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The Phrasal Verb 'Put Down' Explained

Updated: Mar 19

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


A baby that has been put down to sleep

Hello and welcome to my website for English learners all about English phrasal verbs! Read on to learn more about the phrasal verb 'put down'...


To 'put down' is a common phrasal verb in English with A LOT of different meanings. We can happily put down a baby but putting down an animal will make us very sad. Moreover, you can easily put down words, music or a telephone but sometimes putting down a book is difficult and if somebody puts you down, you may put it down to jealousy! If all of this seems strange to you, read the article and all of it will become clear! So, without further ado let's get started...don't forget to leave a comment at the end 😊


PUT DOWN: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

11

Separable?

Yes

Past tense forms

Put down / put down

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

To begin, let's consider the words 'put' and 'off' and what they mean on their own, as this can be very helpful to understand some of the phrasal verb meanings that we will look at in this post.


As a learner of English, I am sure that you are very familiar with the verb 'to put' as it is one of the 30 most common verbs in the language and is used frequently by native speakers. The verb 'to put', like most common English verbs, has a wide variety of different meanings and uses, however perhaps the main meaning is 'to place or move something into a specified position'. Another meaning of 'to put' that is highly relevant for the phrasal verb 'put down' is 'to write something'....more on this to come later 😀


The prepositional particle 'down' is all about the idea of moving lower or being in a lower position ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ and it's inclusion in phrasal verb constructions often adds this idea to the verb. Moreover, 'down' can also add the ideas of reduction, defeat and failure to phrasal verbs. A meaning of 'down' as an adverb that is relevant for 'put down' is 'in writing' or 'on paper'.


So, now that we have looked at these two innocent little words, let's take a look at all of the different meanings they create when we combine them together....there are a lot of them!

 

MEANING 1: To stop holding or carrying something



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Telephone

Let's start things off with a nice easy meaning, which is 'to stop holding something in your hands or carrying something'.


Most of the time, when we hold something in our hands and we stop holding it, we tend to place it either on a surface in a lower position or on the ground, so the direction of the 'putting' action is downwards and so 'put down' has developed to encompass this idea.


We can use 'put down' to talk about any object that we physically stop holding or carrying, however one collocation that is particularly common is with the noun 'telephone'.


'To put the (tele)phone down' is a synonym of the phrasal verb 'hang up' (link here) and actually just means to end a phone call. This meaning originally derived from the old style of landline phones with which people stopped holding the receiver and placed it down on the phone in order to end a phone call, however this usage has survived until today and is still heard today with smartphones.


Another great usage to know with this meaning of 'put down' is with books. If someone is reading a book that they find highly enjoyable and don't want to stop reading, they may well say that they 'can't put it down'.


Examples of usage....

Put down the gun, John.
I've put my car keys down somewhere in the house and I can't find them anywhere!
Helen put her handbag down on the counter and paid for her coffee.
Roger said goodbye to Lisa and put the phone down.
This book is so good, I've been reading it all morning and I just can't put it down .
 

MEANING 2: To record something in written or musical form



CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To write, to record, to get down

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Words, sentences, paragraphs

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main meanings of the verb 'to put' is 'to write something' and this is very relevant for this second meaning of 'put down' as this is 'to record something in writing'.


'Put down' can be used as a synonym of the verb 'to write' and a direct object such as 'words' or 'sentences' is always required as this usage is transitive.


Aside from writing, this meaning also extends to music and if you 'put down' some music, it means that you record music, normally in a studio. It is possible to 'put down' an entire song or just an element of a song, such as the vocals or the drums.


Lastly, you may have come across the expression 'to put down in words', which is a fairly common way to mean 'expressing your thoughts or feelings in written form'.


Examples of usage....

I put down a few paragraphs this morning and now I don't know what to write.
It's very difficult to put down in words everything that I am feeling at the moment.
The singer went into the studio last week and put some vocals down on a new song that he is working on.
We've put down a few tracks on the album but we are still writing the others.
 

