Phrasal verbs with “fess” in English

fess up phrasal verb

What does “Fess” mean in English?

When learning English, understanding phrasal verbs can significantly improve your fluency and comprehension. These unique combinations of verbs and prepositions or adverbs often take on meanings entirely different from the original verbs. Today, we’ll focus on phrasal verbs with the verb “fess,” which is derived from “confess,” meaning to admit something. Although there aren’t many, they are quite useful in everyday English. The word “fess” [fes] in English can have a few meanings and uses:

  • As a noun, “fess” refers to a broad horizontal band across the middle of a shield.
  • As a verb, “fess” is a shortened form of “confess,” meaning “to admit” or “to acknowledge.”

The phrasal verb “fess up” is used in informal English, particularly in the United States, and means “to admit or confess something.” For example: “After the evidence was presented, the politician had no choice but to fess up to his mistakes.” (After the evidence was presented, the politician had no choice but to admit to his mistakes).

Grammatically, as a phrasal verb, “fess up” is used without changes in all tenses, persons, and numbers. For example:

  • I will fess up
  • He fessed up
  • We will fess up

Common phrasal verbs with “Fess”

Fess up

  • Meaning: To admit or confess something, especially reluctantly or after prolonged necessity.
  • Example: He finally fessed up to being involved in the incident.

Fess up (to someone)

  • Meaning: To disclose, reveal, or provide something, usually something valuable or important.
  • Example: He decided to fess up to his mistake and tell the whole truth.

Fess up to

  • Meaning: To admit or confess something reluctantly or with difficulty.
  • Example: She finally fessed up to her mistake in this situation.

Exercise on using the phrasal verb “Fess Up”

Read the scenarios below carefully. For each scenario, choose the most appropriate way to complete the sentence using “fess up” or choose whether the use of “fess up” is applicable or not. This exercise will help you grasp how to naturally integrate this phrasal verb into various contexts.


Scenario 1:

  • Context: Your friend Sarah has accidentally broken her mother’s favorite vase. Now, she’s feeling guilty.
  • Sentence to Complete:
    • “Sarah knew it was time to ________ to breaking the vase.”

Scenario 2:

  • Context: Mike was late to the meeting but blamed traffic.
  • Sentence to Complete:
    • “Mike should ________ about why he was really late rather than blaming the traffic.”

Scenario 3:

  • Context: You find out that your teammate completed a project using dishonest methods.
  • Sentence to Complete:
    • “It’s crucial for him to ________ about how he really completed the project before others find out.”

Scenario 4:

  • Context: Lisa is planning a surprise party for her husband and has told a white lie about going to the store.
  • Sentence to Complete:
    • “Does Lisa need to ________ about the real reason she went out, considering it was for a harmless surprise?”

Scenario 5:

  • Context: A colleague claims credit for a report you wrote.
  • Sentence to Complete:
    • “You need to confront her and insist she ________ about who really did the work.”


Provide the best answer using “fess up” correctly in the blanks:

  1. “fess up”
  2. “fess up”
  3. “fess up”
  4. Not applicable (since the situation involves a harmless intent to surprise, rather than an ethical or serious dishonesty)
  5. “fess up”

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