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Phrasal verbs with 'pick'

Alice in a cafe with two coffee cups


Phrasal verbs, or multi-word verbs, are verbs that are combined with one or two particles (a preposition or an adverb), for example, 'off' or 'on', to make verbs with new meanings. These new meanings are usually non-literal. For example, to pick means to choose (She picked the most expensive meal on the menu) but to pick at means to slowly eat only a small part of a meal (She picked at her food for about 20 minutes before asking the waiter to take it away).

The meaning of phrasal verbs changes according to the particle that follows the main verb. Sometimes a verb-particle combination can have more than one meaning, according to the context in which it is used. Below are some examples of phrasal verbs which begin with 'pick'.


There are four different types of phrasal verb:

Type 1
Type 1 phrasal verbs take an object (they are transitive):
I turned off the light.
He picked up a few words of Japanese.

You can separate the two parts of the phrasal verb with the object:
I turned the light off.
He picked a few words of Japanese up.

If you use an object pronoun (me, you, him, her, it, us, them) you must separate the two parts of the phrasal verb:
I turned it off.
He picked it up easily.

Type 2
Type 2 phrasal verbs take an object (they are transitive) but you cannot separate the two parts of the verb:
I'm working on a new project.
I'm working on it.

Keep off the grass!
Keep off it!

Type 3
Type 3 phrasal verbs do not take a direct object (they are intransitive) and you never separate the two parts of the verb:
Mark didn't stop. He carried on.
Their money ran out after 3 months.

Type 4
Type 4 phrasal verbs are made of three words. They always have a direct object and you never separate these words with the object or the object pronoun:
I picked up on her discomfort very quickly.
She is looking forward to the weekend.

Some phrasal verbs can be both Type 3 and Type 4. You can add a new particle so that the verb can then take an object:
To let go/ let go of something
She loved him, but she knew she had to let go.
She loved him, but she knew she had to let go of him.

To check out/to check out of somewhere
She checked out at 10 o'clock.
She checked out of the hotel at 10 o'clock.

Pick at:

1. To slowly eat only a small part of a meal (type 2): She picked at her food for about 20 minutes before asking the waiter to take it away.

2. To persistently and/or unnecessarily find fault with something (type 2): I hate my new boss: He constantly picks at my work and often tells me to do it again, even though there's nothing wrong with it.

Pick off:

1. To remove by pulling or plucking off (type 1): My jacket was covered in hundreds of small spots of white paint. I had to wait until it dried and then pick them all off individually - it took ages.

2. To single out and shoot (type 1): The gunman was very well hidden and he was able to pick off the enemy soldiers one by one.

Pick on:

1. To repeatedly tease, bully or behave badly towards somebody (type 2): All the children picked on Tommy because he wore glasses.

2. To single out one person from a group (type 2): I think the teacher knew I hadn't prepared for the class. That's why she picked on me to answer her questions. I'll make sure I'm prepared next time.

Pick up:

1. To lift up or take up (type 1): She put her coat on, picked up her bag, and left.

2. To learn through experience rather than effort (type 1): When I got back from Tokyo I realised that I had picked up quite a few Japanese words.

3. To make progress or to improve (type 3): Business was very slow for the first few months, but it picked up in the new year.

4. To catch an infectious disease (type 1): I picked up a chest infection towards the end of the week.

5. To arrest or take someone into custody (type 1): The bank was robbed at 6pm. The police had picked up 3 suspects by 9.

6. To collect somebody by car (type 1): Pick me up at 6 - I'll be waiting outside the train station.

7. To buy something (type 1): Could you pick up some milk on your way home please?

8. To pay a bill, especially for other people (type 1): We went to a lovely restaurant, but I'm not sure how much it cost: John picked up the bill.

9. To continue something that was stopped for a while (type 1): We're out of time, so we'll end the meeting now, but we can pick it up again next week.

10. To receive a transmission on tv, radio etc. (type 1): We can't pick up channel 5 in this area.

Pick up on:

To become aware of something without being told about it (type 4): She picked up on the bad feeling between Tom and Jill.

Pick out:

To choose, select or identify something for a specific purpose or reason (type 1): The teacher seemed to have picked her out as his favourite student, which made her feel quite uncomfortable at times.

Pick over:

To examine or inspect a group of items in order to find the best or most suitable one(s) (type 2): The shoppers were busily picking over the dresses on the 'reduced' rail.


everything's out in the open
everything that was hidden has now been revealed / shown / talked about

right from the word go
right from the start

oh gosh
a mild expression of shock or surprise, similar in meaning to 'oh my goodness!'

I've got to fly
I must leave now/ quickly

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