top of page

The Phrasal Verb 'Call On' Explained

Updated: Mar 3

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'call on', with lots of examples in context.

A lady giving a speech outside with her arm pointing to her right

Hello and welcome to my website all about English phrasal verbs! Read on to learn more about the phrasal verbs 'call on' and also its variant form 'call upon'....


This post is all about the English phrasal verb 'call on', however as I am feeling generous this week, I have also included the variant form 'call upon' for you, so you get two for the price of one! In this post, I will explain all of the different meanings of 'call on' and 'call upon' and how native English speakers use them in everyday language. In the post, I use 'call (up)on' to refer to both verbs as in most cases they mean the same thing. So, without further ado, let's get started....


CALL (UP)ON: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Medium

Number of meanings

4

Separable?

No

Past tense forms

Called (up)on / Called (up)on

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

 

The letters ABC written on a blackboard with books and chalk sticks in the foreground

THE BASICS

Let's begin this post by considering the different meanings of the individual words 'call', 'up' and 'upon', which all make up our phrasal verb of choice.


Firstly, we have 'to call', which is a frequently used verb in English, with several distinct but related usages, such as giving someone or something a name, telephoning someone or shouting loudly to get someone's attention. Another less common usage of 'to call', which is highly relevant for the phrasal verb 'call (up)on' is 'to make a request or a demand'.


Secondly, we have the prepositional particle 'on', which you will certainly be very familiar with already. 'On' can be used in a huge variety of different ways in English and functions as an adverb, a preposition and even as an adjective. When used in phrasal verb constructions, 'on' can often add the ideas of progression and continuation.


Last but not least, we have the prepositional particle 'upon'. This is formed by the combination of the particles 'up' and 'on' but actually serves as a more formal synonym for 'on'. 'Upon' is an older English term that is being gradually replaced by 'on', but can still be heard today, especially in formal language and also in place names in the UK, for example Shakespeare's birthplace is the town of Stratford-upon-Avon (Avon is the name of a river).


So, now that we have covered the basics, let's take a look at the meanings of call (up)on....

 

MEANING 1: To formally ask someone to do something



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To ask, to request, to demand

Separable?

No

The first way that the phrasal verb 'call on' and its variant 'call upon' are used in English is 'to formally request someone to do something'. This is often when the request is made publicly, either physically in front of people or broadcasted via tv, radio or the internet.


Have you ever been to a wedding in an English-speaking country? If not, I'm sure as an English learner you will have certainly seen weddings on English language TV or movies. If you have, you may have heard the bride or groom say the following words during the ceremony as part of their vows....


A wedding ceremony in a large ornate church

"I call upon these persons here present to witness...."


Now, the wording above probably seems strange to you and that is because it is archaic, old-fashioned English that is no longer used anymore outside of formal situations and ceremonies. What the person is actually doing is just requesting that all of the guests witness the vows that he or she is making.


As weddings are traditional ceremonies, much of the language used in them has been preserved from older English and so 'call upon' tends to be used here rather than 'call on', although 'call on' is being used more and more, especially in more modern ceremonies.


In addition to weddings, 'call (up)on' is often used by people who have an audience or following to ask for some type of change from a government or an organisation. As the nature of these requests can often be urgent or desperate, it is common for them to become demands or orders, depending on the level of influence that the person has. In these situations, 'call on' is perhaps used more than the more formal 'call upon', although you can still hear both.


Examples of usage...

I call upon all persons here present to witness that I, John Smith, take thee, Lisa Jones, to be my lawful wedded wife.
The Head of the National Education Committee has called on the government to act urgently in order to resolve the matter.
The councillors called on the city mayor to resign and step down, however he refused to do so.
The government is calling on all doctors to reconsider their planned strike next week.
 

MEANING 2: To invite someone to speak



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To ask, to invite

Separable?

No

The next meaning of 'call (up)on' derives directly from the first usage that we have just looked at and this is 'to invite or to ask someone to speak'.


This application of 'call (up)on' is again a formal usage that you tend to hear more in official and ceremonial environments, especially in a courtroom or at a ceremony, event or business meeting when someone is asked to make a speech.


As this is a formal usage, you are far more likely to hear the traditional English variation 'call upon', although 'call on' is used more and more in modern English, which is a trend that I do not think will end anytime soon.


For this particular usage, it is quite common for it to be used in the passive sense, i.e. to be called (up)on.


Examples of usage....

I now call upon the CEO to address the board and outline the agenda for this AGM.
I'd like to call upon the headteacher of the school to say a few words.
The court now calls upon the witness, Mr. Steven White, to provide us with a detailed description of what he saw on the evening of the crime.
During the inquest, the Prime Minister was called on to speak several times.
 

MEANING 3: To make use of a quality that you possess



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To activate

Separable?

No

Imagine that you have a superpower, such as flying or being invisible, but this superpower is not one that you use all the time, it is rather just used when you 'activate' it in times of need. To describe this activation of your superpower, you could say that you 'call (up)on it', which is kind of like saying that you request for it to work.


Sadly, in reality nobody has such a superpower (that I know of), however we do all have individual talents and abilities that we can use from time to time and for this we would say that we 'call (up)on' them we need them, which is the third meaning of this phrasal verb.


The talents and abilities that a person can call (up)on are generally something that a person is able to do but does not do often or has not done for a long time. As such, the range of these skills is almost limitless and can range from songwriting skills, to keeping calm in high pressure situations or speaking a foreign language. In addition to talents and abilities, 'call (up)on' can also be used in this way with strength and energy, especially in times of need.


Examples of usage....

Whilst filming the movie, the actress called on her ability to improvise in the moment.
Despite swearing to never do it again, the psychic decided to call on her ability to see into the future one more time.
In order to pass this exam, I had to call on every last bit of my memory.
Jane will need to call on every ounce of strength that she has to get through this next challenge.
 

MEANING 4: To visit someone



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

British

Potential synonyms

To visit, to pop in, to drop by, to call in

Separable?

No

Our final usage of 'call (up)on' is a bit of a departure from the usages that we have considered so far as this one means 'to visit someone'. In general, this tends to be used when the visit is unplanned, short or both.


This is a primarily British English usage that is commonly used in everyday spoken language and is more informal than the verb 'to visit'. Due to the 'visiting' aspect of this application, it is used most often to describe visiting someone at their home, however it can also be used for visits to see people in hospital or any other place where they are staying for a period of time.


Due to the more informal nature of this meaning, 'call on' is almost always used here as 'call upon' in this situation would sound overly formal.


It is also possible to use the variation 'to call in on someone' here (just to make it a bit more complicated), which means the same thing but can also imply that the visit was very short e.g. you go to someone's house to check that they are ok and leave after 5 or 10 minutes.


One last thing to note here is that to 'call on' someone can often be used when talking about door to door salespeople, who visit potential customers at their houses in order to sell them something. In this sense, it is quite negative in nature.


Examples of usage....

We called on my Dad on our way back from our holiday.
John called on his best friend last night but nobody was at home.
I am going to call in on Lisa in the hospital later to make sure that she is ok.
 

This brings us to the end of the post, so thanks for reading. Now it is YOUR turn. Leave a comment on the blog post with your own sentence using 'call on'....don't be shy!!!


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 (up)on' 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.

Comentários


JOIN THE MAILING LIST TO RECEIVE NEW POSTS DIRECT IN YOUR INBOX!

Thanks for submitting! A new phrasal verb post will be emailed to you every Friday!

bottom of page