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The Phrasal Verb 'Take Off' Explained

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

A rocket taking off

Hello and welcome to my website for English learners all about phrasal verbs!


The phrasal verb 'take off' is a wonderful phrasal verb to be have in your active English vocabulary, not only because it is very commonly used amongst native speakers, but also because many of its meanings are positive, happy and sometimes even humorous in nature! In this post, I will explain the different meanings that it has, with lots of examples of how it is used in everyday conversation and speech. So, without further ado, let's get started! Don't forget to leave a comment at the end!


TAKE OFF: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

8

Past tense forms

Took off / Taken off

Separable?

Yes but not for every meaning

MEANINGS (click to jump to each one)


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

THE BASICS

Before I explain the different meanings of the phrasal verb 'take off', let's first consider the individual words 'take' and 'off' and what they mean on their own.


'To take' is a highly versatile English verb that has a variety of different meanings depending on the context of the sentence that it features in. Personally, as a native speaker, the first meanings of 'to take' that I think of when I hear this verb are 'to grasp or hold something', 'to carry something with you' and one that is particularly relevant for this post 'to remove something from a place'.


The English prepositional particle 'off' functions as the natural opposite of the preposition 'on' and can act as an adverb, preposition, adjective, and noun. When used as an adverb, it is perhaps most commonly used to add the ideas of a movement away from something or a an action that removes something from a surface. In phrasal verbs, 'off' can be used to convey the ideas of separation, leaving, reduction and separation, among others.


So, now that we have looked at the basics, let's move onto the different meanings of the phrasal verb 'take off'...

 

MEANING 1: To remove something from a surface

Pizza taking slices of pizza off a table

CEFR Language Levels

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To remove, to take, pick up

Potential antonyms

To put on, to place on

Separable?

Yes

Let's begin with a nice and easy meaning of 'take off', which is 'to remove something from a surface'.


This usage is simply just the action of removing something from the surface that it is on, so that is is no longer touching or supported by it. The action of 'taking off' in this sense is usually carried out manually, i.e. with your hands.


Grammatically, this usage is separable and while it is certainly used inseparably, I think that there is more of a tendency amongst native speakers to use it inseparably in spoken English.


Can you take your shoes off the table, please.
When I took the book off the shelf, I accidentally knocked off the vase.
John put his coffee on top his car and then forgot to take it off again before he drove off.

There are a couple of other more advanced and abstract uses of this application with the idea of removal that you should also be aware of.


The first is when referring to a product or service that is on the market and available to the public to buy. If the company who is manufactures or provides it decides that they no longer want to sell the product or provide the service, they take it off the market so that nobody can buy it anymore. Furthermore, in some cases these cancelled products may even be taken off supermarket and shop shelves so that they cannot be sold.


Due to poor sales, the company has decided to take this product off the market.

Likewise, the same applies with television and radio broadcasting, in which programmes etc. are considered to be 'on the air'. If the broadcaster decides that they are going to stop showing the programme, it will be taken off (the air).


After 30 years, we are very sad to say that a decision has been made to take the programme off the air this summer.

Lastly, it is also possible for sports players to be taken off the sports pitch if it is decided that they can no longer continue to play the game, whether that be because they have developed an injury or committed a foul etc. etc.


The player was taken off in fifth minute after committing a nasty foul.
 

MEANING 2: To remove an item of clothing

A lady taking off a shoe from her foot

CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To remove, to undress, to disrobe, to kick off, to strip off,

Potential antonyms

To put on, to wear, to keep on, to have on

Separable?

Yes

Nouns commonly used with

Clothes, shoes, socks, glasses, hat, watch, jewellery

Our second meaning of 'take off' is more a continuation of the first, rather than a completely new one, as it means 'to remove an item of clothing'.


In this case, we are again removing an object from a surface, however this time the surface is specifically our bodies and the object being removed is an item of clothing.


You may already be aware that in English we use the phrasal verb 'have on' as a synonym of the verb 'to wear' and typically, we use this application of 'take off' for anything that we 'have on' our bodies. Of course, this covers the more general nouns such as clothing and clothes as well as specific items of clothing, such as coats, jackets, shirts, trousers / pants, socks, shoes etc. In addition to this, we can also use it for things like jewellery, watches, glasses and accessories. One notable exception for something that we can have on or wear in English but not take off, for obvious reasons, is aftershave or perfume.


