KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 37 STAND BY ME

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KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

Lesson 37: Stand By Me

Stand By Me – Ben E. King  


In each lesson of KA Wordcast: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, we introduce listeners to a number of important idioms, phrasal verbs, and other common English expressions and explain how to put them to effective use in speaking and writing.  As our opening song suggests, today we will be looking at twelve of the most commonly used STAND-based phrasal verbs as well as a handful of useful, STAND-related idiomatic expressions.  You are likely to come across all of today’s phrases in everyday conversations, in books and magazines, in film and on TV, and on the Internet.

This lesson is available to download in PDF format.  To test your knowledge of today’s phrases before the lesson begins, take the quick “pre-test” that is downloadable from our website.  Then, after the podcast, use the answer sheet to see how well you did.  Always keep in mind that the best way to boost your English speaking and writing skills is to review and practice what you’ve learned, over and over again … which is what these Wordcasts are all about.

Phrasal verbs and idioms are not quite the same thing.  To put it in a nutshell, a phrasal verb is an idiomatic expression made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both.   An idiom, on the other hand, is a combination of words whose figurative meaning is separate from its literal or real meaning.  Just what an idiom means is often impossible to figure out just by looking at it.



1.    STAND BY

In “Stand By Me,” the singer says that as long as his girlfriend “STANDS BY” him, he has no reason to fear or worry anything at all.   Thus, to STAND BY someone means to remain loyal and supportive, especially in a time of need.   To be there for someone is a close and, these days, an often heard synonym.

Your true friends are those who STAND BY you even at the worst of times.

“Thank you, Mom and Dad, for always STANDING BY and encouraging me to do my best,” Dominique said as she held her high-school diploma.

Charlene STOOD BY her brother and looked after him while he recovered from his car accident.

STAND BY also has a variety of other uses.  For one, it means to be ready or on call to do something.

A team of paramedics will be STANDING BY in case anyone sustains injuries or illness during the 24-hour walk-a-thon event. 

“If you would like to make a pledge to the ‘Save the Children’ charity drive, call 1-800-KIDS- LOVE now.  Operators are STANDING BY.”

“This is your pilot speaking.  The air-control tower has instructed us to STAND BY and prepare for takeoff.”

To STAND BY also means to wait for something, such as a TV broadcast or Internet news site, to start up again after a shutdown or delay.

Our network is experiencing some technical difficulties.  Please STAND BY.

Due to an earlier accident, this train will be STANDING BY until further notice.

More negatively, STAND BY can also mean to be present when something bad is happening, but to not get involved in or to fail to take action to stop that thing from happening.  (See STAND ASIDE below for a similar British usage.)

How could you just STAND BY and watch while your best friend was being bullied by those high-school kids?

“I can’t STAND BY and watch you take the blame for this,” Frank told his classmate. “I’m going to confess to Mr. Hanson that I was the one who broke his car windshield.” 

Finally, to STAND BY means to adhere to or abide by a decision or promise.  Stick to is a close, but slightly more informal, equivalent.

I said I would make sure you got in to the junior high of your choice, and I’m STANDING BY that promise.

Despite criticism from the local community, the school board is STANDING BY their decision to not allow the children of migrant farm workers to enroll in the school.

I’m STANDING BY my decision to drop out of medical school to try my luck in Hollywood, and no one can stop me.

STANDBY is also a noun with a couple of uses.  Most commonly, it means a state of being ready to do something or act if necessary.  A person can be a STANDBY, too, as in the third example below, and STANDBY can also be an adjective, as in the last example.

“I’m not sure if I can get on this flight or not,” Erin texted her husband from the airport. “I’m on STANDBY.”

All hospital emergency rooms in the area were put on STANDBY when a report that a horrific fifteen-car pile-up had occurred on the freeway. 

Ichiro’s just a STANDBY this year, and will only play when one of the other outfielders needs a day or off or gets injured.

We have a STANDBY power generator in case the power goes out.




Something or someone that STANDS BETWEEN one thing and another prevents that thing (a goal, plan, achievement, and so on) from happening or being achieved.

It is only your lack of diligence and determination that STANDS BETWEEN you and a college degree, Emma.

Nothing is going to STAND BETWEEN Greg and his goal of representing Gilmore High in the foreign-exchange program with our sister high school in Stockholm. 

Throughout British history, heirs to the throne have not given a second thought to banishing or killing any person who STOOD BETWEEN them and the Crown. 



