Driven to distraction by phrasal verbs? Let Tim Bowen show you what we’re driving at.

‘It took me quite a while to work out what he was driving at.’ This phrasal verb is generally used in the question ‘What are you driving at?’ or the related statement ‘I’m not sure what you’re driving at’ to mean ‘What are you trying to say?’ or ‘What exactly do you mean?’ 

If a business drives away its customers, it stops them wanting its products, usually by employing an unwelcome tactic such as raising its prices, as in ‘Increased prices will only drive customers away’. 

If you are driven back, you are prevented from reaching a particular place by something hazardous such as very bad weather or hostile action, as in ‘Journalists have been trying to reach the besieged city but were driven back by heavy gunfire’. 

In business, competition often drives down prices, meaning that it forces them to a lower level, as in ‘Fierce competition among fuel companies has driven down prices at the petrol pumps’. Likewise, factors such as poor harvests or reduced levels of production can drive prices up, as in ‘A shortage of raw materials is driving up the price of some consumer goods’. 

To drive out means to force someone or something to leave a particular place, as in ‘The army expects to drive out the rebels by the end of the week’. 

If you are driven to something, you are forced into a bad state or into behaviour that is dangerous or harmful, as in ‘Worries about his financial situation gradually drove him to drink’ or ‘People are being driven to violence by the actions of the occupying forces’.