Ten Phrasal Verbs for Talking About Negative Business Situations


Hey, welcome back to The Art of Business English, this week we have an extension of last week’s episode where we looked at high impact phrasal verbs. This week we are continuing with the theme where we will be looking at ten phrasal verbs which we can use to describe negative or bad situations in the workplace.

Negative or problematic situations are a part of business, they are a part of life. It’s always great to hear about people’s successes and all the wonderful things they are doing, however it is rare for people to share with you their stories of failure or disaster.

Today, we are going to look at some phrasal verbs that you can use when you need to describe difficult or negative situations at work.

By the end of this episode you will learn ten useful phrasal verbs for describing difficult situations, you will learn their Spanish translation and finally who to use them in the correct context.

So, let’s dive right in and start by looking at ten phrasal verbs for taking about negative business situations. 

Face up to something

This first phrasal verb is a common one in English, we use it when we need to confront or deal with something. It is commonly used for situations which cannot be ignored anymore. The meaning of “Face up to” in Spanish “enfrentar” o “afrontar algo”.

It is important to note that you must include the “to” for this phrasal verb to work, you can’t just say “face up”. We need to face up to things when we are dealing with the reality of a negative situation. For example, we might say, “We need to face up to the fact that we have lost almost all of the money we have invested.” Or, we could say, “You need to face up to the reality that we are not going to meet our targets this quarter.”

These two expressions, “face up to the fact that” and “face up to the reality that” are very commonly used when we have been trying to ignore the reality of a negative situations and the time has finally come to accept that things will probably not turn out the way we wanted them to. 

Fall apart

The next phrasal verb can be used both in physical and emotional contexts. By this I mean, something can physically fall apart, meaning it breaks into pieces and can no longer serve its original function. Conversely, someone can fall apart emotionally, meaning they lose control. So, depending on the context you can use it in a number of different ways. I might also add, that you can use it figuratively to describe processes and systems.

The Spanish for the two would be “desarmarse” and “derrumbarse”.

Let’s take a look at some examples to put this one into context. We could say, “We have had a big drop in our productivity as one of our stamping machines has been offline for the past few days. The command module completely fell apart.” We could also say, “If we don’t make an attractive offer in the next 24 hours this deal could fall apart, and we will be left with nothing.” 

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Conversely, someone can fall apart emotionally, meaning they lose control.

Give in

Let’s move on to the next phrasal verb which is “Give in”. To give in means to surrender or “rendirse”. When we know we have lost a battle or the war we need to know when it is time to give in.

An example of this could be, “I think we should give in to our customers demands and completely replace to faulty product.”

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When we know we have lost a battle or the war we need to know when it is time to give in.

Break down

The next phrasal verb is to “break down”. This phrasal verb has both a physical and emotional use to it. To break down means “averiarse” or “ponerse a llorar”. People can break down emotionally, machines can break down physically and situations or processes can also break down.

A good collocation that works with “break down” is communication. For example, we can have a communication breakdown, whereby the phrasal verb is changed into a noun. The difference between the two is that breakdown as a noun the is one word, whereas, “break down” as a phrasal verb is two words.

So, an example of the phrasal verb would be, “The machine has broken down and won’t be back online until Monday.”

Give up

I just love this next one. To “fall through”, this means that something that was planned has failed to happen or materialise. The Spanish translation is “venirse abajo”. To when you find yourself in a situation where something has been unsuccessful or come to nothing, then you can use this phrasal verb.

Let’s take a look at an example. “John, it’s a complete disaster, the whole deal we have spent months working on has just fallen through and the buyer has pulled out.” 

Fade away

Right, the next one on our list is “fade away” or “difuminarse” in Spanish. This is another descriptive phrasal verb that can describe the gradual disappearance of something.

An example of this one would be, “All hope of finding a solution to the company’s financial problems are fading away with each passing day.” Here you can see from the context that as each day goes by, the chances of finding a solution become weaker and weaker. 

Burn out

Moving onto our next one, to “burn out”, is another great phrasal verb for describing a negative situation at work. To “burn out” means to suffer from exhaustion or to be used up. The Spanish word is “quemarse” or “agotarse”. When we burn out, we are either emotionally or physically exhausted.

To put it into context, consider this example. “The team is completely burnt out; they haven’t had a holiday in over 6 months and morale is at an all-time low.”

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To “burn out” means to suffer from exhaustion or to be used up.

Cut back on

Right, the second last one on my list today is to “cut back on”. When we cut back on something, it means that we reduce the consumption of it. It is very common to hear this expression in business. It means “recortar gastos en”.

When we are trying to reduce expenses in a company, we use this phrasal verb. For example, we could say, “We need to cut back on travel expenses, they have tripled in the past 6 months.” Conversely, we could also use it to refer to a bad habit that we need to stop. For example, “I need to cut back on the amount of alcohol I am drinking.”

So, you can see from the above examples that it can be used to talk about expenses as well as bad personal habits. 

Close down

Well, we are at the end of this episode and the next phrasal verb is fitting for the final one here today. To “close down”, means to “cerrar” in Spanish. When a business can no longer continue to operate, then it is forced to close down.

Here is an example, “Despite months of negotiating with creditors the company finally had to close down as it had no cash to continue operating.” 

Final thoughts

OK, that is the end of this episode and I hope you have found it useful. If you want to learn and internalise these phrasal verbs then write them down someone and try and use them in your next presentation, meeting, phone call or email.

If you enjoyed this episode then please share it with your friends on social media and spread the word. You could also help me out by giving me a 5-star review over at iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher.

Before I go, make sure you grab a copy of our eBook, “500 business English collocations for everyday use”. This eBook contains 500 collocations, as well as the mp3 files with all of the pronunciation. It is amazing value at only $9.99 and it will have you using hundreds of phrasal verbs in no time.

As always, it’s been a pleasure and I look forward to having you all next week. 

Do you need to improve your English vocabulary? 

Do you want to improve your pronunciation while learning fixed English expressions? 

Grab your copy of The Art of Business English eBook. 500 business English collocations for everyday use. This eBook includes 500 collocations with example sentences as well as the mp3 files with all the pronunciation. 

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About the Author Andrew

Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

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