Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
drop something in English

Have you heard people talk about not being able to “shake” something?

Is this a phrase that seems hard to understand in English?

This is the type of phrase that is used often in English conversations, because we all have things that we want to get rid of.

We’re going to talk about this phrase and similar ones, how you can use them, and why this is such a common topic of conversation.

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We have a question about this phrase that may also be confusing to you.

Hey Lindsay,

I love your show! There is a phrase that I hear people say which is a bit confusing to me. What does it mean when somebody says “I can’t shake it?” I have heard people say things like “I have a hangover that I can’t shake.” I’m not sure what it’s referring to or what it means.

If you could help me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you very much,

Ellis Wu

Understanding Some Background

This can actually be a fun phrase to use, and you are likely to hear it often.

There are plenty of times when you will feel like you can’t “shake it.”

We talked about hangovers before because that’s definitely one instance.

We talked about stress and hangovers in this episode Don’t Dwell On It–How To Respond Appropriately When Someone Is Stressed In English

What does it mean when you can’t shake something?

It means you can’t lose, or avoid, or stop something.

You likely want to stop it, but you can’t or you have no control over it.

So for instance, with a hangover, if you can’t shake it then you’re suffering with it.

This ultimately means you can’t get back to feeling normal again.  You can’t lose your hangover!

The issue that you are struggling with is something you want to get rid of, and you can’t as hard as you might try.

Using This Phrase

This is certainly a situation that we can all relate to because we’ve had that struggle.

This phrase can cover a lot of different situations, and so you want to know the best ways to use it.

How else can you use this phrase?

  • It can be used about a feeling or a suspicion: You may have a gut feeling about something and you just can’t get rid of it. No matter how hard you try you can’t get rid of that negative feeling or suspicion because it’s in your head. You might say something like “I know I’m being overly concerned but I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something really wrong with the numbers on this presentation.”
  • To talk about getting rid of something bothering you: This refers to something negative in your life. It could be something like a pain or something bad happening in your life that you want to stop. You might say something like “I can’t shake this headache.” If it’s something more substantial or long term, then you might say something like “I can’t shake my bad attitude towards my sister after what she did.”
  • To refer to something negative: There may be some negative situation in your life that you are trying to point to. You may be referring to it to somebody else or showing it to somebody in your own life. It may even be a person, though that is definitely not a flattering thing to say. You might say something like “It’s just so frustrating, it’s like a ______________ that I just can’t shake!”

There are times where you feel like you just can’t get rid of the negative thing in your life, and this phrase covers that well.

Using This Phrase In Conversation

Since you may find yourself in this type of situation often, you want to know how to talk about it.

The phrase “can’t shake it” is great for connection, to be able to say you can’t let go or stop something.

It’s being honest about your feelings and what’s going on, and it’s also very easy to relate to.

It’s also fun sounding–when you say “can’t shake” it gives a visual image of you literally trying to shake something negative off of you.

You can use this phrase in either negative or positive experiences, and you can even have fun with it and use it as humor.

We all have situations that we “can’t shake” and it’s a great thing to talk about in your conversations in English.

Other Ways To Say This

This is one of those phrases that adds fun and context to your conversations.

There will be plenty of occasions to use it in English, and there are also other similar phrases you can use too.

How else can you say this?

These are other similar phrases that you could use to convey the same thing in English.

  • Can’t drop something: This is more like you are dwelling on something and won’t stop talking about it. This is definitely more of a negative connotation and it’s not likely to be received well in conversation. You could say something like “I can’t drop planning this trip because if we procrastinate any longer we won’t have any reservations!”
  • Drop it: This is a negative one and will not come across well. When you say this to somebody they may very well be on the defense. They are going to assume that you are saying something negative to them. You might hear “I’ve heard enough about this now, can we please just drop it?”
  • Get rid of: This could be something physical, like getting rid of old clothes. It could also be something really negative in your life that you want to remove. You could say “I want to get rid of any negativity in my life”
  • Get away from: This could also be physical like about creating space from something. It could also be about getting away from some negative force in your life too that is harmful or holding you back. You might hear “I am having a hard time getting away from the feeling that I should be doing something more with my life.”

These are all good phrases that are quite similar, and though they are different they have the same basic idea.


These phrases are so common that you want to see how they are used so you can practice yourself.

In this roleplay, Lindsay and Michelle are choosing an apartment.

Lindsay says: “So do you like this one?”

Michelle says: “Kind of. I just can’t shake the idea that I’ll have to walk up 5 flights of stairs every day.”

Lindsay: “I know. I’d like to get rid of all those stairs for sure. “

Michelle: “But we really need to get away from our old neighborhood. I was getting bored there and I love it here.”

Lindsay: “I completely agree.”

Michelle: “Should we just drop it for now and look again later?”

Lindsay: “Well I would, but I can’t drop how I feel about our old place and I don’t want to just settle anymore. Let’s keep looking at a few more?”

Michelle: “Done.”


Some of these phrases are more about feelings and some are more literal, but they are all about losing something.

These can all be used in similar ways about stopping something or getting rid of something negative in your life.

This is important for connection and for your life because we are always changing and sometimes dwelling on things.

What can’t you shake right now?

Think about it and then practice talking about it in your conversations for a fun addition.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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