work out: meaning and explanation

The phrasal verb to work sth out means to find the solution to a problem.

The phrasal verb can be used with mathematical problems e.g. I’m not telling you what 56 divided by 8 is. Work it out yourself.

However, it can also be used for more general problems e.g. I can’t work out why Sarah broke up with me. I thought everything was going really well.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: Northern England

I've but reason I can't to turn TV.

About the sentence

…For some reason…

For some reason can be used to communicate the fact that you don’t understand why something happened, and that you think it is strange or surprising. e.g. For some reason the bank has blocked my card. I couldn’t pay for my shopping in the supermarket.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: England (London)

put the meal and work much I ?

About the sentence

…Can we put the meal on your card…

If you put something on your card then you are paying for it by card (rather than by cash or some other payment method). e.g. He was fired from his job after they discovered he had been putting personal items on the company credit card.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: England (RP)

Scientists finally way to clean .

About the sentence

…Scientists may have finally worked out…

The structure may have + past participle communicates the idea that it is possible that something happened, but we aren’t certain. e.g.I’m worried that I may have made a big mistake in the report I emailed to the boss yesterday.

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • When you go out for a meal with a group of friends, do you prefer to work out how much people should pay individually, or do you just split the bill?
  • Think of something you can’t understand or explain. Tell me about it, starting with: “I can’t work out how/why/when…”.