KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 4: Don’t Come Around Here No More

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For the past few weeks, we have been looking at essential English idioms, phrasal verbs, and other everyday expressions, and today we have twelve more for you to study, learn, and put to use.

What do we mean by “idiom”?  The dictionary defines an idiom as “a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the literal meaning.”  Usually, an idiom’s literal meaning cannot be guessed based on its individual parts.  In other words, it must be learned.  There are thousands of idiomatic expressions in the English language and most have meanings so “separate from” their literal meanings that unless you know them, they can sound like complete nonsense.

One good example is the odd-sounding expression, WHEN PIGS FLY.

You might want to say, “What are you talking about? Pigs don’t have wings, silly.  That just doesn’t make any sense.”  Yet, to a native English speaker, it makes perfect sense.  WHEN PIGS FLY is used to show the unlikelihood (impossibility) of some event ever, ever happening.   It can also be used to say that a person will never, ever do what you want or expect him or her to do.  Synonyms include impossible, unthinkable, unimaginable, inconceivable, and absurd.  Some informal expressions similar in meaning include never in a million years, out of the question, not if I (he, she, you) were the last man/woman/person on Earth, a likely story, and when hell freezes over (be careful when you use this one).  Etymologists believe that the phrase comes from a 16th-century Scottish proverb.  Today, we most often use WHEN PIGS FLY ironically or humorously to poke fun at someone’s overly ambitious goals or to emphasize the impossibility of something occurring, as in:

A:        Do you think Julie will get here in time for the show? 

B:        WHEN PIGS FLY!  When has she ever shown up for anything on time? 

Here, WHEN PIGS FLY simply means,  “Don’t count on it!” or, more literally, “Unlikely!” or, much more colloquially, “Fat chance!”

What, then, is a phrasal verb?  A phrasal verb is an idiomatic expression made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both.  Phrasal verbs have precise meanings and must be used carefully.

A phrase like “make up” is a good case in point.   Depending on the context it’s used in, “make up” can mean, in the order of frequency of use:  (1) To redo something such as a test, as in: “Can I MAKE UP the test I missed yesterday?” (2) To think up something or tell a lie, as in:  “You’re such a liar! You just MADE that UP!” (3) To reconcile (become friends again) with someone after an argument, as in: “Kyle and I had a horrible row last night, but we MADE UP this morning.” (4) To put something together, as in “Have you finished MAKING UP the sports pages for the yearbook?” (5) To mix something, especially at a pharmacy, as in: “I’ll MAKE UP your painkiller prescription in just a moment.” By the way, MAKE UP is often coupled with another preposition (for, with, to), giving it lots more meanings and uses.

Because of such differences in nuance and usage, the meanings of phrasal verbs, like those of idiomatic phrases, must be learned.  You can’t usually “make out” what an idiom means by just by looking at it.  That’s why each week we offer detailed explanations of and several sample sentences for each new idiom or phrasal verb, as well as useful synonyms and equivalents.  We want you to “master” each expression so you can put it to use in your own writing and everyday conversation.

In last week’s episode, we looked at ten idioms and phrasal verbs based on the word “good.”  If you missed the lesson, be sure to check it out on the KA Voicecast website.  Today, as our opening song “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers suggests, we will study twelve phrasal verbs based on the verb “come.”  “Feel free” (that is, “Don’t hesitate”) to download this lesson, which is available in PDF format.   There is also an activity sheet with a “pre-test” exercise that you can download from the website to see how much you know (or don’t know) before the lesson begins.   Then, after the podcast, you can go back and check to see how well you did and how much you have “picked up.” This won’t be the first or the last time you hear this, but it’s always worth repeating: reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “build up” your English speaking and writing skills.   And that is precisely what these Wordcasts are all about.

