KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 22 SHARP DRESSED MAN

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KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs


Sharp-Dressed Man- ZZ Top

In this season of KA Wordcast, we’ve been introducing you to important idioms, phrasal verbs, and other common English expressions.  And we’ve been showing you how to put the phrases to good use in your own writing and conversation.  When I was learning Japanese, one of the things I found most challenging was trying to figure out which verb to use in different situations.  As an example, in Japanese, when you talk about getting into an article of clothing, the verb changes depending on whether it is worn above the waist (“kiru”) or below the waist (“haku”).  But this is not unique to Japanese, of course: in English, we also use a wide variety of verbs to describe getting dressed.  So I thought that for this lesson it might be fun and useful to focus in on some handy, everyday clothing- and dressing-related phrasal verbs.  There are many, many such expressions in English, but for today, we will take a look at only the “Top 18”—those you are most likely to come across on TV and in movies, in print media, on the Internet, and in everyday conversation: the ones you will definitely want to try out for yourself right away.

This lesson is available to download in PDF format.  To test your knowledge of today’s phrases before the lesson begins, try taking the quick “pre-test” that is downloadable from our website.  Then, after the podcast, you can use the answer sheet to see how well you did and how much you have learned.  Remember that reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “build up” your English speaking and writing skills.  And that is exactly what these Wordcasts are all about.

A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both, while an idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from its literal or real meaning.  If you’re joining us today for the first time, you can check out KA Wordcast: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, Lessons 1 through 9 for more detailed explanations.



1.   PUT something ON

To PUT something ON means to cover a part of your body with an article of clothing, shoes, or accessory.  After you PUT something on, you are wearing it.

After a heated argument with her mom about curfews, Dana PUT ON her coat and stormed out of the house.

Don’t forget to PUT ON a sunhat if you’re going to go play outside in this heat.

I think toddlers like to wear rain boots because they can PUT them ON themselves without any help.

You can also PUT creams, lotions, and make up ON your skin.

Make sure you PUT ON some sun cream if you’re going to be out in the sun for longer than twenty minutes.  You don’t want to burn.

I sat on the train this morning and watched two school-aged girls PUTTING ON their makeup from start to finish.

You might find it difficult to PUT ON your favorite dress if you PUT ON some weight, which means to gain weight and become heavier.

I always PUT ON a few pounds over the holidays, but I can usually work it off in a week or two. 

I’ve PUT ON three kilograms in the past month, and now all my jeans are too snug to wear.

And PUT ON can also be used to mean to apply or activate a device or apparatus, as in:

A skunk ran across the road in front of me, and I had to PUT ON the brakes in a hurry.

And just for your information, PUT ON has three other common uses that are not related to clothing.  The first means to produce a show, concert, play, etc., as in:

The local theater club PUTS ON four plays a year, one of which is always an original production written by one of the members.

The second means to pretend or fake, as in:

When I first arrived in Japan, I used to PUT ON a German accent to stop people from wanting to practice their English conversation with me.

And finally, PUT ON means to tease or mislead another person.

David told me he had inherited a large sum of money from a rich uncle, but I think he was just PUTTING me ON.



2.   TAKE something OFF

In contrast to PUT ON, when you TAKE an article of clothing OFF, you remove it.  Some synonyms include strip off, disrobe, and undress.

The Japanese custom of TAKING one’s shoes OFF before entering a house has become the norm in many households in America and Europe.

Please, TAKE your coat OFF and make yourself at home.   I’ll be with you in a moment.

Justin:            Is it just me, or is it really hot and stuffy in this room?

Kira:               The air conditioning’s on, but if you’re still hot, you can TAKE your suit jacket OFF. 





To DRESS UP means to make yourself or someone else appear fancier (or “dressier”) than usual by wearing smart or formal clothes, usually for a special occasion such as a party, wedding, or a night out.

Maya:              What are you all DRESSED UP for, Alex?  You look really nice.

Alex:               Thanks.  My parents are taking me out to a posh restaurant for my birthday tonight.  They specifically said, “No jeans!”

You don’t need to DRESS UP for Ken and Miki’s anniversary party.  It’s a picnic in the park, so shorts and a T-shirt are fine.

Lana has been playing quietly all afternoon in her bedroom DRESSING UP her dolls.   I haven’t heard a peep from her since lunchtime!

To DRESS UP can also mean to dress yourself or someone else in a costume or “fancy dress” for an event such as Halloween, a masquerade ball, or performance.

For the past three years, my daughter has insisted on DRESSING UP as Hermione Granger for Halloween, but this year, she wants to be Elsa from the movie “Frozen.”

