to work sth 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 this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: Northern England

I've but reason I can't to turn TV.
I've everything but some reason I can't out how to turn the new TV.

…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.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • 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…”.
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