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The Phrasal Verb 'Go Over' Explained

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

Deer crossing a quiet forest road

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.


'To go over' is a common phrasal verb in the English language with a range of different meanings, including to cross something from one side to the other, to exceed a limit and to describe how something is perceived by an audience. Read on to find out all of its different meanings, as well some idiomatic expressions that it can be found in....


GO OVER: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

6

Separable?

No

Past tense forms

Went over / Gone over

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

 

THE BASICS

The letter ABC written on a chalkboard with some chalk sticks and books in the foreground

Before we start looking at the meanings of the phrasal verb 'go over', let's firstly have a look at the words 'go' and 'over' and their individual meanings.


The verb 'to go' is one of the most common verbs in the English language and is all about movement, specifically from one place to another. In addition to this main meaning, it can also be used to mean 'to leave' and 'to become' and is commonly used to form the 'going to' future tense construction, e.g. "I am going to watch this movie tonight".


The prepositional particle 'over' is an interesting one as it has several distinct meanings, depending on what word class it is used as. As a preposition it tends to mean 'above' or 'in a higher position than', as an adverb it is first and foremost used to mean 'across' or 'movement across' and as an adjective it means 'finished' or 'ended'. Moreover, in American English 'over' can also be used as an adverb to mean 'repeatedly' or 'again'.


So now that we have covered the basics, let's move on to the various meanings of 'go over'....

 

MEANING 1: To move across from one place to another



CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To come over, to go across, to head over, to pass over

This first meaning of 'go over' is a literal meaning of the verb 'to go' and the adverb 'over' combined, meaning 'to move across from one place to another'.


Broadly speaking, there are two main ways that this literal form of 'go over' is used....


The first is simply moving from a start point and across something to arrive at the desired end point. The list of things that could be crossed is extensive but typically includes roads, fields, bridges and rivers. We do also use 'go over' to talk about when we go to a different country, especially when a sea or an ocean lies between the countries and this is typical when talking about travel from the UK or Europe to the USA or vice versa.


The second way that 'go over' can be used literally is with the idea of moving past something by going above it, thus incorporating the prepositional meaning of 'above' that 'over' possesses. For this second variation, typical examples could be when a person goes over a hill or when something moves through the air and it goes over something such as an airplane, a superhero or something that has been thrown.


Examples of usage....

In order to go over the bridge by foot, you must pay a small fee of $2.
John went over the field to get his horse from the other side.
Steven has gone over to the USA to study at Yale for a year. I miss him terribly!
We went over the English Channel when we were going to France on the airplane.
Sarah is no longer allowed to play football with her brothers as every time she kicks the ball, it goes over the fence.
 

MEANING 2: To change allegiance



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To come over, to switch

For the second meaning of 'go over', we are going to continue with the theme of an across movement from a start point to an end point, however this time the movement is abstract rather than physical, as it means to change allegiances from one side to another.


For those of you who are unsure of the word 'allegiance', it means 'loyalty or support given to a particular cause, person, group of people or belief' and this could be used with political parties, sides of an argument or debate or even a sports team.


When a person decides, for whatever reason, to change side or allegiance, we can say that they 'go over' to the other side. This is a similar usage to the phrasal verb 'come over' (link here), however with 'go over' the perspective is from the starting point where the person leaves and with 'come over' the perspective is from the end point.


Examples of usage....

John left the Left Party a long time ago and went over to the Green Party, despite them being much less popular.
Louise was offered a large amount of money to go over to their rival basketball team, however her allegiance to her home team was too strong and she turned it down.
 

MEANING 3: To examine or check something carefully


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

​British or American

Both

Usage

Common

Potential synonyms

To examine, to check, to go through

The next meaning of 'go over' is 'to examine or to check something carefully', normally a document, essay or some kind of written work.


Typically, you would use 'go over' in this sense when you have created a document or completed a form and you want somebody else to check it for you, to ensure that there are no mistakes and that everything is correct and suitable.


This usage of 'go over' comes from the idea of moving your eyes across a document from above and thus includes the idea of movement from 'to go' and 'across and above' from 'over'.

Examples of usage....

I've finished the report and I've asked my boss to go over it before I submit it to the customer.
I can't believe that I did not see that spelling mistake on the website. I went over it four or five times before I published it!

The word BONUS spelled out using different coloured helium balloons held up by different hands

IDIOM ALERT

Several different coloured combs on a black background

This particular usage of 'go over' where we check a form of written work or document has given rise to a common idiom that is used in everyday English: 'to go over something with a fine-tooth comb'.


This idiom is used to mean that you will search for something or examine something as thoroughly and carefully as possible. A variation of this idiom that may also hear is 'to go through something with a fine-tooth comb'.

The board has been over the plans with a fine-tooth comb and has decided to give the project the green light.
When I lost my gold bracelet, we went over the house with a fine-tooth comb but we weren't able to find it anywhere. It turned out that it was in the car!
 