MEANING 3: To add something to a list


A person putting some items down on a list

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To enter, to record, to add, to list

Separable

Yes

We have just talked about 'put down' meaning to record information in written form and this next meaning is an extension of that as it means 'to add something to a list'. In other words, if you 'put something down' on a list, you simply add it as an item.


Of course, there are many types of lists that exist such as shopping lists, to to-do lists, lists of invitees to social events and waiting lists and 'put down' can be used for each and every one of these. It can be used in a slightly more idiomatic way too, as if you 'put your name down' on a list, it doesn't just mean that your name is included but can often also mean that you agree to take part in something or agree to do a particular job.


Examples of usage....

I've made a list of what I want for Christmas and I've put down everything that I can think of.
The doctor has put my name down on the waiting list for an operation, so hopefully it will happen soon.
I hope you don't mind but I've put your name down as a reference for my next job.
I've put my name down to do the raffle competition at this year's village fete.
 

MEANING 4: To criticise someone



CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To insult, to criticise , to denigrate, to disparage, to slight,

Separable?

Yes

When used in phrasal verb constructions, the particle 'down' can often have quite negative connotations and this next meaning is a clear example of that. The reason for this is that to 'put someone down' means 'to criticise' or 'to insult' someone, or in other words, to say something horrible about them.


Grammatically, this usage of 'put down' is normally used separably, with the person who receives the insult or criticism going between the words 'put' and 'down', either their name or the direct object pronoun (me, him, her etc).


You should also note that the noun 'put-down' also exists and this just means an insult or a criticism.


Examples of usage....

My husband always puts me down in front of our friends.
Tim tried to put Lucy down but she quickly shut him up.
Lisa was sick and tired of constantly being put down by her manager, so she quit her job.
John wasn't sure what he had done to deserve such a vicious put-down from Roger.
 

MEANING 5: To attribute something to something



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To attribute to, to ascribe, to blame on, to chalk up to

Separable?

Yes

From now on, we will be looking at some more advanced usages of 'put down' and for this next meaning one', we require the additional preposition 'to'.


Imagine that you have recently started having severe headaches and at about the same time, you also started to get very stressed in your job. As both things started happening at the same time, you would probably put the headaches down to the stress. In other words, you think that the headaches are caused by the stress, but of course you don't know this for sure.


So, to confirm, this fifth meaning of 'put down' is 'to attribute something to a probable cause' and you should note that the construction of this is as follows:


to put + result + down to + probable cause


Most of the time, this application is used to talk about negative things and situations and what we think is the cause of them but of course this can be used for positive situations too, albeit less commonly.


Notably, I often hear people using this in a past tense form to talk about when they believed one thing was the cause of a problem in the past but now they know what the real cause was and that their original assumption was wrong.


Examples of usage....

My teenage son has been acting strangely recently and I just put it down to his hormones but I've since found out that he has been taking drugs.
I put my constant tiredness down to being so busy all the time but it turns out that I had a vitamin deficiency.
He's still making lots of mistakes in his job role but he is still quite new, so let's put it down to inexperience.
 

MEANING 6: To kill an animal humanely



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To destroy, to put to sleep

Separable?

Yes

As an animal lover with pets of my own, this meaning of 'put down' makes me sad as it means 'to kill an animal in a humane way'.


Firstly, let's be clear that 'put down' does not mean to kill an animal in general, but rather to kill an animal that is old, very sick or dangerous. The act of 'putting down' is usually carried out by a vet or professional and is done humanely, i.e. in a way that causes the animal the least amount of suffering possible, thankfully.


A more pleasant euphemistic synonym for this application of 'put down' is 'to put to sleep'.


Grammatically, this application is often used in a passive way, usually in the causative form with 'have' or 'get'.


Examples of usage....

Our dog was very sick, so we had to have her put down, so that she wouldn't suffer anymore.
The governor ordered the vet to put the dangerous animal down, to ensure that it couldn't hurt anyone else again.
We had to get our rabbit put down yesterday and I am devastated.
 

MEANING 7: To put a baby to bed



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To put to bed, to lay down

Separable?