Before we start today’s lesson, just a quick word to tell you how we are going to get through all of today’s twelve phrasal verbs, all of which have all kinds of meanings and uses.  We know that boosting listening skills is the key to learning English.  That’s why we offer as many sample sentences for you to listen to as possible.  But time is limited.   So, as a way to keep this podcast short and sweet, we are providing you with sample sentences for the phrases that we believe will benefit you most—the ones you are most likely to “come across” in books and films, on TV, and in everyday conversation: the ones you are most likely to want to immediately try out for yourself.  But for those of you who want still more (and we hope that’s all of you), we have prepared EXTRAS!, a list of additional explanations and sample sentences—a  glossary (for this lesson) of more “COME”-based phrasal verbs.  These are ready and waiting for you to download in PDF format from the KA Voicecast website.  So each week take and check the pretest, listen to and absorb the podcast, and you should (as you learned last week) be “good to go.”

 Click HERE for EXTRAS!

1. COME AROUND (TO some place)

COME AROUND (TO some place) is the first of several “COME AROUND” phrases we will study today.   But before we “get down to business,” let’s listen to the opening chorus of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” one more time.

“Don’t come around here no more

Don’t come around here no more

Whatever you’re looking for

Hey, don’t come around here no more.”

Here, Tom Petty tells someone (an ex-girlfriend, most likely) that he’s awfully upset with to never visit “here”—his house, perhaps, or maybe just anywhere he happens to be—ever again.  COME AROUND (TO some place) literally means to come to “some place” for a visit.   As the lyrics show, you don’t always have to use the preposition “to,” as “here” is often implied.  Look at the following examples.

Callum:          Thanks for a wonderful evening.  You’ll have to COME AROUND TO our place sometime.

Belinda:         That would be lovely. 

Lisa:               I was thinking about COMING AROUND TO your office later this afternoon.  Are you free?

Archie:           Yes.  You’re welcome to stop by anytime after two. 

Stephan:         Patricia’s new boyfriend Dan’s not COMING AROUND again, is he?  He was just here last weekend!

Annie:            I’m afraid so.  I’ll have to go to the shops and stock up again.  He has quite an appetite! 

We often make the expression more specific by saying COME AROUND TO VISIT or COME AROUND FOR A VISIT, as in:

Why don’t you and Evan COME AROUND TO VISIT us on the coast?  The cottage sleeps six and it would be great to get together and catch up.

All right, kids, let’s get busy and tidy up your rooms before Grandma COMES AROUND FOR A VISIT this afternoon. 

You should know that while Americans say COME AROUND, most British English speakers say COME ROUND.  See the website for a detailed explanation of the difference between AROUND and ROUND.


*Round works pretty much anywhere where around would work.   The reverse is not true, however, as round has a number of definitions it doesn’t share with around.  The circumference of a circle is not around, for example (it’s round), and you would not play an around of golf (you would play a round).  Round tends to be more casual than around, so around is usually safer in formal writing.


COME AROUND on its own (without “to”) has a lot of uses, too.  For one, let’s say you have been trying hard to persuade or convince a friend to believe or do something.  Finally, your friend agrees or consents: that is, he or she has finally COME AROUND.  Synonyms include accede, comply, and assent. Similar expressions include change one’s mind, have a change of heart, and change one’s tune.

I thought Richard would never agree to let our daughter go off to study art in Paris for a year, but in the end he CAME AROUND.

Sean:               So, you’ve finally COME AROUND and let your kids have a puppy.  What made you change your mind?

Tasmin:         I realized the children need a pet to learn about taking responsibilities. 

We can also add “to” when we want to show what we want the person to agree to.

What else can we do to make the mayor COME AROUND TO our position?  We have to convince him to do something about making our city more bicycle-friendly.

Another meaning of COME AROUND is to go to several people, say in a room or office, one after another, especially to talk to them.

Cyndi:             Has Mr. Yates COME AROUND yet?  I’ve heard he’s making the rounds today.

Grant:             No, and I hope he doesn’t.  I’m not sure I’m ready to face a performance review just yet.  

The president CAME AROUND today and congratulated everyone for another successful sales year and handed each of us a hefty bonus. 

Not just people, but also a letter, note, or memo can also COME AROUND.

