Hello lovely students! It is no big secret that there are a lot of phrasal verbs in the English language. No one knows quite how many phrasal verbs there are, but linguists say around 5,000 and above! That’s a pretty big number.
So it comes as no surprise that phrasal verbs are tricky to learn as there are so many.
However, it doesn’t mean that they are impossible to learn. For more information on how we use phrasal verbs in daily conversation, read the article below on what phrasal verbs are, the types of phrasal verbs that exist and examples.
Phrasal verbs defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term phrasal verb means a verb combined with an adverb or a preposition, or sometimes both, to give a new meaning. Typically, phrasal verbs have two or more words, but never really more than three individual words.
The word order is usually verb + preposition.
Take the phrasal verb calm down for example. This is composed of a verb (calm) + a preposition (down). It means to become or make somebody/something/yourself become calm.
Calm down! I was only joking.
We use phrasal verbs every day in spoken English and in writing.
Before we get onto more examples of phrasal verb examples, let’s break down some types: inseparable, separable, transitive and intransitive.
Inseparable phrasal verbs
Some phrasal verbs cannot be separated and the object must follow the verb if required. These are called inseparable phrasal verbs. Some examples are included in the table below.
|look after||To be responsible for or to take care of somebody/something/yourself.||I looked after my grandma when she was ill.|
|come across||To meet or find somebody/something by chance.||I came across a lovely little restaurant on my holiday in Lisbon. It was in none of the guidebooks.|
|turn into||To make somebody/something become something.||The caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly.|
|get over||To recover from something usually an illness or traumatic situation.||I got over my fever pretty quickly. I felt better in two days.|
|look into||To examine or investigate something.||We looked into what holiday deals were the best and we found this one!|
Now that we know a bit about inseparable phrasal verbs, let’s look at separable phrasal verbs.
Separable phrasal verbs
As the name suggests, separable phrasal verbs can be separated, usually by a personal pronoun.
Please note, however, that they do not have to be separated all the time and that one phrasal verb can have many definitions. To make everything clearer, I have put an asterisk next to the phrasal verb definitions that are never separable and on ones that are always separable.
Look at the examples below.
|call off||To cancel an event.||They’ve called the party off.|
They’ve called off the party.
To raise a child until they become an adult.
To mention a subject or start to talk about it.
|She was brought up by her grandparents.|
Her grandparents brought her up.
We know not to bring politics up around the dinner table.
Don’t bring up politics around the dinner table!
|turn down||To reject or refuse an offer, proposal or the person who makes it.||I turned down the job.|
I turned the job down.
To fill in a form asking for information.
To substitute for somebody at work. *
To tell somebody about something that has happened.**
|Should I fill in this form?|
Should I fill this form in?
He filled in for Clara whilst she was on maternity leave.
Fill me in on what happened on Sunday.
|bring out||To make something easy to see or understand.|
To produce or publish something.
|The eyeshadow brought her eyes out.The eyeshadow brought out her eyes.|
The band brought a new song out.The band brought out a new song.
Transitive phrasal verbs
Transitive phrasal verbs are verbs that need an object to complete their meaning. This type of phrasal verb combines object, verb and preposition. It can’t just be left alone: it needs an object to complete it.
When a phrasal verb is transitive, it’s sometimes possible to put the object between the verb and the adverb/preposition or put it afterwards. Transitive phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable.
|look for||To hope for something.|
The process of finding something.
|We are looking for a better life.|
I’m looking for my jacket.
|take off||For an idea or product to become successful very quickly.|
To remove an item from your or someone else’s body.
To remove money, marks or points to reduce the total.
|iPads didn’t really take off until 2012.|
I took my jacket off.
I took off my jacket.
The waiter took £9 off my bill because the food was a bit cold.
The waiter took off £9 from my bill because the food was a bit cold.
|clear up||For the weather to become bright.|
To make something neat and tidy.
To solve or explain something.
I hope the weather clears up for our holiday.
Clear all this rubbish up!
Clear up all this rubbish!
We haven’t quite cleared up what Jack meant about Betty yesterday.
|call back||To phone someone again or to phone someone who phoned you earlier.||I am going to call Phyliss back.|
|try on||To put on a piece of clothing to see how it looks.||This might suit you. You should try it on.|
Intransitive phrasal verbs
Unlike transitive phrasal verbs, intransitive phrasal verbs do not need an object to complete them. If clause is added after the phrasal verb, it is just to add extra information.
Let’s look again at the phrasal verb take off.
Take off is also an intransitive verb when describing aircraft about to leave the ground and fly.
The plane took off.
The plane took off from the runway.
Here you can delete from the runway and the sentence still makes sense. This is how you know if a phrasal verb is intransitive.
Take a look at some more examples in the table below.
|sell out||To have sold all of the available items.||All the tickets for Adele’s concert have sold out!|
|break down||When a machine or vehicle stops working because of a fault.||My car broke down in the middle of the street|
|carry on||To continue doing something.||Carry on! You’re doing well.|
|blow over||To go away without having a serious effect.||After some time, the scandal will blow over.|
|close down||For a business to stop operating.||The factory closed down two months ago.|
Now that we have the four main phrasal verb types covered, I think it would be a good idea if we looked at prepositional verbs and common phrasal verbs and their synonyms.
Prepositional verbs vs Phrasal verbs?
A lot of the time, people get confused between phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs. It is an easy trap to fall into, but please do not get confused between the two. The three key differences are as follows:
1) phrasal verbs can use adverbs whereas prepositional verbs cannot.
2) prepositional verbs cannot be separated.
3) the main verb in a prepositional verb does not change the meaning.
This is not true of phrasal verbs where sometimes the senses of the main verb have idiomatic meanings.
Look below for some prepositional verb examples.
|agree with||I agree with Zachary.|
|work for||He works for his mother at her company.|
|insist on||She insisted on going to the cinema tonight.|
|laugh at||I thought people were laughing at me but they weren’t.|
|listen to||They both listen to podcasts on the train to work.|
Common phrasal verbs and their synonyms
It is also important to know that, with many phrasal verbs, there is often a synonym we can use. For instance, let’s take a look at the phrasal verbs cross off. This means to draw a line through a person’s name or an item on a list because they/it is no longer required or involved.
However, we can simply use the verb remove.
I crossed off Sharon’s name from the wedding guest list because we are no longer talking.
I removed Sharon’s name from the wedding guest list because we are no longer talking.
Let’s take a look at some more.
|go over||To examine or check something carefully.||examine or check||I went over my assignment before handing it in.|
I checked my assignment before handing it in.
|cut back on||To reduce something.||reduce||I’m going to cut back on the number of quizzes I do.|
I’m going to reduce the number of quizzes I do.
|doze off||To go to sleep, especially during the day.||to go to sleep||I dozed off in front of the television.|
I went to sleep in front of the television.
|give in||To admit that you have been defeated by somebody/something.||surrender||I gave in to my child asking me to play games. |
I surrendered to my child asking me to play games.
|put up with||To accept somebody/something that is annoying, unpleasant, etc. without complaining.||tolerate||I don’t know how Ruth puts up with Sean. He is always laughing at her.|
I don’t know how Ruth tolerates Sean. He is always laughing at her.
Is that everything?
Absolutely not! Check out these videos on phrasal verbs on my youtube channel, English with Lucy.