Ronnie:          You’re going to Natalie’s N-themed party, right?  Have you decided what to go as?

Sam:               I thought I might DRESS UP as a nurse or a nun, or maybe as a ninja. 

You can also DRESS things UP, that is, decorate them to make them appear fancier than usual.

Claire did an amazing job DRESSING UP the village hall for her daughter’s birthday party.  It really did look like an enchanted forest. 

We’re just having frozen pizza for dinner tonight, but I’ll dress it up with some extra cheese and pepperoni.

Frankly speaking, your commencement speech is kind of dull.  You should try DRESSING it UP a bit with some witty quotes from famous men and women, or even a joke or two.

More figuratively, to DRESS UP can mean to try to make something ordinary or unremarkable sound more impressive than it actually is.

There’s nothing wrong with DRESSING UP your resume a bit here and there, but don’t blatantly lie about skills and experience you don’t really have. 

No matter how you DRESS it UP or what excuses you make, the fact is, Japan didn’t do at all well in the World Cup.




In contrast to DRESS UP, to DRESS DOWN means to wear clothes that are more informal or casual than those you would usually wear for a specific place (such as an office) or situation.

“Feel free to DRESS DOWN tomorrow,” the school principal told her staff. “We’re only going to be tidying up the classrooms and getting them ready for the next school term.”

I look forward to Casual Fridays at work when I can DRESS DOWN and not worry about whether my tie matches my shirt. 

DRESS DOWN, by the way, has another common idiomatic use: it means to scold or reprimand.

I was late again, and I was sure the teacher was going to DRESS me DOWN in front of the whole class, but she just gave me a stern look and went on with the lesson.



5.   DO UP

To DO something UP simply means to fasten something such as your shoelaces, a zipper, buttons, and so on.

“DO UP your shoelaces before you trip on them, Jake,” the basketball coach shouted from across the gym. 

Could you DO UP my dress in the back?  I can’t reach the zipper. 

It’s hot in here, I know, so you can leave your shirt unbuttoned for now, but be sure to DO it UP before you go on stage. 

Like DRESS UP above, to DO UP can also mean to decorate something such as a room or building.

My brother’s whole house had been DONE UP for the Christmas party, with hundreds of twinkling lights and lots of tinsel and hanging ornaments. 

I’m planning to DO UP the spare bedroom and turn it into a studio where my wife can do her oil painting. 

When you DO UP your hair, you tie or arrange it in a stylish way, usually for a special occasion.  When you DO UP your face, you put on make-up.

If you’d like your hair DONE UP for the prom, my sister Hillary is a hairdresser, and I’m sure she’d be happy to do it for you.

I saw Scarlett Johansson shopping at a supermarket in Beverly Hills yesterday, and I hardly recognized her without her hair and her face all DONE UP.




 6.   ZIP UP

The phrase ZIP UP is pretty straightforward.  It means to use a zipper to close an article of clothing, bag, or other item.

Robbie:          Bye, mom!  See you after school!

Mom:              It’s cold out there so make sure you ZIP UP your coat.

I forgot to ZIP UP my jeans this morning.  No wonder everyone was pointing and giggling at me.

Always ZIP UP your bag and hold it close to you when you are walking around Paris.  The city is crawling with pickpockets, and you’ll be targeted if you’re not vigilant.

But to ZIP UP has a more figurative, slightly slangy usage as well.  When you tell someone to ZIP UP, you ask him or her (in a not so nice way) to be quiet by closing or “zipping up” his or her mouth.

“ZIP it UP!” the actor shouted at two audience members who were chattering loudly away in the theater balcony.




Like ZIP UP, BUTTON UP is pretty easy to understand.  It simply means to close some article of clothing using buttons.

When Jordan leaves for school in the morning, his shirt is BUTTONED UP and tucked in, but when he gets home, it’s untucked and unbuttoned, and he looks as though he’s been in a fight.

I’d put on a stocking cap and BUTTON UP your jacket if I were you.  I just came in from outside, and it’s absolutely freezing.

More figuratively, when someone BUTTONS UP, he or she becomes suddenly silent and remains that way, not saying a word.  Clam up and hush up are some close equivalents.

Joe:     Have you had a chance to talk to Milo about his failing his driver’s test?

Zara:   No, not yet.  I tried to speak to him at breakfast this morning, but he just BUTTONED UP.

Anna’s usually very talkative, but she BUTTONED UP the moment she sat down on Santa’s lap.



8.   TIE UP

We use TIE UP to talk about fastening or securing clothing or other items that have laces, strings, ribbons, or sashes.

I’m not sure if it’s the fashion these days, but a lot of kids seem to be walking around without TYING UP their trainers. 

