Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

use word away to convey forward movement in English

Have you ever heard somebody use “away” in a manner that you didn’t quite understand?

Think of an example such as hearing somebody say that they were going to “work away until they got it done.”

You probably know what “away” means, but not necessarily in this context.

In this episode we’re going to take a look at this interesting quirk about English so that you understand how it works.


Listener Question

Hello Lindsay, Michelle and Jessica

I have been listening to the podcast for around three months and it has already become part of my daily routine. When I am driving to work, that is a 40 minute drive I always listen to your podcast. I feel that is already helping me to improve my English and vocabulary.

I have a question about the use of “away” in a different form. In movies it happens sometimes that one person tells another that he has something to ask the other person and the response is “ask away”.

I found it a little odd at first but I did understand what the character meant by that. Is it common on everyday English? Can it be used with other words like “I have to study. Study away.”

Thank you

Caio Andrade from Brazil



Why Does This Word Make Such A Big Difference?

In this example you took the idea of studying which we are all familiar, and you changed it slightly.

You turned it into a continuous effort by adding in “away.”

It may mean that you never stopped studying, like you are going to keep working continuously until you get it done.

Adding the word “away” makes an action a phrasal verb.


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Continuous Momentum Is Indicated

Adding the word “away” helps to convey momentum, which is all about a continuation.

This momentum means that nothing will hold you back and nothing will slow you down.

You want to keep working and ensuring that things go smoothly with the action that you are taking.

When is this used?

  • When we encourage someone to do something
  • When we want to be sarcastic in encouraging someone to do something
  • When we want to express that they are free to do something


It May Not Always Work

There are times when it may not work or convey momentum like we mean for it to.

Though you can add in a word like “away” in some instances, it doesn’t work all the time.

When should we avoid using it?

  • When it has a literal meaning
    • You wouldn’t say “drive away” because it has a literal meaning and doesn’t work in any other way. 
  • When it can indicate something negative rather than motion
    • You wouldn’t say “just run away” because that often means a child leaving home and running off to be on their own.


Common Uses For This Phrase

You see what works and what doesn’t. You may need to decide if it makes sense in that particular sentence.

There are some really common ways to use “away”and create a phrasal verb.

Some common uses include:

  • “Fire away”: This isn’t meant in the literal way. It usually means to ask questions quickly or say something in a repetitive way.  
  • “Ask away”: It means I am here and ready for your question, so go ahead with your question. 
  • Could Be Any Action Verb: When you are encouraging someone to go ahead and do something such as if a teacher were to say “go ahead, paint away” or even “you want to get those essays going, so write away”



Using a familiar word in a different way like this can be challenging at first.

You are ready for it though because you keep practicing and taking on new challenges.

Using a word like “away” in this context is very natural, common with native English speakers, and actually quite advanced too.

If you start to use a word like this to add momentum, then you are taking your English speaking to the next level.

Try to have fun with this now that you understand how it works and what it means.

Remember these words and these phrases are what help us to CONNECT!


Please leave your questions in the comments section below.

We will get back to you soon.

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