Multiple Meaning Words: Run, Take, Break, Turn, Set, Go, Play, Up…

  • It’s time to tie your tie.

Is that clear? Don’t worry if it’s not. One of the things that make learning English quite difficult is the fact that a lot of words have more than one meaning (multiple meaning words). In the above example ’tie’ means two different things:

to tie (verb)
to fix two separate things together with a knot, for example your shoelaces

  • Watch out! You’ll fall over unless you tie your shoes.

a tie (noun)
an elegant, typically male clothing accessory worn around the neck over a shirt

  • My husband got six new ties for his birthday and he’s not very happy about it. He’d just wanted a  new Lego set.

But look at it this way: you learn one word and get one free! Like a special offer in the supermarket. Isn’t that great? Sometimes you can even learn five or more new expressions just by memorizing one single word. So let’s see some of the most common examples.

multiple meaning words

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1. to manage (as a director or manager) a business

  • Dan thinks he runs the  hotel, but he wouldn’t cope without his wife.

2. to offer a service

  • I’m sorry, but this school doesn’t run flower arrangement courses.

3. to hurry

  • We’d better run– we’ll miss the next episode of my favourite soap opera. It starts in ten minutes.

4. to lead or go in one direction/ from one place to another

  • His tattoo runs from his ankle up to his knee. It’s like a snake.

5. to make some liquid flow

  • It’s such a cold day today. The first thing I’ll do when I get home is run a hot bath for me and light some candles.

6. colour runs = when washing a piece of clothing, some of its colour dissolves in the water

  • All my T-shirts are pink now, because the colour ran from the pair of red jeans that was in the washing-machine  too.

7. a run (in a stocking/ tights) = a long, thin hole

  • I couldn’t change my clothes, so I had to walk  around all day with a huge run in one of my stockings. It was so embarrassing. What did my clients think of me?

8. to drive somebody somewhere in your car

  • George Clooney offered to run me home after the party, but I said no and called a taxi.

9. to be a candidate (for a position)

  • My friends keep  telling me I should run for president, but I’m not into politics.

phrasal verb examples

  • We’ve run out of eggs. = We don’t have any eggs left.
  • I ran into George yesterday. = I accidentally met George yesterday.



1. to go somewhere with someone to guide them

  • I can’t go bungee jumping with you. I’m taking the kids to football practice that day.

2. to buy/ choose

  • I’ll take the red one. I’ve always wanted a red Ferrari.

3. to need a certain amount of time to do something

  • My wife takes one hour to get ready in the morning. It takes me five minutes.

4. to need something/somebody to make something else happen

  • It takes dedication to reach your goals. It takes practice to become fluent in a foreign language.

5. to eat/ drink

  • I don’t take sugar in my coffee, thanks.
  • She has to take some medicine for her high blood pressure.

6. to write down

  • When the police officer wanted to take the thief’s name, he said that it was Billy the Kid.

7. to perform some action

  • Take a look at what you’ve written. You’re too tired to think straight. You need to take a break, take a shower and take a coffee before we can continue.

8. to accept

  • I’d take the job if I were you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • This school doesn’t take boys. That’s  discrimination.

9. to wear a certain size

  • I can’t find shoes that are big enough for my teenage son.
  • Why? What size shoes does he take?

10. to use a road or some form of transport

  • Take the first street on the left, then the second on the right. Then take bus number 12 and change at the railway station. Take the train for the city centre and take the tram until Bull Road. Or take a taxi.

11. to measure

  • The nurse took my pulse and blood pressure, but everything was normal.

Phrasal verb examples

  • The plane took off on time. = The plane began flying on time.
  • I’ll take you up on that offer some time. = I accept that offer (and will talk about it with you  later).
  • This cupboard takes up too much room. = This cupboard fills too much space/ is too big.



1. recess/ rest

  • Children need more breaks and physical activities during the school day.

2. not to keep a promise/the law

  • He broke his word and never called me again.
  • I won’t play with you if  you break the rules one more time.

3. to end or interrupt something

  • The meeting was broken by a madman who stood on the desk and started singing.

4. when a teenage boy’s voice breaks, it changes and becomes deeper

  • My nephew had to give up singing lessons after his voice broke.

5. to give change for a bank note

  • Can you break a fifty pound note for me, please?

phrasal verb examples

  • Susie and Dave broke up last week. = Susie and Dave ended their relationship last week.
  • The fire broke out in the middle of the night. = The fire started suddenly in the middle of the night.
  • My car broke down while I was driving home. = My car stopped working while I was driving home.



1. to move pages in a book

  • Please turn to page 62 in your books and look at exercise 5.