3.    STAND UP

In its most common and literal meaning, to STAND UP just means to rise to your feet from a sitting or lying position, as in:

The class is required to STAND UP when the master enters the classroom.

As an idiomatic phrase, STAND UP has a couple of uses.  For one, it means to remain correct, unharmed, or true even after being tested, examined closely, or put under a lot of stress.  Hold up is the nearest synonym.

“I’m not confident that your statement will STAND UP under cross-examination,” the prosecutor told his witness.  “So let’s go over it again to make sure there are no holes or gaps.”

We should have known that the cheap canvas tent we bought at the flea market wouldn’t STAND UP against strong winds. 

The hypothesis sounded reasonable, but it didn’t STAND UP when experiments were conducted to test it.

When you STAND a person UP, you fail to keep a date or an appointment with him or her.

I’ve been waiting for Takashi in front of Shibuya Station for more than an hour.  I think he’s STANDING me UP. 

Shelly didn’t mean to STAND Jake UP, but her phone died, and she had no way of reaching him to tell him she was tied up in traffic. 

STAND-UP is also an adjective with a couple of common uses.  A STAND-UP comedian, for example, is an entertainer who stands on a stage and tells jokes in front of an audience.

Every year in August, STAND-UP comedians from all over the world travel to Edinburgh for the Fringe Comedy Festival hoping to win the coveted “Best One-Liner” award. 

Rita says she wants to be a STAND-UP comedian, but I don’t think she has what it takes.  She’s simply not that funny. 

A STAND-UP person is someone you can count on because of his or her trustworthy nature.  The phrase is often used with “guy” to describe a man—a co-worker, a fellow student, a team member—who is loyal, reliable, and thoughtful.

I wouldn’t have thought so, what with his Mohawk hairstyle and tattoos, but Matt is actually quite sweet-tempered and courteous—A STAND-UP guy, in other words. 

Randy may come across as crass, loud, and aggressive at times, but his teammates and coaches swear that he’s a STAND-UP guy.   




When you STAND UP FOR somebody, you support or defend that person, especially when someone else is criticizing or mistreating him or her.  Protect and go to bat for are possible substitutes.  You can also STAND UP FOR yourself, which means to defend your personal rights, dignity, position, and so on.

Thanks for STANDING UP FOR me at volleyball practice today, Melissa.   Coach Dawson can be really cruel and abrasive at times.

If you’re really dissatisfied with the way things are in society, you have to STAND UP FOR what you believe in and make your voice heard. 

Some timid people would rather suffer than STAND UP FOR their rights.  But not me.  I always make sure I get what I deserve.

Don’t be such a chicken!  STAND UP FOR yourself!

As the youngest of six siblings, Rosalie learned early in life to STAND UP FOR herself and to be counted. 




When you STAND UP TO someone, you confront that person, most often someone who has more power or authority than you (like a boss or teacher) or who is being unkind to you or someone else.  To STAND UP TO means to boldly tell another person that he or she is being unfair or is in the wrong and needs to change.  In other words, it takes guts to STAND UP TO someone, as these examples show.

No one believed that Nick would ever be brave enough STAND UP TO the class bully and put him in his place, but he did.

If you don’t STAND UP TO a manager like Mr. Wilson, he will keep taking advantage of you.

“If you ask me, your mom’s a control freak,” I told my best friend Susan. “It’s about time you STOOD UP TO her and told her to let you lead your own life.”

When talking about a product or material, say, STAND UP TO means to stay in good condition, even after prolonged or damaging use.   The verb withstand is a good synonym.

Make sure you buy a pair of good-quality soccer shoes that can STAND UP TO an entire season of running around on wet ground. 

Our leather sofa has STOOD UP TO more than ten years of our children’s jumping on it. 

All new buildings in Tokyo are being built to ensure that they can STAND UP TO the strongest earthquakes.



6.    STAND FOR 

A letter, abbreviation, or a symbol that STANDS FOR something represents that thing.

Do you have any idea what DVD STAND FOR?

Very few people actually know that the “SCUBA” in SCUBA diving STANDS FOR Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

My grandmother, who is new to smartphones and texting, stubbornly insists that LOL STANDS FOR “Lots of Love” and not “Laugh Out Loud.”

The hammer and sickle on a communist flag STAND FOR industry and the peasantry, respectively.

A person can STAND FOR or represent an idea, belief, or principle.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., STOOD FOR civil rights and racial equality.

In the old TV show, the voice-over at the beginning of each episode said that Superman STOOD FOR truth, justice, and the American way.

