Phrasal verbs: flip out, freak out, piss off, & tick off

Phrasal Verbs Course

A student asked about the following four phrasal verbs:

  • flip out
  • freak out
  • piss off
  • tick off

She asked, “Are they all the same? Are they all appropriate to use?”

Good questions – I’m going to explain that right now!

PISS OFF & TICK OFF

Piss off and tick off refer to getting angry.

It’s most common to use these in the adjective form:

  • “I’m pissed off.”
  • “I’m ticked off.”

Both of those mean “I’m angry.”

I’m glad this student asked about what’s appropriate, because piss off or pissed off is a little bit vulgar; it’s a little bit inappropriate – so don’t say that at work.

At work you could say, “I’m ticked off,” but don’t say “I’m pissed off.” You would only say that with friends or with family.

“Pissed off” “ticked off” both mean angry. Let’s put it into practice!

When was the last time you were pissed off or ticked off?
Start your answer with “I was pissed off when…” or if you want to be a little more decent, “I was ticked off when…” and then explain the situation.

I’ll give you a really good example from my own life. I was really ticked off when I spent four hours filming some videos for Espresso English. Then, when I looked at the videos, the quality was not great because of some settings on my camera – so I had to do them all over again, four more hours, and I was really ticked off.

Let’s see some other student answers:

  • I was pissed off when my professor told me the test results I got are not good.
  • I was really very ticked off when I found out my daughter smoked her first cigarette.

You can say:

  • was pissed off / I got pissed off
  • was ticked off / I got ticked off

It’s a little more informal to use “got.”

FLIP OUT & FREAK OUT

Both flip out and freak out mean to become very agitated, upset, or emotional. This could be anger or it could be another emotion.

A good example: if a mother was in a public place with her little girl, and the little girl became separated from her mother – the mother would freak out. She would become very agitated trying to find her daughter because her daughter is lost and it might be dangerous.

The mother freaked out when she lost her little girl in the crowd. So she’s not necessarily angry, but she’s very upset. She’s very agitated. She’s very emotional.

Sometimes it can mean anger. You could say, “I flipped out when another driver hit my car and damaged it.” So that could mean I became very upset. It could also mean I’m angry at the other driver who was not very careful and damaged my car.

So flip out and freak out could mean anger… but they just mean a very agitated, emotional state in general.

Tell me about the last time you flipped out or freaked out.

Let me think of one from my own life: I flipped out a little bit when, um, my husband had car trouble and I was in another country, so I couldn’t help him. It was a little bit stressful because it happened on a Sunday, and we only have one car – and he needed to go to work in the next day.

So I freaked out a little bit. I had to call the mechanic from the other country and make sure he was able to get the car in to be fixed. Luckily it all turned out okay, but we were a little bit agitated. We flipped out a little bit.

More examples from students:

  • I freaked out when I had an important interview and I left my documents in the restroom.
  • My cell phone battery is at a dangerously low level – I’m flipping out.

Verbs or adjectives

We tend to use flip out and freak out as verbs: I was freaking out or I freaked out.

We tend to use pissed off and ticked off as adjectives: someone is pissed/ticked off.

You can also use piss off and take off as verbs, for example:

  • “Don’t piss me off” – that means “don’t make me angry.”
  • “The bad customer service really ticked me off.”

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