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The Phrasal Verb 'Call In' explained

Updated: Oct 3

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'Call In', with examples and exercises.


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Hello and welcome to my website all about English phrasal verbs. Each week, I take a different phrasal verb and look at how it is used by native speakers, with a focus on the different meanings that it has and the expressions and idioms that it is used in.


'Call in' is a phrasal verb with a number of useful and applicable meanings in everyday English. In this post, I will look at these different meanings and uses, from paying someone a short visit, to not going to work due to illness, and I will explain how to use each meaning with the help of illustrative examples. So, without further ado, let's make a start....


CALL IN: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Medium

Number of meanings

5

Separable

Sometimes

Past tense forms

Called in / Called in

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here.

 

THE BASICS

The letters A-G spelled out in different coloured plasticine on a red background

As is customary, let's start by taking a look at the component words that make up our phrasal verb of choice, as these often give valuable clues to its meanings.


Firstly, we have the verb 'to call', which is a verb with several distinct meanings, including giving someone or something a name, contacting someone by telephone, raising the volume of your voice to attract someone's attention and visiting someone. The latter three of these definitions are all useful for the phrasal verb meanings of 'call in' that we will look at shortly.


In addition to 'call' we have the prepositional particle 'in', which you will all be very familiar with already, and which is primarily used to indicate being on the interior of something or within something.


So, with that in mind, do you think you can guess any of the meanings of 'call in'? Read on to find out what they are....

 

MEANING 1: To enlist someone's help


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To enlist

We are going to start the meanings of 'call in' with one that is very useful if you ever have a problem that you are unable to resolve yourself and that is 'to enlist (ask for and get) someone's help with a problem or issue'.


This meaning is quite a simple one to remember as we use it when we have a problematic situation or issue and in order to solve it we need to call someone, either on the phone or increasingly online these days, to come and resolve the issue for us. In other words, we are requesting that someone comes into the situation to help.

An electrician attending to a electrical box

An example of this would be if an electrical problem occurred at home and we needed a professional to come and repair it, so we 'call in' an electrician, who comes and fixes the issue for us.


Moreover, this usage of 'call in' can also be found in the world of work and employment as it is also used by native speakers to describe when an employee is asked (or ordered) to come to work by management . This is often the case for people who work jobs that involve being on call, such as doctors and vets, however it can be used for anyone who receives a request to come into work, especially if they were not supposed to be working that day. It is also worth noting that it is common for the affected employees to talk about 'being called in' to work, in a passive sense.


On a grammatical level, this usage is transitive and takes a direct object (e.g. the electrician) and it is possible to place the direct object either between 'call' and 'in' or after them, without changing the meaning at all.


Examples of usage....

My boiler broke down last week and so I had to call in a technician who came and sorted it for me!
The staff in the office building couldn't identify the strange and spooky noises in their building and decided to call the Ghostbusters in.
Due to the emergency situation, we are calling in as many doctors and nurses as we can today to help out with the influx of patients.
I'm so annoyed, I wanted to go to watch the football match this afternoon but I've been called into work as there is an issue with the IT system.
The word 'TIPS' spelled out using wooden blocks

EXTRA INFORMATION TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE SPEAKER

A commonly used expression that I want to make you aware of here is 'to call in a favour'. This expression is used when you ask someone to do something for you (a favour) because you did a favour for them in the past and they owe you one in return.


Example of usage....

The Prime Minister called in a favour with an influential businessman to gain support in the run-up to the general election.
I leant my next-door neighbour my tools last month when they needed to do some DIY, so today when my lawnmower stopped working, I called in the favour and borrowed his.
 

MEANING 2: To pay a short visit



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To drop by, to pop by, to pop in

The second meaning of 'call in' means 'to visit someone for a short period of time' and this is often used to talk about unorganised or uninvited visits to people's houses. Alternatively, it can also be used when talking about short visits to someone in hospital or at their place of work. The general idea here is that the visit is short and is fairly informal in nature.


On a grammatical level, this usage of 'call in' does not take a direct object and is not separable. The additional preposition 'on' is required when we want to specify the name of the person who we are visiting.


Examples of usage....

Lisa called in to see me yesterday on her way back from work.
Are you going to be at home later? We might call in for a cup of tea if we have time.
My Dad has been in hospital for the last fortnight and I call in on him most days there.
 

MEANING 3: To order to return


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To withdraw, to recall

The third meaning of 'call in' is 'to order something to be returned'. There are a broad number of uses and applications of this meaning but the general idea of them all is that you request that something is returned to you, or alternatively to its original place. I will now give you some examples of how this is typically used....