A petition CAME AROUND asking us to oppose plans to build a housing development in our neighborhood.

Similarly, we can add “with” to mean that someone is going from person to person carrying or offering something.

I was full, but when the host came around with the dessert tray, I couldn’t say no.

We are a non-profit organization, and depend on you for support.  So when Dave COMES AROUND WITH the donations basket, please be generous.

**For more meanings and uses of COME AROUND, please check out our new feature, EXTRAS!, which you can download from the KA Voicecast website.



In its most literal usage, COME FORWARD means to move towards the front of a group of people, say.

Alex, please COME FORWARD and give your presentation to the class. 

More figuratively, COME FORWARD means to present oneself voluntarily to offer information or evidence or to confess to a crime.  Similar expressions and words include admit and come clean.

I was afraid to COME FORWARD and tell the police what I had witnessed, but when I finally did, I was assured that I would be put under protection until the murder case goes to court.

Nobody has COME FORWARD with any information relating to the arson fire that engulfed the school gymnasium.



COME UP is another phrasal verb that has more meanings than you “can shake a stick at,” which just means that it has lots and lots of usages.  (We will go over a few of these here.  You will find several more uses and explanations in EXTRAS!)  Literally speaking, COME UP means to go from a lower place to a higher one.  We use it most often when we want someone down below to join us up above, as in:

Hey, everyone, COME UP here!  The view of Mt. Fuji from this balcony is breathtaking! 

But COME UP has many other more idiomatic uses.  For one, it means to approach or go nearer someone, as in:

Once again, “Homeless Phil” CAME UP and began talking to us about conspiracy theories while we were waiting at the bus top, and there was nothing we could do but listen.

For this usage, we often add “to,” as in:

As a celebrity, having total strangers COME UP TO you on the street and asking to have their photo taken with you just goes with the territory.

A young deer CAME UP TO where we sat eating our lunch in Ashridge Forest, but it just stared at us for a minute or two and then pranced away. 

A problem or situation can also COME UP, which means that it appears or happens, usually unexpectedly, and needs to be dealt with straightaway.

Steve:              I’m going to have to cancel our three o’clock meeting, Wendy—something’s COME UP at home. 

Wendy:          No problem.  I hope everything is okay. 

Something always seems to COME UP whenever my husband is away on a business trip.   This time, both the kids came down with the chicken pox!

COME UP also refers to something that is mentioned (usually during some discussion) and needs to be considered and taken care of.

Several interesting suggestions CAME UP in today’s meeting about what we as teachers can do to encourage children to read more. 

Pam:               Did you happen to mention in yesterday’s meeting that I would like to be considered for a transfer to the Sales Department?

Henry:            Sorry, Pam.  The subject never CAME UP, and I completely forgot.   

**For more COME UP uses, please refer to the supplemental material in EXTRAS!



To COME UP WITH means to think of something such as an idea, plan, design, and so on.  Devise, dream up, make up, conjure up, improvise, and contrive are close synonyms.

Sophie:           As you requested, I’ve sketched out a few designs for our new company logo.

Roger:            Very good, Sophie.  Let’s have a look at what you’ve COME UP WITH. 

Chloe CAME UP WITH an idea for a new smart-phone app that earned her hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few short months. 

Let’s ask Barbara to help out with the kids’ birthday party.  She always COMES UP WITH creative ideas for games and activities. 



The phrase COME ALONG has a number of meanings.  For one, it means to go somewhere with someone.

I’ve never been to see a West End show.  Do you mind if I COME ALONG?

We’re having a tour of the factory this afternoon, and I’d like you to COME ALONG, Betty.

COME ALONG also means to arrive, appear, or become available.

My dad always told me to never pass up opportunities and to take on any challenge that COMES ALONG. 

In an effort to “pay it forward,” John decided to give away free cups of coffee to the first ten customers who CAME ALONG. 

COME ALONG can also mean to make progress or to improve or develop in a way that you want.