MEANING 4: To revise or rehearse something another time


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

​Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To revise, to repeat, to practise, to rehearse

Our fourth meaning of 'go over' is primarily to do with the idea of repetition and is used to mean 'to revise' or to 'rehearse'. Once again, this application takes the idea of movement from 'go' and combines it with the idea of repetition from the adverbial usage of 'over'.


This usage is actually quite similar to the one that we just looked at in the last section, as it also involves looking at something. This time, however, we are not looking at it to make sure that it is correct, but rather we are looking at it again, either to revise something and learn it, such as before an exam, or to practise or rehearse something, like when you are preparing for a performance or speech.


This could also be used with the idea of discussing something for another or a second time, especially if the subject in question is one of disagreement or contention.


Examples of usage....

Let's go over our lines one more time before the performance. I want to make sure that I know them perfectly!
He's gone over the practice questions so many times, I don't think it will be possible for him to fail!
Oh not this subject again! We've gone over this so many times and I do not want to discuss it anymore.
 

MEANING 5: To be received or perceived by people


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To come across, to come over

The fifth meaning of 'go over' mean 'to be received' or 'perceived' by an audience and is used specifically to talk about performances, demonstrations, speeches and multimedia - in other words for anything which has an audience.


When we talk about how something 'goes over', we are specifically talking about how it is perceived by an audience and accordingly this will be followed with a adverb such as well or badly. If we want to specify the audience who are perceiving or receiving the performance, we need the additional preposition 'with'.


This application is very similar in meaning and usage to the phrasal verbs 'come across' (link here) and 'come over' (link here).


Examples of usage....

The singer's comeback performance went over really well with the audience and her singles and albums streams and downloads have increased dramatically as a consequence.
The minister's speech last night did not go over well.
 

MEANING 6: To exceed a limit


CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To run over, to exceed

Last but not least, we have our sixth and final meaning of 'go over', which is to exceed a set or expected limit.


For this usage, we are again taking the idea of movement from the verb 'to go' and combining it with the prepositional meaning of 'over' to mean 'more than'. The idea here is that something moves past a limit or deadline and this can be applied to time and speed limits and also physical capacities.


It is very common to use 'go over' in the business world to talk about meetings and engagements that continue on after the intended finishing time. Alternatively, if you go over the speed limit in your car, your speed exceeds the highest permissible speed on that particular road and if you spend more than the agreed amount on your credit card, you go over your limit.


Examples of usage....

The meeting was scheduled to finish at 2pm, however it went over and it did not finish until nearly 4pm.
Lisa lost her driving license last year as she went over the speed limit multiple times.
 

The word BONUS spelled out using different coloured helium balloons held up by different hands

IDIOM ALERT!!

Before I finish this post, there are two more idioms with 'go over' that I want to tell you about and these are very interesting as they are actually the same idiom, just with two separate meanings. The idiomatic expression in question is 'to go over someone's head'.


The first meaning of 'to go over someone's head' is frequently used in the business world and means 'to ask permission or to obtain authority from someone who is higher up in the organisational hierarchy than the person you would normally ask'. In other words, instead of asking for permission from your boss, you ask permission from your boss' boss.


I needed emergency authorisation to take time off for a family emergency and I knew my boss wouldn't allow me to have the time off, so I went over her head and asked the MD instead.

The second meaning of 'to go over someone's head' is used to describe when someone does not understand something because it is too complicated for them or they lack the requisite basic knowledge to comprehend it. Typical examples of when this can be used would be when someone tries to explain something technical to someone without any technical knowledge and when someone from another country does not know a cultural reference from the country that they are in and therefore does not grasp the intended meaning.

I told John a joke about social media and he didn't laugh or find it funny. It went over his head because he doesn't use social media and didn't understand the reference.
 

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

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to go over'....

  1. John crossed the road to go and speak to Lisa who was on the other side.

  2. In a shock move, the leader of extreme right quit his party and joined the extreme left party.

  3. Could you please read through the finance report and check it is all ok before I submit it to the board of directors.

  4. Before a performance, I always practise my lines a few times to make sure I know them off by heart.

  5. The President's speech was very well received by the audience.

  6. The meeting was supposed to finish at 5pm but continued until shortly after 6pm.

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

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'KEEP ON' (other variations may be possible)

  1. My dog KEEPS ON barking every someone comes to the front door.

  2. Helen KEEPS ON about the movie she saw last night!

  3. I am so cold, so I am going to KEEP my coat ON.

  4. The company decided to KEEP Roger ON for another 6 months.

  5. John's parents used to KEEP ON at him about giving up smoking when he was younger.

  6. Despite a few setbacks, Lisa is KEEPING ON track with her current work project.

 

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 'go over' 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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