New Word: More Compound Verbs

New Word #105

Last week, I gathered several compound verbs here, and this week I find some more. These verbs are so often used that I can’t afford to ignore them, although I have tried to avoid using them as much as possible.

Now I am thinking of digging all of them out, one by one. Once they are in the open, I guess, they can’t plague non-native speakers like me anymore.

Some of them are quite harmless. For example, “uplift”, “uplifting” and “lift up” are quite straightforward and self explanatory. “Stand out”, “standout”, and “outstanding” are equally reassuring and predictable. Even “upkeep” and “keep up”, “takeout” and “take out”, “warmup” and “warm up”, “outspoken” and “speak out” are conspicuously intuitive.

However others can be a little tricky. Some have meanings that are slightly different from what looks obvious or logical. Some are used in destined circumstances but not in other similar circumstances. And I have so far learned that “similarity” and “difference” are very much in the eyes of beholders, especially when language is concerned. What I deem similar can be considered very different by English speaking populace. For example, “duplicate” and “copy”, “anonymous” and “incognito”, “substitute” and “surrogate” are exactly the same to me, but each in the respective pair is used in different contexts. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably, but often they cannot.

“Upstart”, “Startup”, “Start Up”

  • upstart: “An upstart person” means the person is arrogant, newly arrived, and rising to fame suddenly without paying respect to others.
  • startup: Usually a newly started company is called a startup, especially those high tech adventures in Silicone Valley.
  • start something up: begin, commence.

“Outrun” and “Run Out”

  • outrun: run faster; run further
  • run out of something: be used up

“Overtake”, “Takeover”, “Take Over”

  • overtake: 1. come to overwhelm suddenly. 2. (British) catch up or pass while traveling –this is the definition we learned in our English textbook in school.
  • takeover: take control of something, but this word is only used, often as a noun, when someone buys a company and takes the ownership of it.
  • take over: same meaning as takeover, but it can be used on almost any kind of control, not restricted to buying companies.

“Overcome”, “Come Over”

  • overcome: defeat, prevail, overpower
  • come over: It has several meanings. It can mean to come to visit somebody, or to change one’s view.

“Overstep”, “Step Over”

  • This pair is similar to “overcome” and “come over”. To overstep means to exceed, to step beyond the boundary. To step over means to walk to a place several steps away.

“Upend”, “End Up”

  • upend: turn something upside down
  • end up: to reach a result

“Offset” and “Set Off”

  • offset: This word is often used when you want to say “counteract” or “compensate”. For example, we have to stop buying organic food to offset the price increase caused by inflation.
  • set off: begin

“Offshoot” and “Shoot Off”

  • offshoot: a branch
  • shoot off: According to Merriam Webster dictionary, this word is used by British, meaning to leave a place quickly. However in my experience, I often hear people say “shoot” for various reasons in different contexts. They can say, “shoot”, which means to start. Or they can say “shoot for something”, meaning “aim at something”.

“Passerby”, “Pass By”, “Bypass”

  • passerby: a pedestrian who happens to pass by
  • bypass: an alternative route over a busy town center; or when it is used in “bypass surgery”, it means the doctor attaches a “pipe” to one end of the blockage and the other end below the blockage. It’s a big heart surgery. However some people don’t care. They just want to eat as many tasty food as possible even though it means bypass surgery down the road.
  • pass by: It means to let something pass without noticing or taking advantage of it.

“Bystander”, “Standby”, “Stand By”

  • bystander: a person who’s close to something but not participating.
  • standby: being ready and prepared
  • stand by: To stand by somebody means to support somebody. To stand by a statement means to continue to believe something one said before. However to stand by can also mean to be aloof and not involved, at least google says so. If this is true, it means to stand by can have two almost opposite meanings. Or probably it has even more meanings.

“Standoff”, “Stand Off”, “Standoffish”

  • standoff: stalemate, deadlock in a conflict or a hostage situation
  • stand off: keep away; move away
  • standoffish: unfriendly, distant, cold

There are also “inlet” and “let in”, “letdown” and “let down”, “pickup” and “pick up”, which I think I will include in the next post about compound verb, since this one is a little too long right now in my view.

7 thoughts on “New Word: More Compound Verbs

    1. I think you get them right. Yes, after a while, we start to internalize English and it is much easier to learn after the internalization. It was truly a horrible learning experience before the internalization happened. I remember that I saw “offset” long time ago but couldn’t understand it at all, not even after reading the explanation several times. Then years later, when I finally was able to internalize the language, I just started to understand offset naturally without even noticing the learning itself.


  1. To make matters even more confusing there is an improvisational aspect to speaking in English. By making small changes any word can be made to mean something that you would never find in a dictionary. If you add a verb ending (s, ing, or ed) to any noun, it becomes a verb. For example, if you change pie to pied, the pie becomes the action of hitting someone if the face with a pie. And if you add ‘er’ or ‘or’ to the end of any verb it becomes a noun. For example, if you change the verb run to runner, the noun is now someone or something that runs. While this makes English confusing it also makes it playful and fun for poetry because you can make new and vivid images with small changes to the words.

    Liked by 2 people

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