  • When a national bank of a country decides to withdraw a certain type of coin or note in its currency, normally to replace it with a newer version, we can say that it 'calls in' the note or coin in question. In other words, it is asking for it back as it will no longer be able to be used in public circulation.


  • I am sure that when you were a child and and were out playing with your friends, your mother or father called you in when it was time to stop playing, maybe as dinner was ready or it was getting dark. This is another typical example of how 'call in' is used in this way.


  • Another usage here would be with the military when soldiers are stationed at outposts, far from the main bulk of the army troops. If these soldiers stationed at outposts are called in, they are asked to return to the main bulk or military station.


Of course there are other uses of how this application of 'call in' can be used, but hopefully you get the general idea that it is all about asking or demanding that someone or something returns to its original place.


Examples of usage....

As children, we always used to play outside in our street until it got dark or our mothers called us in.
As a result of the troubles that are occurring in the north of the country, we are calling in troops who are stationed in the south as reinforcements.
 

MEANING 4: To request payment of a loan

A notepad with the words 'pay debt' written on it in red pen on a plaid tablecloth with a pen alongside it

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

The fourth meaning of 'call in' is not so different from the last in terms of concept. It specifically refers to banks and financial institutions which loan money to people and 'call in' is used to describe when they request payment for the loans that they have made to people and businesses.


If a bank calls in a loan, it decides that it wants the debt it is owed to be repaid immediately and sends a request to the debtor (the person who owes the bank money) asking for full payment. This can be because of a change in the debtor's circumstances or a change in the bank's financial situation. The main idea idea though is that the bank wants the money now.


Examples of usage....

Due to a downturn in its own financial situation, the bank was forced to call in a large number of its debts.
In general, most mortgage providers are not able to call in a loan at random unless specific criteria is met.
 

MEANING 5: To telephone a television show


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both - but more American

Potential synonyms

To phone in (UK)

Our fifth and final usage of 'call in' is very much linked to the usage of the verb 'to call' as in calling someone on the telephone, however 'call in' is more specific since it is used to talk about making a phone call to a live television or radio show.


This is primarily an American English usage, whereas in British English you may traditionally have heard 'phone in' instead of 'call in', although nowadays I think 'call in' is probably used just as much.


From this usage, we also get the noun 'call-in' which describes a TV programme which involves people calling in to participate in it, such as a charity event or a debate. Again, this is the name that you will see on American TV, however on British English we refer to this type of programme as a 'phone-in'.


Examples of usage....

On today's show we are talking about when mortgage lenders call in their loans unexpectedly, so please call in and tell us about your experience if this has ever happened to you.
I am currently in the process of creating my own call-in show on my YouTube channel.
 

BONUS

The word 'BONUS' spelled out with different coloured helium balloons held by different hands

Before I finish this post, I want to make you aware of another common expression featuring 'call in' and that is 'to call in sick'. This is when when someone calls their place of work to let their manager or employer know that they will not be able to work that day because they are sick (or that's what they want their manager to think 😉). This is a very standard expression that you will hear in workplaces all over the anglophone world.


Examples of usage....

John won't be in today as he has called in sick.
If you need to call in sick, please try and let your manager know before your scheduled start time.
 

Question marks in different coloured overlapping speech bubbles on a black background

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to call in'....

  1. We couldn't fix the water pipe issue, so we had to enlist the help of a plumber.

  2. I'm sorry I can't come today as I've been asked to work by my boss and I have to go.

  3. Helen paid a quick visit to Lisa's house on her way back from work.

  4. Roger shouted to his kids to come in for dinner at 7pm.

  5. The bank has decided to cancel my loan and wants it paid back in full immediately.

  6. John won't be in the office today. He has phoned to say that he is ill.

The answers will be available on next week's post.

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'PASS OUT' (other variations may be possible)

  1. The pain was so intense that I PASSED OUT for a short period.

  2. Roger drank so much beer at his work party and ended up PASSING OUT on his sofa at home.

  3. Here are the test papers. Lisa, can you please PASS them OUT to the rest of the class.

  4. Food and water was PASSED OUT to all of the people whose houses had been flooded.

  5. John graduates from military college and we are going to watch his PASSING OUT ceremony.

  6. If you want to leave the theatre during the performance you will need a PASS-OUT.

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'call in' below. I really love reading them. If you want to receive new blog posts directly email every week, please sign up on the form below. See you next time! James

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