I'm doing the Cambridge Upper-intermediate English course and there is a lection on "go xxx" phrasal verbs.

Go ahead - to start to do something

Go on - to start operating / to continue or move to the next thing

I don't really understand when to use "go on" and when to use "go ahead" meaning to start something if there is any difference?

Go off - to stop liking or being interested in someone or something

Go for - to like or admire

Could you give me example sentences, please? Are these phrases often used? I have never seen the first one hold this meaning. I know its meaning to be "(of a warning device) to start to ring loudly or make a loud noise". As for the second one, I know it like "Go for it" or "Take it" or thing like that.

  • 1
    The latter two are common enough. “I’ve gone right off dark chocolate since I ate a whole box of it in five minutes” or “He always goes for blondes, has a thing for them” are both perfectly natural and common in speech. It’s more difficult to explain the difference between ‘go ahead’ and ‘go on’, though I don’t think ‘start to do something’ is a very good definition—‘continue to do something’ or ‘do something as the next thing’ would be better. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 12:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks to you too for examples for the latter two. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 9:24

2 Answers 2


They can have multiple senses. You can distinguish to some extent by their accompanying phrases, but the tricky part is knowing when you have a phrasal verb rather than a verb followed by a preposition.

go on has five separate senses noted in Princeton WordNet:

S: (v) continue, go on, proceed, go along, keep (continue a certain state, condition, or activity) "Keep on working!"; "We continued to work into the night"; "Keep smiling"; "We went on working until well past midnight"
S: (v) happen, hap, go on, pass off, occur, pass, fall out, come about, take place (come to pass) "What is happening?"; "The meeting took place off without an incidence"; "Nothing occurred that seemed important"
S: (v) advance, progress, pass on, move on, march on, go on (move forward, also in the metaphorical sense) "Time marches on"
S: (v) continue, go on, carry on, proceed (continue talking) "'I know it's hard', he continued, 'but there is no choice'"; "carry on--pretend we are not in the room"
S: (v) go on, come up, come on (start running, functioning, or operating) "the lights went on"; "the computer came up"

The first sense takes a complement verb phrase in its present participle form. The remaining senses second, third and fourth senses are intransitive. The example that another answer gives ("go on to bigger and better things") is debatable whether it's better analyzed as a phrasal verb ("go on") + a prepositional phrase ("to bigger...") or if it's a case of preposition doubling akin to ("climb up to the fourth floor").

go ahead as a phrasal verb has only one sense listed on WordNet:

S: (v) go ahead, plow ahead (proceed (with a plan of action)) "He went ahead with the project"

One sense that I can think of that's not phrasal verb use is would be like "you go ahead, we'll catch up", where "ahead" functions similar to "home" in "go home".

  • Go ahead and eat. I'll join you later

  • Sorry, I interrupted you, please go on with your story

  • When I finish this, I'll go on to bigger and better things

"Can I take this?"
"Go ahead" - yes, I do not care or mind

"Can I take this?"
"Go on, then" - yes, I do care and I do mind (I wanted it for myself or it is not good for you), but I want to please you, so I will allow it

  • The first of these shows very neatly the difficulty I was having in describing the difference between the two: “Go on and eat; I’ll join you later” means almost precisely the same thing, but is somehow slightly different. And then there’s the difference between, “Can I take this?” — “Go ahead” vs. “Go on, then”. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 13:42
  • I would never use "Go on and eat". The other two are fixed idioms
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:30
  • Nina Simone would, though. ‘Eat’ is perhaps not the best example, but there are other cases where the two are quite close: “Just go on and ask her out already!” and “Just go ahead and ask her out already!” are almost identical to me. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:33
  • Perhaps in some dialect. The "already" at the end is of yiddish origin. I would again use "Just go ahead and ask her"
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:43

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