Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you get confused about phrasal verbs and phrases that have many meanings like “work out”?

Today we got a great question from a listener who is confused about how to use this phrase naturally.

Let’s start with an easy role play:

A: So Michelle did you work out while you were in Italy?

B: Oh well I tried to do pushups in my hotel room a few times. Not sure if that counts

A: How did that work out?

B: Oh not too well- especially since right after that most mornings I went out for gelato

As you can see, this one funny little phrasal verb can cause a lot of problems.

To say “work out” can mean a couple of different things.

So how can you be sure that you know how to use it properly?

It’s a matter of understanding what the phrase means and then using it in the right context.

If you remember, we recently touched on this during an episode with Jessica where we showed you 6 ways to be funny in English.

This applies here as well since the same word can have multiple meanings.

Today though, we’re going to go into more depth because this word “work out” is really very common in both meanings.

You can use it in the same conversation and have two different meanings for it.

We have a question from a listener.

Dear Lindsay,

Thank you AEE for the amazing podcasts.  I am from Taiwan.  I always listen to your podcast when I am sewing my wedding dress. (Yes, I also designed it myself.)  It’s good to feel like connecting to the world while sitting in my little room.

I studied at UW four years ago; gladly, I made some native friends right there.  We still talk on line sometimes.  It’s so nice that sharing my life with someone overseas. Today I have a question about a word that I am not sure if you’ve taught ever, “workout”.  The word I only use in one way. “Do you workout?” Can you teach us how to use this vocabulary correctly?  I do not know what is past tense and present continues.  Should I say“I’m working out.” or “I’m work outing.”

I feel so confused with another word, “work out”, which I usually hear as “ it’s not gonna work out.” Would you please share how to use these two vocals properly? I hope you haven’t recorded about it yet . Thanks again and have a nice day.  Hope to join your awesome trip the other year. Sorry I have to save my day off for honeymoon this year.

Best regards, Hsuan ( In case you don’t know how to pronounce, just call me Aki.)

Great question!

We chose to feature this question because it’s super common.

You need to understand this situation and know how to use phrasal verbs.

I think that some students freak out when they hear “phrasal verb.”

Don’t freak out!

You just have to know how and when to use it in context.

Forget about the term “phrasal verbs” and let’s focus on when and where we use them.

You will see once you start using these words that they are easy enough.

The different uses and contexts all make sense, but it’s just a matter of knowing how to use them properly.

Do you remember that pun we used a few weeks ago?

This will help a lot!

Q: “Why don’t some couples go to the gym?”

A: Because some relationships just don’t work out.

So to figure out this phrasal verb and the two meanings it has let’s look at this pun.

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Meaning 1:

to work out= to succeed

Meaning 2:

to work out= to get physical exercise

Let’s look at meaning 1 a bit closer.

When we say , “did it work out?”

Other ways to say this:

  • Did it happen?
  • Did it end up okay?
  • Did you succeed?
  • Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish?


  • A: Hey do you want to go on a date again next week? I have a great place we can go.
  • B: Um I’m not sure this is going to work out.

In this context it is providing an answer about something that may or may not happen.

So here we don’t put anything between the words “work” and “out.”

Now let’s look more closely at Meaning 2 which is to get physical exercise.

Here is one example: ” Lately I have been lifting weights to work out.”

This is also used as a noun.

What did you do for your workout today?

In that case it’s one word.

Michelle how did you work out when you were in Italy?

When I lived in NYC I couldn’t afford a gym but I didn’t need it.

It was enough of a workout to just get around the city by taking the subway stairs, walking blocks and avenues, etc.


Common american phrases:


Don’t freak out when you hear that something is a phrasal verb.

When we put words in  categories then label them as difficult then it shuts down our brain.

In the Urban Immersion Adventure we learned that to connect we have to dive in.

Don’t give your mind time to categorize the phrase you’re using and decide it’s going to be hard.

What questions do you have today?

Let us know in the comments below.

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