Do you know how to TIE UP a dickey bow?  I’ve watched the instruction video on YouTube, but I can’t get the hang of it.

Of course, you can TIE UP other people or things using a rope, cord, or string, as in:

The neighborhood vigilantes TIED UP the suspected burglar to a telephone pole and called the police.

Becky:            I’m not sure where to hang the bunting for the garden party.  Any suggestions?

Tim:               How about extending the ends with extra string and TYING them UP to those tree branches over there?

Figuratively speaking, if someone is TIED UP, he or she is very busy.

Roland:          Could you look through my essay assignment and check it for spelling and grammatical errors?

Hannah:         I’m a little TIED UP at the moment, but I’ll be happy to look at it tomorrow. 

Client:                May I speak to Howard Johnson, please?  This is Jiro Suzuki from KP Japan.

Reception:     I’m sorry, but Mr. Johnson is TIED UP in a meeting.  I’ll let him know you’ve called.

And you can get TIED UP in traffic, too.  (And traffic itself can be TIED UP.)

Our tour bus got TIED UP in traffic on the overhead highway, and we were a half hour late for the kabuki performance.

Traffic is TIED UP on the I-90 Bridge after a tanker truck burst into flames.




9.   LACE UP

LACE UP means to tighten or fasten shoes, boots, skates, or anything that has laces.

Penelope LACED UP her new ice-skates and began pirouetting on the smooth, iced-over pond.

During the early 19th century, it was not uncommon for women to suffer serious ailments simply from LACING UP their corsets too tight. 



 10.                WRAP UP

To WRAP UP (usually followed by IN) means to cover yourself or someone else in warm clothing (coat, shawl) or in some other material (towel, blanket).

When the boiler broke down in the dead of winter, we had to WRAP ourselves UP in several layers of clothes to stay warm until the repairman could come out to fix it.

Newborn babies need to be WRAPPED UP tightly in a swathing blanket for their first few weeks to ensure that they feel safe, secure, and warm.

The postman arrived with the package I’d been waiting for just as I stepped out of the shower, so I had to answer the door WRAPPED UP in a towel.

We also WRAP UP things by covering them with paper, foil, Saran wrap, and so on.

Don and I stayed up all night on Christmas Eve WRAPPING UP presents to put under the Christmas tree.  Next year, I won’t leave it to the last minute.

Very few fish ‘n’ chip shops WRAP things UP in newspaper as they did in the past.  These days, you get your fish ‘n’ chips in a Styrofoam box. 

More idiomatically, when you are WRAPPED UP IN something, you are very interested in or completely absorbed in it, so much so that you pay little or no attention to your surroundings.

Sheldon is so WRAPPED UP IN his work that he has no time for hobbies or any other outside interests.

My doctor advised me that although there is nothing wrong with being WRAPPED UP IN my children’s education and well being, I should make more time for myself.

Figuratively speaking, to WRAP UP also means to end or finish something, as in:

Let’s WRAP this meeting UP.  It’s late and I want to go home.

Lily WRAPPED UP her concert at Madison Square Garden last night with a medley of her greatest hits that had half the audience dancing in the aisles.



11.                THROW something ON

When you THROW something such as a coat or dressing gown ON, you put that item of clothing on in a hurry without giving much thought to how you look.

I was already in bed when my son called me from the train station needing to be picked up, so I THREW ON my bathrobe and went out to the car in my bedroom slippers.

Pip:                 Wow, Alyssa!  You look stunning!  Is that a new dress?

Alyssa:           This old thing?  No.  I just THREW ON the first thing I saw hanging in my closet.



12.                SLIP ON/SLIP OFF

If you are in a hurry, you may also SLIP something ON, which, like THROW something ON, means to put on an article of clothing or shoes quickly or casually.

Molly SLIPPED ON the jacket to make sure it fit before taking it up to the register.

Mike:              Annie!  Come outside and check out the stars! They’re brilliant!

Annie:            OK.  Just let me just SLIP ON some shoes first.  I don’t want to step on any slugs or bugs with my bare feet.   

When you SLIP an item of clothing OFF, you take it off quickly.

Tommy came running into the house, SLIPPED OFF his muddy boots, and left them lying on the kitchen floor, much to his mother’s dismay.

“Don’t just SLIP OFF your work shirt and throw it on the bed,” Megan shouted at her husband Jordan.  “The laundry hamper is in the bathroom for a reason.”



13.                PULL ON/OFF  * PULL UP/DOWN

Some items of clothing require a little more effort to put on—a pair of tight jeans or knee-high boots, for example.  With such items, you may need to PULL them ON or PULL them UP by tugging at them.