Yes

As you will undoubtedly know, the meanings of individual English phrasal verbs can be extremely diverse and this is quite evident when considering this next meaning which is all about babies.


The difference between putting down an animal and putting down a baby is enormous and you don't want to mix these up as 'to put down a baby' simply means 'to put a baby to bed'.


Alternatively, this can also be used for any situation where you lay a baby down so that it goes to sleep. I think that this usage is quite self-explanatory as it often stopping holding the baby and placing it down on a bed or in a cot.


On a grammatical note, this application is transitive and takes a direct object, which is always the baby. It is therefore also separable and usually a word such as 'baby' will go between 'put' and 'down' or alternatively the name of the child.


Examples of usage....

Shhhh! Be quiet, I've just put the baby down.
Most days, Lisa puts the baby down for a nap at about 2pm, at which time she does the housework.
Putting a baby down for a sleep is not always easy when your house is as noisy as mine.
 

MEANING 8: To pay a deposit


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To pay a deposit, to make a down payment

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Money, deposit, funds

If you are ever in a situation where you want to buy something expensive like a house or a nice car, it is likely (unless you're very rich) that you will not have enough money to pay for it all and you may therefore need to make a deposit payment, with the intention of paying the rest of the money over a period of time in the future. This action of paying a deposit, or a down payment, to secure a sale is also known as 'putting down' a deposit.


To clarify, this eighth meaning of 'put down' is to make a deposit payment. It is normally used with large purchases that people cannot afford to make at one time.


Grammatically, this is separable, with the money or deposit being the direct object of the verb. The additional preposition 'on' is often used to specify the item being purchased.


Examples of usage....

John put a deposit down on his new house and took out a mortgage to pay for the rest of it.
I've put down £500 on a new car and it is being delivered next week!
If I put down some money as a deposit, my company will reimburse me.
 

MEANING 9: To reduce prices



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To reduce, to slash, to lower, to knock down, to mark down, to cut

Separable?

Yes

This ninth meaning is primarily British usage and means 'to reduce', specifically when talking about prices.


When a business, company or shop puts down its prices, it lowers them, therefore making them more desirable to its customers. Sadly, this is not something that we are seeing much of at the moment as usually companies are forced to put their prices up instead.


Examples of usage....

We have decided to put down our prices on some of our high end products.
The government is forcing energy companies to put down their prices as many people are not able to afford them at present.
I refuse to put my prices down any further!
 

MEANING 10: To suppress a rebellion



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To suppress, to repress, to quash, to quell, to subdue, to stop

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Rebellion, riot, coup

The penultimate meaning of 'put down' that we will consider is a rarer one that means 'to suppress a rebellion'. Despite being a more infrequent usage, this is still one that you may come across in English and it is therefore useful to know.


To explain this application further, it is used whenever a group of people rebel against authority in some way and the rebellion is limited, suppressed or stopped. This can often be heard in conjunction with nouns such as riot and coup and it normally involves an element of force from the authorities, police or armed forces to make it stop.


Examples of usage....

The riots were quickly put down by the well-trained army.
Security forces put down the coup within hours.
 

MEANING 11: To land an airplane



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Rare

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To land, to touch down

Separable?

Yes

Well done if you have made it this far! We are now onto our final meaning of the phrasal verb 'put down', which is 'to land an airplane'.


On a grammatical note, this usage of 'put down' can be used both transitively and intransitively (with and without a direct object).


Used intransitively, the airplane is the subject and 'put down' is used as a synonym of the more commonly used verb 'to land'. Often, here we use the additional preposition 'in' to specify the name of the city or country where the plane 'puts down'.


For transitive uses, the pilot is the subject and the plane then becomes the direct object of the verb.


Examples of usage....

The plane put down in San Francisco twenty minutes earlier than scheduled.
The pilot put the aircraft down on the wrong runway, nearly causing a serious accident.
 

This brings us to the end of the post, so thanks for reading...it was a long one! Now it is YOUR turn. Leave a comment on the blog post with your own sentence using 'put down'....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.


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