I can tell that you’ve been practicing.  Your guitar playing has really COME ALONG. 

Oliver:                        How’s your house COMING ALONG, Mel?

Melanie:                     Fingers crossed we can move in before Christmas. 

Finally, COME ALONG is also used to tell someone in an impatient way to hurry up or do something quickly.

COME ALONG now!  We’re going to be late for soccer practice if we don’t get moving!



We could devote an entire episode of this KA Wordcast to the phrasal verb COME OUT, which has “tons” of different uses and word combinations.  But for now, we will only look at a few of the most common and important. (Additional uses are available for you to check out in the supplementary material in EXTRAS!  And in a future episode, we plan to examine several other word combinations, including COME OUT AGAINST, COME OUT AHEAD, COME OUT IN, and so on.)

COME OUT in its most literal sense means to exit or leave the inside of some place.

For the last time, Lily, please COME OUT of the bathroom!  We have to leave right now!

Rosie:             How long do you think it will take them to COME OUT?

Elliot:             Well, the plane has just landed.  They have to go through immigration and customs, so at least half an hour.

COME OUT also means to have a particular result, or to end in a certain way.  Synonyms include result in, turn out, and end up.

Don’t worry so much about the test.  I’m sure everything will COME OUT fine if you do your best.

It’s impossible at this stage to judge how the election will COME OUT.   We’ll have to wait for the polls to close on the West Coast to know for sure who our next president will be.

A book, piece of music, film, or article that COMES OUT has become available for the public to buy or see.  Synonyms include publish, print, air, broadcast, appear, hit theaters, and see the light of day.

Movies often only COME OUT in Japan several months after they are released in the United States. 

Greg:              Have you read the new Bridget Jones’s Diary book yet?  I hear it’s pretty funny.

Kirsty:            I hadn’t realized it had COME OUT already.  Is it available in paperback?

COME OUT also means to become evident, clear, or known.  A good idiomatic substitute is come to light.

The real reason Paul left his job eventually CAME OUT.  We were all shocked to hear that he had actually thrown a punch at his section chief and gotten himself sacked.

Monte’s stubborn pride CAME OUT when she rejected the professional organizer who had been sent to help her rid her house of all the stuff she had hoarded over the years. 

Reporter:      You seem pretty confident that the jury will find the defendant, Mr. Eggleton, innocent.  What evidence do you have?

Attorney:       I’m not at liberty to comment now.  It will all COME OUT in court next week. 

Yet another meaning of COME OUT is to say something in a particular (and usually not particularly nice) way.

Sheryl:           I’m sorry.  I hadn’t meant for it to COME OUT so harsh.  I was just angry, that’s all.  

Monet:            I understand, but don’t ever use that kind of language again, especially in front of the kids.

Paula only meant to cover for her friend, but it CAME OUT all wrong, and she ended up getting both of them in trouble. 

And last but not least, when a photograph (or drawing or painting) COMES OUT, it means that the image can be seen clearly.  In other words, it’s a really nice photograph.

Wow! This photo of your family CAME OUT beautifully.  Who’s your photographer?

I’m afraid that your passport photos didn’t COME OUT very clear.  We’ll have to retake them. 

The painting didn’t COME OUT as I wanted, so I scraped the canvas and started over.

**For more COME OUT meanings and uses, please refer to EXTRAS!



As you might have guessed, COME AT also has a lot of uses.  Let’s look at the most common usage first. When someone COMES AT you, he or she suddenly moves towards you in a threatening way.  Here are a couple of examples.

Three youths CAME AT Mr. Bower with a knife and robbed him of his wallet, watch, and mobile phone—in broad daylight and on a busy street corner, no less. 

Reina:             I just heard about what happened to Jake.  Is he all right?  What happened?

Dom:              He doesn’t remember much, actually.  The attacker CAME AT him from behind and knocked him unconscious.  He’s awake now and in triage, getting some stitches.

COME AT can also be used to describe a situation in which people fire questions or bits of information at you one after another.