I had to wear trousers to school today because I tore a hole in my only clean pair of school tights as I was PULLING them ON.

When did it become fashion for boys to wear their jeans so low down on their hips?  Sometimes I want to PULL their pants UP for them.

“If you’re wearing shorts, make sure you PULL your socks UP before we go any further,” the guide told his group of hikers.  “There are stinging nettles all along the trail.”

Removing these items could require some effort, too.  You’ll have to PULL them OFF or PULL them DOWN.

Could you give me a hand PULLING OFF these cowboy boots?

Drenched from head to foot after falling into the neighbor’s koi pond, Danny needed help PULLING OFF his wet, soppy clothes. 

Derek was given three days’ detention for PULLING DOWN Todd’s running shorts during gym class this morning.




14.                LEAVE something ON

When you LEAVE an article of clothing ON, you continue to wear it, even when the situation or need for it has changed.

Hasn’t anyone told you that it’s rude to LEAVE your hat ON when you’re at the dinner table?

If I don’t LEAVE my socks ON when I go to bed, I get really cold during the night and have trouble sleeping.         

Whenever my mother-in-law comes for a visit, she LEAVES her coat ON and refuses to take a seat.  After ten years, I should be used to this behavior and not let it bother me, but it does. 



15. TRY ON

When you go shopping for clothes, you’ll probably want to TRY the items ON to make sure that they fit right or flatter or look nice on you.

I must have TRIED ON at least a dozen different prom dresses, but I still haven’t found one I really like.

Customer:     Do you have this shirt in a size 8?  I think the 6 will be a little too small for me.

Clerk:             This particular brand runs rather big, so why don’t you TRY ON the 6 in the dressing room?

Since you’ll be wearing these football boots with thick socks, you should probably be wearing socks when you are TRYING them ON.

Mom:              What a lovely coat!  Why don’t you TRY it ON?

Ginny:             It’s not really my style, Mom.  Besides, I don’t like the color.

And just so you know, it’s easy to confuse TRY ON with TRY OUT, which means to test some machine or device to see if it works properly, as in:

Take the TV home for a few days and TRY it OUT.  If you don’t like it, you can bring it back and get a full refund.



16.    HANG UP

After you’ve come in from outside and TAKE OFF your coat, you should HANG it UP, which means to put it on a hook, peg, or hanger.  (Your mother will thank you for this, by the way.)

Don’t just leave your coat lying on the floor, Paul.  HANG it UP where it belongs. 

I’ve ironed these shirts for you, so take them to your room and HANG them UP in your closet before they get wrinkled.

Nessa has scores of beautiful outfits HANGING UP in her walk-in wardrobe, but most days, she just wears the same old pair of jeans and sweater. 

The past tense of this sense of HANG is HUNG, by the way.  Don’t confuse it with HANGED, which is the past tense of the verb HANG that means to put someone to death (execute) by hanging.

When I got to school this morning, I HUNG my hat UP on the peg in the cloakroom, but now it’s missing.  Someone must have stolen it.

The convicted child-murderer and rapist was HANGED in a Tokyo prison yesterday.



17.    HANG OUT

To HANG OUT means to hang your wet, freshly washed clothes outdoors so that they dry in the fresh air and sunshine.

Thomas:        Where should I put my wet towel and swimming trunks?

Mom:              Just HANG them OUT on the wash line.  They’ll be dry in no time.

Isaac:              Where have you been?  I’ve been calling for you for the last twenty minutes.

Irene:             I was HANGING OUT the laundry.  What’s so urgent?

Clothes left HANGING OUT overnight during the humid season will end up smelling moldy, so be sure to bring your washing indoors in the evenings, even if they are not completely dry. 

And just for your information, the phrase to HANG OUT (usually followed by with) can also mean to keep company, as in:

Patty’s been HANGING OUT with a bad crowd and getting herself in a lot of trouble.



18.      FOLD UP

Finally, once your clothes are dry, you’ll want to FOLD them UP so that they fit neatly in your dresser drawer and don’t get any creases or wrinkles in them.

Remember that your six-year-old is not only capable of but also enjoys doing simple chores around the house such as unloading the dishwasher and FOLDING UP clean clothes. 

Tristan:         What can I do to help?

Mom:              Well, you can start by FOLDING UP your clothes and sorting out your clothes closet. 

When I was about nine years old, my grandmother showed me how to FOLD UP bath towels so that they stack neatly in the linen closet, and I’ve been doing them the same way ever since.


Now that you have a good understanding of all the key phrases we have examined today, you can go back and check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise.  How did you do?

KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 21 PRETEST

We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs and idioms for you to study and get to know.

KA Wordcast Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 22 PRETEST ANSWERS