Please take off your shoes before entering the house.
It was so cold in my office today that I refused to take my coat off.
When Roger got home from his run, the first thing that he did was take off his dirty clothes and have a shower.
My hairdresser asked me to take off my glasses when she was cutting my hair.
When going through security at the airport, it is necessary to take off all your jewellery so as not to set off the metal detector.
 

MEANING 3: To leave the ground and start flying

A British Airways airplane taking off

CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To fly, to take flight, to become airborne, to take wing, to fly off, to depart

Potential antonyms

To land, to arrive

Separable?

No

Our third meaning of 'take off' is one that many of you will be familiar with and will likely have associated with this particular phrasal verb. This is especially so if you have ever flown in an airplane and it means 'to leave the ground and start flying' or 'to become airborne'.


When we talk about an airplane, rocket, helicopter or hot air balloon taking off, we are specifically referring to the moment at the beginning of the flight when it leaves the ground and moves into the air in an upwards direction. In other words, it starts flying. This is something many people love (including me) and fear in equal measure!


The airplane was about to take off when the pilot told us that we had to wait as there was a delay.
Taking off is my favourite part of the plane journey, however my wife hates it and always gets really scared.
No planes are allowed to take off during the hurricane for obvious reasons.

As English is the international language of aviation, you will always hear this particular usage of 'take off' used in this way if you go on an international flight. In addition, you will almost certainly always hear the noun form 'takeoff' (alternatively 'take-off') being used too.


Cabin crew, please prepare the doors for takeoff.
Seatbelts must be worn during takeoff and landing.

Of course, I have only mentioned manmade inventions in this usage, however you should be aware that we also use this application of 'take off' for birds, insects, bats and anything else in the natural world that is lucky enough to have the ability to fly!


A swan taking off from a lake
The captured bird took off whilst the cat was not looking and escaped into the sky.
If you go to the mouth of the cave at dusk, you may be lucky enough to see hundreds of bats taking off.
Suddenly, the swan took off and flew off into the sunset.

 

MEANING 4: To take leave from work

An empty office with three chairs around a desk

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To have off, to take out, to book off

Potential antonyms

To work

Separable?

Yes

As I mentioned in the previous section, I love taking off in airplanes. Another thing that I love, which also involves taking off in airplanes, is going on holiday (vacation in US English). Like many other lucky holidaymakers, I have a job and so when I want to go on holiday, I have to to take leave from work and book days off, which brings us nicely to our next meaning of 'take off', which is 'to take leave from work'.


For this usage, we require an additional noun to specify the time period that we will not be working, such as a morning, day, week or fortnight. Alternatively, we can just use the general nouns 'time' or 'leave' when referring to an unspecified period.


'Take off' is not necessarily always used for holidays or vacations and can be used for any period of time when a person decides that they cannot work for whatever reason, be it sickness, family commitments or a sabbatical.


I've decided to take next week off as I have lots of things to do at home.
Take the day off tomorrow and let's go to the beach!
The doctor has advised me to take a few months off as my stress levels are too high at the moment.
John won't be in the office until this afternoon as he has taken the morning off to go to the dentist.
 

MEANING 5: To become successful

A crowd of people watching a concert at night

CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To explode, to blow up

Potential antonyms

To flop

Separable?

No

Our next definition of 'take off' is one that we all hope for in our lives as it means 'to become successful'. primarily used for things like careers, a product or something that can become popular with the public. This is typically used in relation to careers, products, or anything that can gain popularity among the public and usually occurs abruptly and rapidly.


To understand this meaning of 'take off' a bit better, let's stick with the ongoing theme and use the airplane as a metaphor for a pop star's career....


Whilst the airplane is on the ground, it moves slowly except when taking off and is not fulfilling it's primary function of flying. When it does take off however, it accelerates rapidly and flies high in the air with lots of energy, performing its intended function. Similarly, now imagine a pop singer's career as an airplane (weird, I know). Whilst it is on the ground at the airport, little progress is made and its primary goals of selling records and entertaining audiences are not met. Yet, once the airplane-shaped career takes off, it suddenly and quickly does so and before you know it, it is high up in the air, moving at top speed and achieving its objectives.


In this case, the airplane is a metaphor for a pop singer's career, but it could equally be used for anything that can gain popularity with the public.


Following the launch of our new marketing campaign, sales took off and our profits rose dramatically.
Julia Roberts' career took off after appearing in Pretty Woman.
If the company wants this product to take off in the way that their last one did, they are going to have to invest in some more market research.
 

