February 17


Learning English: 7 Songs With Phrasal Verbs

By Gordon Gaffney

February 17, 2022

Learning English: 7 Songs With Phrasal Verbs

Seeing phrasal verbs in context in an interesting way will help accelerate your English learning, which is what we all want. So, let’s look at 7 songs with phrasal verbs in English.

I have tried to find some of the most famous and best examples of phrasal verbs especially if they are in the title of the song or in the chorus so that you hear them many times.

“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Learning English: 7 Songs With Phrasal Verbs

This very famous song was played a lot on MTV when it was released in 1995. This was back when there was only 1 MTV channel in Ireland and it played a lot of music! It has a few common phrasal verbs repeated throughout.

"To back down" means to concede a point, to retreat, or to change your position on something especially if you are defiant.

For example if you are defiant and refuse to do something, but then you change your mind/position you can say that "you backed down".

In negotiations you might insist on something, but then you back down and no longer insist on it.

This song contains another related phrasal verb, to stand your ground.

This means to refuse to change your position on something even though there is pressure on you to do so. It is almost the opposite of to back down, again in negotiations you might stand your ground on a point, you refuse to concede that point.

My example:

My daughter pleaded to stay out late on Saturday night, but I STOOD my GROUND and told her she had to be home by 9pm

It is also used in everyday speaking in the USA due to the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law which some states have. This law means that you have the right to use deadly force, that is to kill somebody, if you believe you are at risk of serious harm.

It is also known as “no duty to retreat” law, you do not have to retreat under such a threat.

Another lyric from this music is:

I'll keep this world from draggin' me down

To drag somebody down means to stop their progress. So he won’t let the world or society stop his progress.

In a world that keeps on pushin' me around

To push somebody around means to bully them, to force them to do something they don’t want to do.

Here is an unofficial video with lyrics:

And you can check out the glorious MTV original here:

“I’m Fed Up With You” by Dolly Parton, written by Bill Owens.

This is another very important phrasal verb to remember as it is very common in everyday speaking. It has nothing to do with food, feeding, eating etc, it is the same as:

"Estou de saco cheio" in Portuguese.

To be fed up with means to not have patience with something or that you can’t tolerate something anymore.

And a lyric is:

And I'm fed up with you feedin' me a line

Here Dolly is saying she doesn’t have patience anymore that she can’t tolerate the fact that this guy is feeding her a line.

To feed a line means to tell a lie or some untrue story to someone, my example:

My friend fed me a line that he missed my party because he was sick

So the friend tells an untrue story to explain something.

Here is the official video from Dolly’s official channel:

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a version with lyrics on screen.

“Breaking into Heaven” by The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses were hugely popular when I was in school and there is a phrasal verb in this song title “Breaking into” which means to invade a building or place.

The phrase a "home invasion" is used in American English, in British English we would say a break in.

Somebody breaks into your house and you can imagine that the thief or criminal breaks a window so that they can enter.

I'm gonna break right into heaven
I can't wait anymore

He is comparing himself to a criminal or thief that he is going to invade heaven.

Another phrasal verb in the first line is:

I’ve been casing the joint

To case a joint usually means that a criminal is watching a place, gathering information about it before they commit a crime such as invading or breaking into it.

There isn’t an official video for it but here is a one with lyrics on screen, all 11 minutes of it!

“I Can’t Dance” by Genesis

Learning English: 7 Songs With Phrasal Verbs

This is a brilliant song and video by Genesis from 1991, the British band that started with Peter Gabriel as their lead singer or front man, and then when he left their drummer Phil Collins replaced him as singer.

The opening line is:

Hot sun beating down

Which means that the sun is very strong, the idea is that it feels like the sun is hitting you or beating you it is so strong.

But all she wants to do is rub my face in the dirt

To rub someone’s face in the dirt/ground means to reject or humiliate somebody.

I encourage you to watch the official video which is a satire or parody of the advertisements for Levi’s jeans from the late 80’s and early 90’s:

And here is a version with lyrics on the screen:

“Hand in my Pocket” by Alanis Morissette

Here is another great song from when I was a teenager in the 90’s and there are a lot of good phrasal verbs.

What it all comes down to

To come down to means the essence of the point, the key idea of the conversation.

Later on she sings another phrasal verb which means the same thing:

What it all boils down to

For to boil down to, you can imagine in chemistry class in school or in cooking you boil something until all the water evaporates and then you have the essential part of it.

