Here are six phrasal verbs with “brush;” “brush aside,” “brush down,” “brush off,” “brush over,” “brush past,” and “brush up.”

Most of these can be found in dictionaries, but I have also included a few that are fairly common that do not have entries in some dictionaries.


Brush aside (someone/something)

1. (separable) To dismiss an opinion or request as unimportant or not worth consideration, or to someone who expresses one.
  • “He brushed aside the reporters and quickly walked to his car.”
  • “You shouldn’t brush their objections aside. They might have a point.”
Similar phrasal verbs: “Brush aside” or “Talk down”

“Talk down” – To talk about something in a way that that makes it seem less important or less serious than it really is.

“Talk down” implies an issue might be talked about but it is made to look less serious or less important. “Brush aside” implies that something is ignored or dismissed.

  • “He brushed aside their objections.”
    This means he ignored the objections and did not address them. 
  • “He talked down their objections.”
    This means he made the objections less serious than they actually are.

  • Brush (someone/something) down

    1.   (separable) To clean or neaten someone or something by using your hands or a brush.
    • “It’s important to brush the horse down at least once a day.”
    • “The students brushed their uniforms down in the hallway before they entered the principal’s office.”

    Brush off (someone/something)

    1.   “Brush off (something)” – (separable) To remove dirt or dust from someone or something by using your hands or a brush.
    • “He brushed the crumbs off the chair before sitting down.”
    • “I tried to brush off the lint from my clothes.”
    2.   (separable) To dismiss someone or something in an abrupt way.
    • “Wally rudely brushed me off and pretended he didn’t know me.”
    • “Any allegations of misconduct were quickly brushed off during the interview.”

    * Please note: The noun form is “brush-off.”

    –   (informal) To refuse to talk or be nice to someone.

    • “They gave me the brush-off when I made inquiries.”
    Similar phrasal verbs: “Brush off” or “Brush aside”

    “Brush off” and “brush aside” are quite similar and are sometimes grouped together in dictionaries. There are however, some slight differences.

    1.   “Brush off” is stronger of the two and is usually used to indicate rudeness and bluntness

    Compare the following:

    • “He brushed off the reporters’ questions.”
    • “He brushed aside the reporters’ questions.”

    2.   “Brush off” can be used when ending a relationship.

    • “She gave him the brush-off after the third date and then brushed him aside when they bumped into each other at the party.”

    3.   Even though we can use both phrases with “someone” and “something,” it is more common to “brush off someone” and to “brush aside something.”

    • “She brushed me off.”
    • “She brushed aside my suggestions.”

    Brush over (something)

    1.   (inseparable) To overlook something or to mention something briefly.

    This is fairly common but is not in most dictionaries.

    • “The speaker brushed over the methodology during the presentation for the sake of time.”
    • “You can’t just brush over the details of how you two met!”

    Brush past (someone/something)

    1. (separable) To walk quickly past someone, usually because you do not want to speak to them.
    • “I brushed past the crowds and found an empty seat near the door.”
    • “The consultant quickly brushed past the executive assistant and entered his room without knocking.”
    2. (separable) To quickly pass by and briefly come into contact with someone or something.
    • “The cyclist brushed past some branches and then disappeared into the forest.”
    • “I saw the tall man brush past and disappeared into the busy street.”

    Brush up

    “Brush up” has a few different definitions.

    1.   “Brush up on (something)” – (inseparable) To refresh one’s knowledge, skill or memory of a subject.
    • “He’s been brushing up on his Spanish since he got the promotion.”
    • “I do a short course regularly to brush up on my skills.”
    2. “Brush up (someone/something)” – (inseparable) To make someone or something tidy, clean or neat.

    I only found this use in one dictionary and I think it is more common in British English.

    • “He brushes up quite well when he feels like it.”
    • “I heard they spent a lot of money brushing up the house before putting it on the market.”
    3.   “Brush (up) against (someone/something)” – (inseparable) To make subtle, bodily contact with someone or something.

    This one is also fairly common but I could not find this in most dictionaries. 

    Although they are the same, “brush up against” implies that the action is more intentional than “brush against.”

    • “My neighbour’s cat never fails to brush up against me when I say hello.”
    • “Be careful not to brush against the cactuses in the garden.”

    Original post: 17 June 2021