The radical right-wing presidential candidate won’t be getting my vote.  I’m against everything she STANDS FOR.

STAND FOR can also mean to tolerate to put up with something, usually something “intolerable” or irritating.

I’m not going to STAND FOR your whinging any longer, Jimmy.  Either be quiet or go to your room!

“Tell your mom that I want her to stop being so critical of the way I raise our children,” I told my husband Dean.  “Make sure she knows I won’t STAND FOR it any longer!”

To STAND FOR also means to run in an election, or to try to become a member of an institution or association.

Have you considered STANDING FOR Head Boy, Todd?  You’re a great leader and a fine role model for the younger students. 

Paul STOOD FOR district counselor, but his controversial stand on the development of local forests kept him out of office.




Someone or something that STANDS OUT is easy to see or notice because he, she, or it is different or unique.

When lit up for Christmas, the Tokyo Sky Tree really STANDS OUT against the city’s skyline and can be admired from a great distance.

It’s easy to spot Marty on stage.  As the only redhead in the chorus group, he really STANDS OUT.

“Mom, please don’t make me wear a costume that will make me STAND OUT,” Aidan pleaded.    “The last costume you made me was embarrassing.”

Your essay had some interesting things to say, but all those glaring grammatical and spelling errors really STOOD OUT and caused you to get a much lower grade than you could have.

Similarly, to STAND OUT can also mean to be noticeable because a person or thing is more impressive or important than other people or things.

All the entries for the school spring poetry competition were good, but the one submitted by Kenny Lane really STOOD OUT.

Of the thousands of paintings at the National Gallery, what STOOD OUT most for me was Botticelli’s Venus and Mars

Writing a strong opening sentence in your personal statement is the best way to make sure that your statement STANDS OUT from those of all the other university applicants.

The adjective (or noun) STANDOUT refers to a person or thing that is noticeable because it is much better than anyone or anything else.

David Beckham was recognized as a STANDOUT striker when he was still in his early teens.

All the actors in the play were good, but Joanne’s performance as the deceitful and murderous head nurse was a STANDOUT.




To STAND AROUND means to be idle—to do nothing when you should or could be doing something else.

Thousands of weary passengers STOOD AROUND the airport departure lounge waiting to board weather-delayed flights.

When the fire alarm sounded, the students were quickly ushered out of the building into the playground, where they had to STAND AROUND outside in the rain.

It was a pretty dull party.  The food was mediocre, there was no entertainment, and most of the guests just STOOD AROUND sipping on cheap wine.

I got really upset last night when most of the mothers who came to the school disco with their kids just STOOD AROUND gossiping, leaving the children unsupervised.




Literally, to STAND ASIDE means to move to one side or out of the way to let someone get past you.

At last night’s red-carpet awards ceremony, adoring fans STOOD ASIDE to allow the popular young actress to pass and be photographed by the paparazzi.

The bus driver asked the passengers to STAND ASIDE to allow access for a young mother and her baby stroller. 

In British English, to STAND ASIDE means to irresponsibly avoid becoming involved in a situation that you should be trying to prevent.

I simply couldn’t STAND ASIDE and watch that poor dog being mistreated by its owners.  I had to say something. 

How could you just STAND ASIDE and let your brother take all the blame for what the two of you did, Riley? 

All of the passersby just STOOD ASIDE and kept going.  Not one had the courage to step in and break up the fight.



10.                STAND BACK

In its most literal usage, to STAND BACK means to move away from something that is dangerous.

“STAND BACK from the vehicle!” shouted the police officer at the scene of the accident. “The engine could blow at any moment!”

On a particularly windy Guy Fawkes’ Night, spectators were told to STAND well BACK from the bonfire. 

To STAND BACK also means to pause and think about a situation or problem objectively to gain a different or new perspective.  To take a step back is a good substitute.

Brianne took a moment to STAND BACK and assess the situation before voicing her opinion. 

Losing your job gives you a chance to STAND BACK and think about whether you want to continue to work full-time and find another job, or to go back to school and learn a new skill.

Finally, STAND BACK also means to be located at a certain distance from something.

Stratton Park Manor STANDS about five hundred meters BACK from the main road.



11.                STAND DOWN

STAND DOWN means to leave a job or position, especially an important one.  Resign, step down, and quit are the nearest synonyms.

Is Alison really thinking about STANDING DOWN next year?  Who would take her place as chair of the committee if she did?

Mr. Brown was forced to STAND DOWN as CEO when his company was taken over by another corporation. 

