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The Phrasal Verb 'Carry Out' Explained

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

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


Two people carrying out a sofa out of a room

Hello and welcome to my blog 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.


The phrasal verb 'carry out' is a commonly used phrasal verb, both in its literal and idiomatic applications. This is one that you have come across in a business or professional sense as it is very commonly used to describe to work and jobs. That is not its only meaning however, and in this post we will look at exactly how native speakers use it and in which situations. So, without further ado, let's get started....


CARRY OUT: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

3

Separable?

Yes

Past forms

Carried out / Carried out

British or American?

Both

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

 

THE BASICS

The letters A-G made from different coloured plasticine on a red background

To begin with, let's take a quick look at the words 'carry' and 'out' , in order to gain some background knowledge on the phrasal verb 'carry out'.

A woman carrying a dog

The verb 'to carry' is a common verb with the core meaning of 'supporting something off the ground and moving with it from one place to another'. When we use this verb we are normally talking about transporting an object, person or animal and it can be used with any nouns for things that can be physically lifted and moved. It can also be used to talk about items which we have with us at all times in our pockets or on our person such as a wallet or an identity card.


If you want to use 'carry' at an advanced level, you can use it to describe abstract nouns too, such as conviction, (prison) sentence, warning and guarantee.


We then have the prepositional particle 'out', which has many usages in English. The central idea of 'out' is the opposite of 'in'. i.e. the exterior of something. Used as adverb 'out' often means movement from an interior space, which will certainly be relevant for the first meaning of 'carry out' that will look at now....

 

MEANING 1: Literal



CEFR Language Level

A1 - Beginner

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

​To take out, to bring out

Our first meaning of 'carry out' is a nice and easy one as it is just the literal semantic combination of the two words 'carry' and 'out'. In other words, physically supporting something and moving with it from an interior space to an exterior space, or possibly to a different interior space (the key element is that the object is no longer in the original interior space).


For this, the object can be any nouns for a thing that can lifted and carried. This literal version of 'carry out' is used mainly for human activity and therefore the indirect object (the inside space) can be any nouns that a person can be physically 'in', so that they can perform the action of 'carrying'. Don't forget the additional preposition 'of' is required for the indirect object.


As such, nouns that are commonly 'carried out' include people, furniture, boxes,

The list goes on and on but you get the point!


Examples of usage

Lisa fell over in her office and had to be carried out on a stretcher as she could not walk.
Can you please help me carry these boxes out to the car?
This bed is too big to be carried out of this room by just one person.
 

MEANING 2: To perform or complete an activity

A mechanic carrying out some work in a garage

​CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To do, to perform, to fulfil, to complete, to conduct

The second meaning of 'carry out' is an idiomatic one and means 'to perform or complete an activity'. I think that this is perhaps the most common application of this phrasal verb as it is used across all walks of life, especially in the world of work and business.


'Carry out' used this way is mainly used to talk about performing a specific task or job such as a car repair, building work, an audit or a review. It is not really used to talk about a general job, vocation or career. Outside of the world of work, it is used to talk about crimes, attacks and other unpleasant activities that some people get involved in. Nevertheless, I'm sure that you can imagine that this application of 'carry out' is used with a diverse and wide variety of different nouns.


In many cases, this meaning of 'carry out' is exactly the same as 'to do' when talking about a specific task or job and, in fact, I think that this is one of the rare occasions that the phrasal verb equivalent sounds more formal and elevated than its non-phrasal verb synonym, perhaps because the verb 'to do', is such an ordinary and commonplace verb.


Examples of usage....

We are planning to carry out some research next year on people's attitudes towards climate change.
The criminal gang carried out a series of armed robberies over a three year period.
The train company is carrying out an excavation of the site this week in preparation for the railway lines to be laid in the next few months.
Essential roadworks will be carried out on this road from Monday 18th May for a period of six weeks, so please plan your journey accordingly.
 

MEANING 3: To implement a plan or a threat



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To implement, to go through with, to put into action, to put into effect, to follow through on

The third and final meaning of 'carry out' is to implement a plan or a threat, but can also be used with any other nouns that signify our intentions. In fact, this usage of 'carry out' is all about our future intentions, good or bad, and whether or not we implement them or put them into action.


In other words, if you have a plan to do something and then you go ahead and do everything that you planned to do, you can say that you have "carried out your plan". This is exactly the same when talking about threats (which I guess are a type of plan). Other nouns that are less commonly used with this application of 'carry out' are 'commitment', 'instruction', 'idea' and 'strategy'.


Examples of usage....

Despite some unexpected setbacks, we still hope to carry out our plan to make this company the leader within its sector by the end of the decade.
We never actually believed that John would carry out his threat to ban his children from watching television, but he has done it!
It is essential that you develop a great marketing strategy and then it carry it out if you want your business to survive.
 

BONUS INFORMATION

The word bonus spelt out with different coloured helium balloons held up by different people's hands

For anyone with a particular interest in Scottish English, the phrasal verb 'carry out' also has a noun version, 'carry-out', which is in common usage in Scotland to describe several different things related to food and drink.

The Scottish flag

Firstly, it can mean food that is bought at a restaurant and taken away to be eaten, which is called a takeaway in England and a takeout in American English (although I believe carry-out) is also used in the USA to mean the same thing). On the same theme, the restaurant where the 'carry-out' food is bought can be referred to as 'a carry-out' too (confusing I know!). The last meaning of 'carry-out' as a noun refers to alcohol that is bought in a shop or a pub and taken to a different place e.g. home or a party to be consumed.


Examples of usage....

I don't want to cook tonight. Shall we get a carry-out for dinner instead?
We didn't want to stay in the bar, so we bought some carry-out wine and took it home.
 

Question marks in different speech bubbles on a black background

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to carry out'....

  1. John was not able to lift the sofa and take it outside on his own.

  2. The mechanics did the work on my car last week.

  3. We are conducting the financial audit in the first week of September.

  4. Sadly, I was not able to put my plans into action as I became ill.

  5. The CEO wasn't really going to follow through on his threats to fire his staff.

  6. Angus and Morag sat at home and ordered food from the Chinese restaurant.

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

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'LOOK UP' (other variations may be possible)

  1. Helen was LOOKING UP at the sky trying to catch a glimpse of the meteor shower.

  2. I LOOKED UP the meaning of the word in the dictionary.

  3. We didn't know the answer to the question, so we LOOKED it UP on the internet.

  4. Things are definitely LOOKING UP following the lifting of Covid sanctions last year.

  5. The next time you are in town, please LOOK me UP.

  6. Roger LOOKED UP to Mick Jagger when he was growing up.

 

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 'carry out' 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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