verbs with adverbial particles

Amin, studying English in New Zealand, writes:

Many times I have heard sentences like these:

  • I'll just pop into the supermarket.
  • You can pop over to this office any time tomorrow.

I understand the meaning, but I am not sure how to use them.

What are the differences between pop into and pop over? And how about pop out? Can we say pop out somewhere?

I would be most grateful if you could tell me which sentences in those settings (along with prepositions) are most common.

Roger Woodham replies:

These verbs with adverbial particles or prepositions are extremely common in informal idiomatic English and are often preferred to a single verb equivalent.

Compare the following:

  • I decided to lay on transport for everybody as the train drivers were on strike.
  • I decided to provide transport for everybody as the train drivers were on strike.

Informally, we would be more likely to say and write the first of these two possibilities, whereas in more formal English we might write the second of these two:

  • Alternative transport was laid on for all employees throughout the train drivers?strike.
  • Alternative transport was provided for all employees throughout the train drivers?strike.

The problem with phrasal verbs (verb plus preposition or verb plus adverbial particle) is that the meaning of the two-word (or sometimes three-word) verb is very different from the meaning of the two parts taken separately.

Lay on is not the same as lay + on:

  • I lay on the bed thinking about what to do next. (lay on = was in a horizontal position on)
  • Caroline laid on a wonderful spread of food for everyone. (laid on = provided)


Let's have a look at how pop is used with either particles or prepositions:

pop into pop in pop out pop off
pop over pop round pop down pop up

In all of these examples with pop, Amin, all the prepositions function as adverbial particles, not as prepositions with objects except for:

  • He popped into the shop.

They are all similar in meaning with the adverbial particle indicating direction, except for pop off which has a more distinctive meaning and is not quite so common.

Compare the following:

  • My new neighbours across the road had just moved in so I popped over to see them.
  • I was passing by, noticed the light was on, so thought I would just pop in for a chat.
  • I'm going to pop out to the shops for ten minutes. Don't answer the door if anyone calls.
  • My friend, Dora, lives in the flat above me. So she often pops down if she needs anything, or I might pop up to see her if I'm feeling lonely.
  • I hadn't seen him for years. Then he just popped up one day at the club we used to belong to.
  • I may be 85 and I may have to use a stick to get around, but I've no intention of popping off yet.

In the first five examples above, we might define pop + particle as appearing or disappearing (popping out) briefly and casually. In the sixth example it means appearing unexpectedly. And in the final example it is a euphemism for dying.

Of course, we can also use pop in its original literal sense, meaning to burst open with a short sharpish sound.

  • He had shaken the champagne bottle and the cork popped out before he was ready to pour.

When you are learning phrasal verbs, it is safest to assume that for each one each particle introduces a different meaning and sometimes more than one meaning!

Let's compare the following pairs. Are they similar or different in meaning?

drop off
pop off
drop in/by
pop in
drop out
pop out
drop over
pop over
  • Could you give me a lift in your car and drop me off at the station? (= let me get out)
  • The lecture was so boring that I dropped off half way through. (= fell into a light sleep)
  • Drop by any time you're passing. You don't need to phone first. (= pay a casual visit)
  • He dropped out after a term - he just wasn't prepared to study. (= left college early)
  • I opened the car door carelessly and my purse dropped out. (= fell out)
  • I dropped over to see her because I knew she wasn't feeling well. (paid a casual call).

Learning phrasal verbs is probably a lifetime's work and if you want to do it well, it's probably worth getting hold of (= obtaining) or lashing out on (= spending a substantial sum of money on) a dictionary of current idiomatic English which pays attention to verbs with prepositions and particles. I emphasise the word current?as idioms come into and go out of fashion.

The reward is that if you can use them appropriately in context, they are distinguishing marks of a native-like command of English.


If you want to practise using some of these words look at our board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.