Kate Hardin

TOEFL Vocabulary- Phrasal Verbs with Keep

We haven’t done vocabulary in a while. Today, we’ll talk about the topic that everybody loves to hate: phrasal verbs. To be specific, we’ll be dealing with phrasal verbs involving the word “keep.” The trick with phrasal verbs is knowing the context in which they can be used, since many of them are only appropriate in conversation and informal writing. I’ll help you out with this by telling you a little about the situations in which each verb may be appropriate, and giving you some equivalent expressions for times when it’s not.


Keep on

Have you ever heard the saying, “Keep on keeping on ‘til you can’t keep on no more”? In terms of ungrammaticality it’s kind of a doozie, but the meaning is probably clear: continue until you can’t continue anymore.

If you keep on interrupting me, I’ll never finish my story.

“Keep on” is informal, so here are some more academic alternatives: continue, carry on, persevere

A secondary use of this phrase is to keep on someone, meaning to continually remind them. It’s even less formal than “keep on,” so in the context of an essay, replace it with one of these words: remind, pester (negative connotation), badger (negative connotation)

He’s forgetful, so if you want him to get it done on time, you’ll have to keep on him about it.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.


Keep up/keep up with

Often, “keep up” is similar in meaning to “keep on,” except that while “keep on” is followed by a present participle, “keep up” is followed by a noun. “Keep up” is generally the same as “maintain.” In fact, another word for maintenance is “upkeep.”

Keep up the good work!

Old houses may look charming, but I don’t have time for all the upkeep owning one would require.

You can also keep up with something or someone, which means either that you are staying next to them and not falling behind, or that you follow what’s going on with them.

They quit running together because he had such a hard time keeping up with her.

I didn’t hear about her promotion until much later because I don’t really keep up with her anymore.

I read the newspaper every day because I think it’s important to keep up with current events.


Keep to

If you keep to something, you remain faithful to it. You can write or say this on the TOEFL, although it’s on the informal side. A slightly less formal equivalent would be “stick to.”  Although you shouldn’t use “stick to” on the exam, it’s a very useful phrase in conversation. A more academic synonym would be “adhere to.”

If we keep to the plan, everything will turn out fine.

Even as the world changed around him, my grandfather kept to the traditional lifestyle of his youth.



  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

More from Magoosh