MEANING 6: To leave suddenly

Three dogs running off towards a bush in the desert with their owner behind them

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To run away, to leave, to run off, to depart

Potential antonyms

To

Separable?

No

In the previous section, I explained how if something takes off, it can mean sudden success or popularity and for this next usage, we are staying with the idea of something happening suddenly, but in this case it is for when a person leaves or departs in a sudden or unexpected way.


To put it another way, if you take off, you go away from where you are in a quick or hasty manner. This may be because you are scared, you want to avoid a confrontation, there is an emergency or perhaps you just want to go home. The reason for the sudden departure is not important for this usage, it is purely the nature of the departure i.e. sudden or unexpected that is important for this particular meaning.


I'm not sure where Roger went. He took off about 10 minutes ago and didn't bother saying goodbye to anyone.
The criminal took off before the police arrived.
The dogs took off as soon as soon as they saw a squirrel.
Sarah just shut down her computer and took off without saying a word to any of her colleagues.

BONUS

In addition to a person taking off, it is also possible to say that a person takes themselves off, i.e. in a reflexive way, with the -self pronoun. 'To take yourself off' has a slightly different meaning as it means to leave the place where you are, often in order to go somewhere quiet or private. This can often be to get away from a particular situation or place and does not convey the same idea of a sudden or quick departure like the non-reflexive form does.

Simon took himself off to his bedroom to have a think about the way that he had behaved.
I needed a break from work and my hectic life, so I took myself off to Greece for a week.

Lastly, it is also possible to 'take someone off somewhere', which is used for when you take a person away from the place that they are to another place. This can be either in a positive way...


My husband is taking me off to Paris for a few days next week! I am really looking forward to it.

Or a negative way, i.e. when the person does not want to go to the destination...


The police took the suspect off to the police station for questioning.
 

MEANING 7: To deduct or reduce

Some people on a pavement in the 70s in front of a shop with a sale

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To take away, to subtract, to reduce, to diminish, to minus, to deduct

Potential antonyms

To add on, to put on

Separable?

Yes

The seventh meaning of 'take off' is definitely one for the mathematicians amongst you as it means 'to deduct' or 'to reduce' and is primarily used when talking about numbers, figures and percentages.


When talking about numbers and figures, 'take off' is just another synonym of the verbs 'to subtract', 'to minus', 'to deduct' and 'to take away', however I think it is far less commonly used in this respect than the others.


You are more likely to see and hear this application in use when talking about percentages being deducted from figures, however.


We normally offer this customer list price with 10% taken off.
That price is the list price. Don't forget you need to take off the 10% discount for the customer's net price.
Are you able to take anything off this price?

Another way that you may see this application of 'take off' is when something causes prices to fall. For example, if a busy road is built near to where someone lives, the price of their house is likely to decrease due to the noise and pollution that the road would undoubtedly bring. In this sense you could say, that "the new road will take a lot of money off the price of the house".


 

MEANING 8: To imitate someone

A mime artist with a painted white face wearing a black bowler hat and a black and white striped top

CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

British

Potential synonyms

To copy, to imitate, to mimic, to impersonate

Separable?

Yes

Let's end the post with a British usage of 'take off'', which is specifically 'to take someone off' and means 'to imitate or copy someone'.


This application is generally used when you want to impersonate or mimic someone for comedic effect, i.e, to make other people laugh. This can range from copying the way that somebody speaks and their mannerisms to how they walk and dress.


'Taking someone off' is often slightly derogatory in nature and may often be considered as offensive or hurtful by the person who is being taken off. However, many of us Brits have a good and often self-deprecating sense of humour and this is not always the case, with some people finding it extremely funny or amusing. I guess it all really comes down to the relationship and the situation in each case!


Sarah is really good at taking off our boss. She can do a great impression of her accent and how she speaks.
The comedian's style of comedy is impersonation and taking off different TV stars of the past.
He was trying to take me off but in fact he sounded nothing like me.
 
The words 'Thank You' written on a notepad with a heart underneath

We have now reached the end of this post and I just want to say thank you for clicking on my post and reading it. I hope that you've enjoyed it and have been able to learn something new.


Now it is YOUR turn. Can you think of a sentence yourself using 'take off'. Write it in the comments section below if you can, or alternatively any comments, suggestions or feedback that you may have....don't be shy!!!


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Also, if you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media. See you next time! James 😊


THE END








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