STAND DOWN has two other uses that you might come across in a move or on TV.  For one, it means for the police or an army to end a state of readiness or alert.

The SWAT-team members pointing their rifles at the house where the suspect was holed up were told to STAND DOWN and withdraw back to the street.

STAND DOWN is also used in the courtroom when a witness leaves the witness stand.

“You may STAND DOWN,” the judge told the witness, “and thank you for your testimony.”



12.                STAND IN 

To STAND IN for someone means to do his or her job temporarily.  The nearest synonyms are to fill in for, substitute for, and pinch hit for someone.

When the students heard that the headmistress would be STANDING IN for Mr. Blunt, the science teacher, for three days, they all begged their parents to let them stay home.

We’ll need to hire someone in April to STAND IN for Leigh while she is on maternity leave.   

The noun and adjective STAND-IN refers to the person who does someone else’s job temporarily.    A STAND-IN can also be someone who takes the place of the main actor in a film, usually in dangerous or controversial scenes.

Parker is a decent STAND-IN goalkeeper, but he’s not nearly as focused and determined to win as Jack. 

Ms. Richards is not the official head teacher.  She is just a STAND-IN until the new head starts in September. 

Even at fifty-eight, Hollywood’s most celebrated actor still refuses to let a STAND-IN do his stunt scenes. 



13.                TAKE A STAND

To TAKE A STAND means to adopt a firm position and express an opinion on an issue or subject of debate.  Political leaders are often expected to TAKE A STAND, as in these two examples.

The recent measles outbreak at Disneyland Park in California has forced even President Obama to TAKE A STAND, urging parents to ensure that children are vaccinated.

Many Members of Parliament these days sit on the fence rather than TAKE A STAND on the country’s immigration laws. 

FYI:  To TAKE THE STAND means to go and sit in the witness stand in the courtroom, as in:

There was a hush in the courtroom as a surprise witness TOOK THE STAND in the murder trial. 



14.                TO KNOW WHERE one STANDS

TO KNOW WHERE ONE STANDS means to know what someone thinks on an issue or matter of public importance or concern.  The phrase can also be used to mean to know what a person thinks of or expects from you personally.

It’s hard to KNOW WHERE most politicians STAND because the language they use is so ambiguous.

Richard is a strict boss, and expects a lot from his employees, but at least I always KNOW WHERE I STAND with him. 

My so-called best friend Leonard didn’t even wish me a happy birthday on Facebook this year.   Now I KNOW WHERE I really STAND with him. 



15.                STAND ON ONE’S OWN FEET

When someone is able to STAND ON his or her OWN FEET, he or she is independent and self-sufficient and can take care of him- or herself.  (The word “two” is often added to the phrase to make it more emphatic, as in the second example below.)

“I’ve been supporting you and your dream of becoming a writer for way too long,” Cindy told her boyfriend Mick. “It’s time you got a job and STOOD ON YOUR OWN FEET.”

“Can I move back home?” Graham asked his parents. “I’m totally broke, and I’ll need some time before I can STAND ON MY OWN TWO FEET again.”



16.                STAND CORRECTED

The expression “I STAND CORRECTED” is used when the speaker admits that something he or she had said or done previously was wrong.  It means the same as “I admit I was wrong.”

I STAND CORRECTED.  I moved to Japan in 2005, not 2006 as I said before.

We see now that we shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions and should have been more thorough in our investigation.  We STAND CORRECTED.  



17.                STAND A CHANCE

To STAND A CHANCE means to have a possibility or hope of succeeding at or accomplishing something.  Used with “not,” the phrase means just the opposite.

With Cathy joining the team, we might STAND A CHANCE of winning the district tennis championship this year. 

Last spring, I didn’t think my son STOOD A CHANCE of getting in to Shibu Shibu, but thanks to the instruction he got at KA, he passed his entrance exam with flying colors!

If it wasn’t for the support it receives from the film fans in our community, our town’s small, independent theater wouldn’t STAND A CHANCE against the big multiplexes.

That new girl Janine is really cute.  Do you think I STAND A CHANCE with her?



18.                STAND TALL

When you STAND TALL, you are proud of yourself and are confident in your ability to do something well.

Maggie STOOD TALL and proudly accepted the honor society badge from the school principal.

The outgoing president didn’t accomplish all that he set out to do, but he can STAND TALL knowing that he eased racial strife, helped pass stricter gun-safety laws, and instituted a national health care program.





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


PDF DOWNLOAD: KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 37 STAND BY ME