Accessibility links

Breaking News

30 Phrasal Verbs to Help You With Technology

Everyday Grammar: Phrasal Verbs (Technology)
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:00 0:00

Everyday Grammar: Phrasal Verbs (Technology)

please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:07:29 0:00

Welcome back to Everyday Grammar from VOA Learning English.

This is our third episode on phrasal verbs. As you know, a phrasal verb is a phrase with two or more words: a verb and a preposition or adverb, or both.

Today we look at very current phrasal verbs: ones used with technology. The digital age has created many new words and phrases in English.

The world of technology is fast-changing, and it has broken many traditions. It is natural that the language of computers would also change and be informal.

Not only is the language of technology full of phrasal verbs, it is also full of new nouns. Many of those nouns grew out of phrasal verbs, as you will learn in this episode.

Getting started

Let’s go back to 1969, when the first verb sent over the Internet was a phrasal verb: log in. To log in is to enter a code, key or password to gain access to the computer’s abilities. We have been logging in ever since then. Sometimes we say we have to sign in to a web page.

Like now, we started a computer by hooking up wire cables and then powering it up or turning it on. Some computers took a long time to boot up, or get ready to run programs.

Now, we do not have to wait as long. To install new applications on the computer, users run a set up program. Then we click on the icon, or image, for a program to run it.

After opening a program, you choose commands from a menu. These menus are stored in a pull down or drop down bar near the top of the screen.

A click of the mouse – the hand-held device that guides the cursor around the computer screen – shows more commands on the bar. That bar is often called the navigation bar or nav bar.

This leads us to our first noun from a phrasal verb, pulldown. When we give instructions to a friend about using a web page, we can say, “Look in the nav bar for the pulldown and choose a command.”

Another verb that describes up-and-down movement on the screen is scroll up or scroll down. A wheel on the mouse allows you to scroll up or scroll down to read a web page. We can click on an arrow to move to the next screen, too.

Storage and other problems

Installing upgrades can sometimes damage files. So, users should always back up their files. That is, copy files and folders to another location, like an external disk drive. A user who stores many large files will soon run out of room on the computer, so keeping files on an extra hard drive is a good idea.

This phrasal verb became a noun, too. Experts tell us, “Put your backups in a safe place.”

My parents used to print out their emails because they wanted to keep a permanent copy, and here is another new noun: a printout.

The phrasal verb print out is a separable phrasal verb, like the ones we talked about in a previous episode. That means you can put a pronoun between the verb and preposition, as in “Let me print it out for you.”

Even when we use passwords, criminals have learned to enter a computer or a network without permission. They are hacking into the network. Hacking can make computer systems go down, or stop working.

A disaster could happen if the hacker wiped out, or erased, all the information on a computer system. That is why you back up your system.

Annoying advertising

Internet advertisements, or ads, pop up on the screen over a web page. This created a new noun from the phrasal verb, popup. People said they needed a tool to block those annoying ads, so the “popup blocker” was born. This feature is part of the browser software.

Speaking of browsers, another phrasal verb that became a noun is plug in. You know that you can plug a wire into the wall. Now, we add small programs to perform specific tasks in the computer, and call them plugins.

Companies often will ask for your email address. They create a large list of users from their email addresses. When we sign up to use a website, we key in our name and email address.

The organization running an online service usually asks us to opt in, or choose to receive email messages. Usually those messages are asking us to buy products. There are so many of these emails now that many people try to filter out all messages from advertisers – otherwise known as spam.

Getting off the grid

If you think that the Internet is full of too many advertisements, and your email is nothing but spam, just click on the menu to shut down and turn off your devices for the day. Get off what we called “the information superhighway” and take a walk outside. Wait! There is one final phrasal verb to describe that: go offline.

For Learning English Everyday Grammar, I’m Jill Robbins.

And I’m John Russell.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English.

Now it’s your turn. Does your language borrow English phrasal verbs for computer terms? Do you know any new expressions to talk about our digital life? Write to us about them in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Here is a list of the phrasal verbs in this story:

Phrasal Verbs for Technology and Computers

Phrasal Verb



log in
sign in

v. connect to a computer using a username and password
n. page or act of registering permission to use a program

To begin, log in to your desktop system.

hook up

to connect wires from machines to a power source or other machines

Would you please help me hook up the Internet cable?

power up
turn on

provide power to a machine

Press the red button to power up your tablet.

boot up
start up

begin running a computer system

Wait a second, my computer is booting up.

set up

v. to install a new computer program or assemble a computer system

n. the process of adding information using a computer program

This application took a long time to set up.

pull down

v. choose from a menu of options in a computer application extending down from the action bar like a window blind
n. a menu of options

Look for the file menu and pull down to “Save As…”

click on

move a mouse over an item and press to select

Click on the start menu to begin.

scroll up

scroll down

to move slowly to the top or bottom of a text

The news story was so long I had to scroll down a lot to read it all.

run out of

exhaust a supply of something

You will run out of disk space if you save copies of all your emails.

back up


v. make an extra copy of a file

n. an extra copy of a file

Be sure you back up your files before you change systems.

print out


v. send an electronic document to a printer

n. a printed document

I have to print out the directions before I leave home.

hack into

enter a computer or network illegally

Someone hacked into my bank and stole millions of dollars.

go down

stop operating properly

I cannot send any emails because the server went down.

wipe out

completely erase or delete files

Before you donate your computer, be sure you wipe out the hard drive.

pop up


v. to appear suddenly
n. an advertisement that appears suddenly on a computer screen

If you do not want to see the ads, turn on your pop up blocker.

plug in


v. insert a cord into an outlet or port

n. an addition to a software program that performs a certain task

Plug in your laptop over there.

sign up

register with a service

She signed up for an online dating service.

key in

type or enter characters using a keyboard

It takes too much time to key in that long password.

opt in / out

choose to receive advertising or messages

The company asked me to opt in to get special offers by email.

filter out

remove unwanted email messages

Can we filter out all the spam on this account?

turn off

shut down

power down

end a session on the computer by closing an application or removing power

I’m tired, so I’m going to shut down the computer for today.

go online/offline

to use the Internet / not use the Internet

I will send you that information as soon as I can go online.



Words in This Story

prepositiongrammar. a word or group of words that is used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object

adverbgrammar. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

informaladj. (of language) relaxed in tone; not suited for serious or official speech and writing

cablen. a group of wires, glass fibers, etc., covered in plastic or rubber and used to carry electricity or electrical signal

upgrade n. an occurrence in which one thing is replaced by something better, newer, more valuable, etc.

browsern. a computer program that is used to find and look at information on the Internet

specificadj. having a particular function or effect

optv. to choose to do or be involved in something

filterv. to remove (something unwanted) by using a filter

spamn. e-mail that is not wanted or e-mail that is sent to large numbers of people and that consists mostly of advertising