He keeps turning things over in his mind.

I've come across with the phrase above in a novel.

I don't understand the meaning. I wonder which one is the phrasal verb?

Could you please explain it to me?

The full text:

James reels with shock and grief. He keeps turning things over in his mind. He remembers how a couple of years ago Bradley had begun dealing drugs. He thought he’d seen an opportunity to make some easy money, but it hadn’t turned out the way he’d expected. Suddenly, James shakes off his apathy, and springing up out of his chair, cries, “Who did this? Which of you killed my son?” He feels an overwhelming grief and rage. “Why? Why in God’s name would anyone kill my son?” His voice is wild, accusing, as he looks at each of them in turn. He can see that he has frightened them.


turn (sth) over is a verbal phrase:

to think about something for a period of time:

  • His father had been turning the idea over in his mind for some time.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 2
    Is "phrasal verb" and "verbal phrase" the same thing?
    – luk32
    Sep 12 '18 at 13:25
  • 2
    @luk32 No. A "phrasal verb" is a verb and one or more "particles" (words that superficially appear to be adverbs or prepositions) that fundamentally transform the meaning of the core verb. What's tricky is that the same pair of words can be a phrasal verb in one instance and not in another: "He put the book down." vs. "He put his enemy down". In the latter instance, "put down" (always two words as a verb; "putdown" is a noun or adjective) means "insult", not to physically place something at a lower altitude. A verb(al) phrase is any verb, and any object and/or modifiers. Sep 12 '18 at 16:19
  • 2
    @MontyHarder In isolation, I would interpret "He put his enemy down" as a statement of violence. (see also "laid out" vs "laid down" or "put to sleep" vs "[made to] take a nap" Sep 12 '18 at 20:18
  • @EinsteinX.Mystery That's another meaning of "put down" that still crosses that threshold so that it's no longer "put" plus an adverb or preposition, but takes on an entirely different meaning. Sep 12 '18 at 21:31

turn sth over: If you turn something over in your mind, you think carefully about it.

Even when she didn't say anything you could see her turning things over in her mind.


As the answers above say, "turn something over" is an idiom to express thinking for a while. The verb "keep" is the sentence's verb; "keep" can be followed by nouns or gerunds, that's why "turn" is expressed as "turning" here.

  • 1
    Good answer but "turning HER" is not in the original text.
    – RubioRic
    Sep 12 '18 at 10:26
  • 3
    sorry I meant "here" as in this sentence
    – mona mosa
    Sep 12 '18 at 10:38

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