phrasal verbs that you can understand and use.

How should you practice with them? You could start by coming up with examples of your own.

And that’s Everyday Grammar.

I’m John Russell.

And I’m Jill Robbins.

John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

knight – n. a soldier in the past who had a high social rank and who fought while riding a horse and usually wearing armor

rank – v. to rate or place (someone or something) in a position among a group of people or things that are being judged

conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people; the act of talking in an unofficial way

topic – n. a subject or issue being discussed

progressive tense – v. a verb tense that is used to mean an action or a state that is continuing to happen

interview – n. a meeting involving two or more people during which information is collected

practice – v. to train by repeated exercises

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