Go Off – English Phrasal Verb with Video and Examples
One English phrasal verb that always causes our students problems is “go off.”
Generally, when English students come across this phrasal verb in class, they think it means the opposite of what it actually means. For instance:
My alarm clock went off at 5 AM.
Most of the time my students think this means that the alarm lost power, or was turned off.
It actually means that the alarm sounded, or rang, at 5 AM. Most of the time English speakers will say that their alarm went off, rather than say that it rang or sounded. This is especially true in spoken English.
What else can go off?
In this particular sense of to go off, it’s used when something is activated, or when something explodes. So you can say:
- The bomb went off. (The bomb exploded.)
- The gun went off. (The gun was fired.)
- The alarm is going off. (The alarm is sounding.)
To go off can have a similar, figurative meaning when talking about a person’s actions:
- My boss went off on me for coming to work drunk.
- My wife will go off on me if I lose my job.
The meaning of to go off in these last two sentences is “to lose one’s temper.” In other words, the person going off was probably screaming and yelling at the other person.
Additional Meanings of Go Off
In some countries, (not in the U.S.) to go off can mean that food has gone rotten:
This milk smells bad, I think it has gone off.
It can also mean that you have stopped liking something:
People really went off Donald Trump after they heard some of the things he said.
Below is a clip from one of my all time favorite movies, U-Turn. It’s Joaquin Phoenix in it playing Toby N. Tucker, one of the most ridiculous characters he’s ever played. In this clip, he uses “go off” at about 1:20. Enjoy! If you have trouble understanding Toby N. Tucker, write to us in comments.
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