How to Use the Phrasal Verb “Figure Out”

By 26 February 2018 Video lessons 17 Comments
Phrasal Verb “Figure Out”

Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina. You know what’s o the most difficult aspect of English? No? Actually, me neither, because there are a lot of difficult aspects.
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But one thing I know a lot of you struggle with: phrasal verbs. Where you have a verb + a preposition, like… figure out! And in today’s episode, I’m going to help you figure out how to use the phrasal verb “figure out. “ Let’s go!

First, I want to thank Marion and Sandra from the Facebook group Les Frenchy à New York, who gave me the idea for this episode. They both live in the US, and said that Americans use “figure out” all the time. So they wanted some help to understand what it means and how to use it. Your wish is my command!

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“Figure out”: What does it mean?

Sandra and Marion are right, we use “figure out” in a lot of different ways. Here’s one definition: to calculate something. For example “I want to go home to the US next summer, but I need to figure out how much it’ll cost.”

Another definition of figure out is to learn something because you took action, to find a way. For example, “You’re watching this video so you can figure out how to use the expression “figure out.”

That’s kind of similar to a 3rd definition of “figure out”, which is “to finally understand after a lot of thought”. For example, after you watch this episode, you can tell your friends “Phrasal verbs are hard, but I finally figured out how to use “figure out”!”

So far so good? That means “Is everything ok for the moment?” So far so good? Great, let’s look at some practical examples.

Figure out how

This is a common expression “Figure out how”, and it means something like “Find a way”, or “Find a solution”. Like, you know when you’re trying to assemble furniture from IKEA. “Let me see… Looks like I have to figure out how to build a table with this little thingy.” And if I tell Romain “I don’t know how to do this,” he might say to me “Well, figure out how!”

So we can use “figure out how” with a verb: Figure out how to build it, figure out how to do it, figure out how to get there, figure out how to learn English more quickly and it all means “find a way to…” whatever your verb is.

Figure out what

Another common expression: figure out what, with a verb, like “Figure out what to do” or “Figure out what to say”. Here, “figure out” can mean something like to find a solution, or to decide on something.

Let’s say you came to last week because you had a problem: “Christina, I love cats and I want one, but I’m allergic them! I don’t know what to do!” I see you a few days later and say “Did you figure out what to do about your cat situation?”

Maybe you found a solution, like a medicine against cat allergies. Or maybe you decided to get a dog instead. But “figure out” here: “Did you figure out what to do?” can be both find a solution and decide what action to take.

Figure it out

Another expression that means something like “find the answer,” . Like, when you were a kid, did you ever have one of those teachers who wouldn’t give you the answer immediately. You said “Teacher, teacher, what’s the answer to question number 3?” and they responded “I’m not going to give you the answer. Figure it out yourself!”

You know what kind of teacher I’m talking about. The good ones, who make you work to figure things out!

Figure it out also means like “find a way to do something”. And we could also say “figure something out”. Maybe your colleague says to you “I heard the boss asked you to finish that 200-page report before tomorrow. What are you going to do?”

And you, not worried just respond “Oh, I’ll figure something out, don’t worry.”…*coughs*, yeah, I’m really sick. *Cough* Yeah, it’s super contagious. The report? *cough, cough, cough*

I guess we could call that figuring out a solution…

The Recap

So basically, you got 3 ways to understand figure out:

  1. to calculate: “Let me figure out how much a week of vacation in New York will cost before I book a flight” Seriously? That much??
  2. To learn or discover something, like “I figured out a way to learn English in 3 days!!” Just kidding! You can’t learn a language in 3 days, unfortunately…
  3. To understand something after a lot of thought:  “Aha, I finally figured out how this thing works!”

And there are a few very common expressions that are good to know and use: Figure out how, like figure out how to get there, figure out how to do something.

Also, “figure out what”, like “figure out what to do”, “figure out what to say”, “figure out what to eat for dinner”. That’s a very important one! And finally, “Figure it out” or “figure something out”, like “Don’t worry about the problem, I’ll figure something out!” or “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out!”

Figure out exactly how to use “figure out” by watching the episode:

Now, what about you?

What other phrasal verbs do you want to see in future episodes? Which ones are confusing for you? Let me know in the comments, so I can make a video to help you.

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Thanks for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!

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