José is in his third and final week with me on a home stay full immersion course and has come to the conclusion that the English Language is extremely confusing and frustrating! Especially when it comes to all those words that have multiple meanings. I have to confess that he has got a point.

Take the word “run” for example. It has 179 meanings according to whilst the word “take” has 127 definitions! The following infographic that was compiled by Kaplan International together with highlights the 10 English words with the most meanings in the English Language. You can view this infographic here on the Kaplan website.

Kaplan has taken each word and categorised them according to the different parts of speech, for example, verb, noun, adverb, adjective and so on as well as verb phrases and idioms. As this list is very long, I’ve decided to break this list in two parts.

Part 1 will deal with the first 5 words. I’ve shown some examples of the different verb and noun meanings and verb phrases for each word.

words with multiple meaningsKaplan International Colleges

1. RUN


  • My dog loves to run about in the park (move quickly with legs)
  • She runs a very successful business (manages)
  • The bus company runs a regular weekend service (offer a service)
  • Don’t leave your car engine running/ try running the computer programme and see if it works (machine: working)



  • I always go for a 10k run in the mornings.
  • The play has had a successful run in the West End. (a period of time)
  • I do the school run every morning and my husband does it in the afternoon (a journey that a train, ship, car and so on does regularly)

Verb Phrases

  • Her withdrawal meant that her opponent was given a clear run for the nomination (you can progress without anyone stopping you)
  • He gave Tom a good run for his money (competing so well with someone that they cannot defeat you)
  • He is on the run from the law (trying to escape or hide from the police)




  • Don’t forget to take an extra pair of shoes (move something or someone from one place to another)
  • Take a deep breath  James took a sip of his drink  I took a quick look at the audience (to perform an action or series of actions)
  • I took a course in origami at college  I’ve taken my driving test three times (to study or take an exam in a particular subject)


Verb Phrases

  • I like chocolate but I can take it or leave it (to not care whether you have, see or do something – informal)
  • It takes all sorts (used for saying that you find someone’s behaviour surprising or strange but will accept it – spoken)
  • Take it from me, this restaurant is excellent. (used to emphasize that what you’re saying is true and people should believe it – spoken)




  • Be careful  that you don’t break those glasses (separate into pieces by dropping)
  • If you break the speed limit, the penalties are high break the law. (don’t obey rules or the law)
  • When the news first broke, he was no where to be found breaking news ( if news breaks, it becomes publicly known)
  • Why don’t we break now and meet again after lunch? (stop what you’re doing for a period of time)


  • Doctors and nurses often work very long hours without a break ◆ Let’s take/have a break.
  • This could be the lucky break he’s always wanted (an opportunity that helps you achieve success)
  • She decided to make the break from marketing after eighteen years (a time of major change in one’s life).

Verb Phrases

  • He’s been breaking his back getting the house ready in time for the baby’s arrival (working very hard)
  • I think we’ve broken the back of this project now. (British English – to finish the hardest part of a task)
  • In their first year, the company broke even. (when a company doesn’t make a profit or a loss)
  • I want to break free (as sung by Freddy Mercury – to escape from someone or something that is holding you or controls you)




  • She turned around and smiled at me (change position)
  • When you get to the junction, turn right (change direction)
  • She could not concentrate on her book. All she seemed to be doing was turning the pages without reading them.
  • After years as an amateur dancer, she turned professional ( change and do something different)
  • It has turned cold again ( change and become something else)


  • Oh no, is it my turn again to wash the dishes?! ◆ Is it my turn to roll the dice? (in a group and it’s your time to do something)
  • The debate over drugs in sport took an unexpected turn yesterday ◆ The situation took a turn for the better/worse (a change in a situation)
  • He took the wrong turn and that took him miles away from his destination (change of direction)

Verb Phrases

  • He was stopped at every turn by the rigid rules (wherever or whenever someone tries to do something)
  • He did her a good turn by offering her the job (an action that helps someone – also applies in the opposite “a bad turn”)
  • I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but I preferred the original version (to say something that you shouldn’t say in case you offend someone or you have no right to say it)
  • The mansion was built at the turn of the century ( the time at the end of one century and the beginning of the next)


5. SET 


  • “Tea is served,” he told them and set the tray on the table. (put something in a position)
  • I’ve set the alarm for 6am ◆ You can set the iPhone so that it does an automatic backup (to make equipment ready)
  • Have you set a date for the wedding? (to decide when something will happen)
  • The Bank of England sets the interest rate ◆ They set the price of the house too high. (to decide the price or value of something)
  • I have set the team three challenges/goals/objectives/tasks (to give someone something to achieve)


  • a set of keys  a set of guidelines  a complete set  a chess set ( a group of things)
  • the literary set  the jet set a set of friends (a group of people that share the same interests)
  • a film set  a stage set (theatre, film – place where a film or play is made)

Verb Phrases

  • The drivers’ demands were not met, setting the stage for a prolonged transport strike (create the conditions for something to happen)
  • They are a company that has set the standard for excellence in service (perform an activity to a level that other people need to achieve)
  • Dinner will be ready soon. Could you please set the table? (put cutlery and plates on the table)
  • After lunch I set to work on the mountain of paperwork on my desk (start working in a determined and enthusiastic way)


The above examples are just a few that I have selected here. Please do share with me any other meanings you know and use.

I will deal with the other five words in my next post (Part 2) so look out for it!

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Ciao for now



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