2. to reach a certain age

  • My daughter will turn 8 next month.

3. to become/ change

  • Her face turned red when everybody looked at her.
  • The weather turned cold suddenly.

4. a bend in a road

  • Drive carefully- this road is full of turns.

Phrasal verb examples

  • I had been turned off by his speech. = I had lost interest because of his speech.
  • I don’t think Mary will turn up today. = I don’t think Mary will arrive today.
  • I hadn’t know he was rich, then he turned out to be a millionaire. = I hadn’t known he was rich, but then we discovered that he was a millionaire.



1. to put sth in a position

  • She set the bowl of caviar in front of her so that others couldn’t reach it.

2. to fix/ arrange a date

  • Have you set the date for the wedding yet?
  • No, we haven’t. Either James changed his mind or he’s got cold feet and is afraid of commitment.

3. to fix the time/alarm on a clock/watch

  • I’m leaving early tomorrow. I’ve set the alarm for 4am.

4. to become hard/firm

  • Leave the paint set for a day before applying the second layer.

5. a group of similar things/ things that are used together

  • My husband loves his Lego set so much, he doesn’t let our son play with it.
  • We’ve bought a set of six chairs for our dining room.
  • There are pieces missing from my chess set– we can’t play with it like this.

6. to give the story of a film/book a time or a place

  • I love books that are set in Victorian England.
  • Do you? I think they’re extremely boring.

7. to fix standards/example

  • Parents must set a good example and give up smoking. How can you tell your child not to smoke when a cigarette’s hanging out of your mouth?

Phrasal verb

  • I think we should set off for the capital early in the morning. = I think we should leave for the capital early in the morning.
  • He only set about cleaning his room when I asked him. = He only started to clean his room when I asked him.



1. to progress in a way

  • How did the interview go?
  • It went very well. I’ll eat my hat if I don’t get the job.

2. when something is not needed and is thrown out

  • I’m afraid your old matchboxes will have to go.
  • But Susan, you can’t do this to me. I’ll take them to garage if you want.

3. when you’re next in a game, it’s your turn or your go

  • Daddy! It’s not Rachel’s go. Tell her to stop! It’s my go, isn’t it?
  • But, Dad! Why can’t I have a go first?

4. an attempt/try

  • I’m not sure if I can do it.
  • Come on! You’ll never know unless you give it a go.

5. to lead from one point to another

  • Where does this road go?
  • It goes up the hill.

6. to disappear

  • How is your headache?
  • It’s gone. I feel so much better.

Phrasal verb:

  • My daughter’s gone down with flu. = My daughter’s become ill with flu.
  • The fire  alarm went off, so we all ran out of the house. = The fire alarm started to make a noise, so we all ran out of the house.
  • I’m afraid I can’t go with that. = I’m afraid I don’t agree with that.



1. doing things for fun

  • ’All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

2. a piece of writing performed in a theatre or on radio/TV

  • Have you seen the latest play in the National Theatre?
  • Yes, I have. It’s a play by Shakespeare.

3. to act

  • And who plays Hamlet?

4. to perform sports/games/music

  • I can’t play any musical instruments, but my brother can play the piano quite well. He also plays rugby, plays chess and loves playing tricks on me.

Phrasal verb:

  • I played along with his idea. = I pretended to agree with his idea.
  • My back was playing up. = My back was causing me pain.



1. to stop doing sth (informal)

  • Can you just cut the talking and continue your work?
  • I’m sorry, boss!

2. reduction

  • There are pay cuts and job cuts all the time. I wonder why there isn’t ever a tax cut?

3. to edit

  • The film was shot in Mexico, but it was cut in France.

Phrasal verb:

  • We were cut off. = The telephone line was disconnected.
  • The village was cut off by snow. = It was impossible to reach the village because of the snow.



1. completely

  • Eat up your food!
  • But, Mum! I’m not hungry!

2. happening

  • What’s up? Why are you crying?

3. (time) finished/ over

  • Time’s up! Stop  writing, please.

4. to increase (price/amount)

  • I only  took the job after they’d  upped the salary offer.



1. help

  • Can you give me a hand? This suitcase is too heavy for me.

2. worker

  • We couldn’t do all the work on the farm by ourselves, so we hired a hand.

3. long, thin parts of a clock that point to the numbers

  • It’s twelve o’clock when both the hour hand and the minute hand point to 12.

Phrasal verb:

  • I used to hand my old clothes down to my little sister. = I used to give my old clothes to my little sister. (pass down)
  • I have to hand in my assignment by next Friday. = I have to give in my assignment by next Friday.


I hope you’ve found these examples useful. Now it’s your turn to see how many other words with multiple meanings you can think of.

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