“Don’t COME AT me all at once!” the congresswoman told the reporters at the press conference. “One question at a time!”

COME AT also means to approach or deal with a problem or situation in a certain way.

Why don’t you try COMING AT the experiment from a different angle?  You might have overlooked something.



To COME THROUGH means to do or accomplish what people expect you to do, especially something that was difficult under the circumstances.

You can depend on Ali to get the job done.  She always COMES THROUGH, no matter how busy she is. 

We were short on time, but our lawyer Mr. Cook CAME THROUGH for us and got all the necessary paperwork ready in time to meet with the immigration officer. 

COME THROUGH can also be used to say that someone has succeeded in surviving or dealing with an illness, injury, or other trying or traumatic experience.

It’s been a challenging eighteen months, but Carly has COME THROUGH and was declared cancer-free by her physician this afternoon.   

“Mr. Franklin has COME THROUGH the surgery as well as expected and has been moved to the ICU,” the nurse told us.  “You can go and see him in a little while.” 

COME THROUGH can also describe a request or application that has been approved.

Your student-visa application has COME THROUGH.  Please come in and pick it up within two weeks.

The bank didn’t COME THROUGH with our home-loan application.  I guess we’ll have to try somewhere else.


10. COME ACROSS (something or someone)

To COME ACROSS means to find someone or something, usually by chance or pure luck.    Similar expressions include stumble on, chance on, run into, happen on, and run across.

When you COME ACROSS a word you are not familiar with, make sure you look it up in a dictionary. 

I CAME ACROSS some old photographs of my grandmother when she was a child and realized just how much my daughter looks like her. 

Matt:   What’s with Zoe?  She’s the most arrogant person I have ever COME ACROSS in my life.

Joy:     I know.  All she does is talk about herself and never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. 

**For more COME ACROSS meanings and uses, take a look at EXTRAS!



The phrase to COME ABOUT simply means to happen.  Synonyms include take place, occur, begin, transpire, arise, crop up, come to pass, and come up (see phrase number 4 above).

Teacher:        Johnny, how did the American War of Independence COME ABOUT?

Johnny:          Well, the colonists just got sick and tired of being taxed on everything, so they decided to kick England out and form their own country. 

Are you telling me you got a speaking role in the new Spiderman film?  Wow!  How did that COME ABOUT?

The 2007 global financial crisis CAME ABOUT when the value of American homes plummeted because so many homeowners were falling behind on their mortgage payments.  



The phrase COME BEFORE can literally mean to precede something in time (“World War I came BEFORE World War II.”) But as an idiomatic phrase, it means that one person or thing is more important than another person or thing.  Synonyms include outweigh and prevail over.

Denmark’s government has banned the religious slaughter of animals for the production of halal and kosher meat, stating that “animal rights COME BEFORE religion.”

“My children COME BEFORE my career,” the young actress said, “which is why I have decided to take a break from acting and spend more time with the people I love.”

To COME BEFORE also means to present yourself in front of someone or a group, usually because you have been summoned.

Thank you for COMING BEFORE the committee, Mr. Warner.  We appreciate your cooperation. 

Roger is being held overnight for disorderly conduct and will COME BEFORE a judge in the morning.



Don’t forget that many more great “COME”-based phrasal verbs are covered in EXTRAS!, which you can download in PDF format from the KA Voicecast website, print out, and keep for reference and review.   We will take a more detailed look at some of the phrases in today’s glossary in future episodes.

Now that you have a better understanding of the twelve phrasal verbs we have looked at today, why not challenge yourself and download the short “pre-test” exercise we have prepared for you? (It’s available on the KA Voicecast website.)  We’ve also provided answer sheets so you can see how well you did.  As I said in the opening, repeated reviewing and practicing is the best way to improve your English.  And nowhere is this truer than with idioms and phrasal verbs.  The more you practice “going over” them, the better.

KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 4 PRETEST

We’ll be back again next week with another batch of useful idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs for you to study and get to know.

Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 4 ANSWER SHEET