My example:

With Covid restrictions what it all boils down to is that I can’t travel.

There is another very common phrasal verb in the song

I haven't got it all figured out just yet

To figure out means to find the solution to something, here she is talking about the solution to life in general.

You can watch the official video here:

Here is an unofficial video with lyrics:

“Chicken Out” by Gomez

The British band Gomez remind me of my early years in university. Their debut album from 1998 won the Mercury Music Prize, which is a highly regarded award in the UK. I remember my friends and I bought this album and listened to it a lot.

This is not one of their best or most famous songs, it is from their 2004 album “Split the Difference” but it has lots and lots of phrasal verbs.

The first phrasal verb is in the title, to chicken out which means that you decide to not do something, but in a cowardly way.

There is also the very first line which is:

What are you on?

The meaning of this line is usually that you are shocked that somebody has said or suggested something and you think they might be feeling the effects of some drug because what they said was so surprising to you!

You are having me on

Another common phrasal verb.

To have somebody on means to tell them something that isn’t true and that you hope they believe it, it’s usually in a joking manner. In the USA you are kidding me is the same and is a lot more common.

My examples:

Guess what? I got engaged!
What?! You are having me on?

Or in the USA:
Guess what? I got engaged!
What?! You are kidding me?

And another phrasal verb from the song here:

When's it going to kick in?

Again it is often related to drugs, to kick in means for the effect of something to start. This can be for legal or illegal drugs.

My example:

How long before the painkiller kicks in?

Or it could be something like a new law, its use here like a lot of phrasal verbs is a bit informal, my example:

The new visa requirements for Ireland kick in on January 1st.

And then two more phrasal verbs including the title of the song:

I'm never gonna get through to you.
Who's gonna chicken out first?

To get through to somebody means to get them to understand or accept what you are trying to communicate, my example:

My teenage son wants to leave school at 15, I think it’s a bad idea but I can’t get through to him.

So I can’t make my teenage son understand that I think leaving school at 15 is a bad idea.

And another 2 phrasal verbs in this music:

Gotta stop your carryin' on,
I cannot carry you,

To carry on in this context means to behave badly.

My own example:

The boys were carrying on outside and broke the window.

So the boys were behaving badly and broke a window.

To carry somebody means to do the work that they should be doing.

My example:

My colleague is very lazy so I had to carry him on the project.

And one final one form the music:

You're putting it on.

This is related to you are having me on or you are kidding me. To put it on means to tell a lie or untrue story or to act in some way so that you are not genuine.

So you might put it on and the other person will ask you are you having me on?

My example:

When my horrible boss left his job I told him I was sorry to see him leave but I was only putting it on.

So here you are not sorry to see him leave, you only act like you are sorry.

Here is an unofficial video without lyrics:

Theme from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” written by Quincy Jones, performed by Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff

Learning English: 7 Songs With Phrasal Verbs

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a hugely popular TV show when I was growing up in the 1990’s and it launched the career of Will Smith. I think everybody my age knew the lyrics to the theme song as we had seen the TV show so many times.

There are lots of good phrasal verbs and expressions in this:

A couple of guys were up to no good

To be up to no good means that somebody is probably behaving badly.

Started making trouble in my neighbourhood

To make trouble means to behave badly, to cause trouble or problems to other people.

I pulled up to a house about seven or eight

To pull up means for a vehicle to slow down and then stop.

Here is the full 2-minute version, most people are familiar with the short 1 minute version used at the start of each episode.

And here is an unofficial version, 3 minutes long, with lyrics on screen:

This is only a short list of Phrasal Verbs, unfortunately for students learning English as a second language there are thousands and thousands of them.

Very often an online translator such as Google tradutor will not have correct definitions but keep checking this website for more help with phrasal verbs coming soon. 

You can also discover some of the best songs to learn English by clicking here or about the 10 songs with past continuous here. And to improve your study, discover the best activies to learn English with music.

You might also be interested in our video course on sale on Udemy for €29.99/69.99R$ "Eliminate the Mistakes that Portuguese Speakers Make in English". 4 hours of video exclusively for people that speak Portuguese. You can read more about it and watch free videos here.

Did you already know any of these songs? Do you know another song with phrasal verbs? Leave it in the comments!

Gordon Gaffney

About the author

Gordon is The Irish English Teacher, creator of this blog and many products to help all students learning English as a second language, but with a focus on Portuguese speakers.

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