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Your English: Phrasal verbs: boil

Type: Article

Have you ever felt anger boil up inside you? Did the situation boil over? Tim Bowen’s here to help you let off steam with some useful phrasal verbs.

A recent report on a country stated that “People there are … divided along many lines - ethnic, religious, economic and political - and sometimes these tensions boil over into violence”. If a situation or feeling boils over, people cannot control their anger and start to fight or argue. Boil over can also be used without into, as in ‘Racial tensions in the area were boiling over’.

Before tensions boil over, feelings of ill-will and discontent may first start to boil up, as in ‘The dispute boiled up when three people were fired for lateness’ or ‘Anger was boiling up inside me’.

To boil down to, on the other hand, means to be the main reason for something or the most basic part of something, as in ‘It’s difficult to decide which appliance to buy, but in the end it usually boils down to cost’ or ‘What it really boils down to is the fact that they don’t like each other’.

Other phrasal verbs formed with boil have a more literal meaning. If a liquid boils away, for example, it disappears and turns to gas after reaching a very high temperature, as in ‘Check every 20 minutes to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away’. You can also boil a liquid down, by heating it until it reduces and thickens, as in ‘When the sauce has boiled down, add the chopped herbs’. If a liquid boils over, it flows over the top of the container that it is in, as in ‘There was a hissing sound as the soup boiled over’. Boil up can also be used to replace the verb boil itself, as in ‘Will you boil up some water for me?’

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