A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase that consists of a verb and another particle (such as a preposition or an adverb) that combine to form a complete semantic unit – i.e., a complete verb. For example, break up or come out.
What is a Phrasal Verb?
In English grammar, a phrasal verb combines a verb and a particle (such as an adverb or preposition) to form a single phrase. The particle often changes the meaning of the verb. For example:
|She is looking at the baby.|
|She is looking after the baby.|
Adding the preposition ‘after’ changes the meaning of the verb ‘to look,’ so now it’s a phrasal verb ‘to look after’ that means to care for or watch over.
They’re common in English, often in more informal, conversational contexts. They tend to be used in everyday speech.
Types of Phrasal Verbs
There are two types of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable.
The verb and particle can be placed together or apart in these phrasal verbs.
|They looked the word up in the dictionary.|
|They looked up the word in the dictionary.|
The phrasal verb becomes separated if you use a pronoun instead of the subject.
|They looked it up in the dictionary.|
Some phrasal verbs can’t be separated when you use them in a sentence.
|We should catch up later.|
This phrasal verb would no longer make sense if you separated the verb and the particle, so they must remain together in the sentence.
Phrasal Verbs with Two Particles
Phrasal verbs, which have two particles, are always inseparable. Therefore, pronouns are always placed after the particles.
|I didn’t feel up to it yesterday.|
|I’ll have to watch out for that.|
|Do they still not get on with their brother?|
The Meaning of Phrasal Verbs
Sometimes it can be challenging to determine the meaning of phrasal verbs. Some have a literal sense and can be easily understood. Others are idiomatic, meaning their meaning is figurative, so it can be tough to know when you’re learning them.
|She was walking across the street.|
In this phrasal verb, she is walking across to the other side of the street. It suggests she is crossing the road. The meaning is literal and easy to understand.
|I didn’t mean to come across that way.|
While this phrasal verb also uses ‘across,’ it’s not literal. The person in the sentence didn’t move anywhere. ‘Come across’ means to appear a certain way or to give a particular impression.
How do you identify Phrasal Verbs?
To identify phrasal verbs, you have to look at the whole sentence.
If the words can be taken literally and you can understand the meaning straight away, then chances are that it’s a regular verb and a preposition. (However, there can be exceptions to this, such as the ‘walking across’ example).
If the words have to be understood alongside a meaning that has little or nothing to do with the original verbs, then it’s most likely a phrasal verb.
How many phrasal verbs are there in English?
There are over 10,000 phrasal verbs in the English language! That means it’s impossible to list them all, let alone memorize them all.
The best way to approach phrasal verbs is to learn the meanings of the most common ones and then learn the definitions of others when you encounter them.
Otherwise, you could spend ages learning phrasal verbs alone. And there’s plenty more in the English language to know other than these verbs.
What are the most common Phrasal Verbs?
- Calm down -relax after being angry. ‘He calmed down after we explained the situation.’
- Give up – stop trying, quit, or sacrifice something. For example, ‘I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent.’
- Pass out – faint or lose consciousness. ‘It was so hot I thought I would pass out.’
- Throw away – put something in the rubbish. For example, ‘I should throw away my old shoes.’
- Turn up – appear suddenly. ‘She thought it was lost forever, but it turned up suddenly.’
- Wake up – awaken from sleeping. For example, ‘I must wake up at 7 am.’
- Work out – be successful. ‘It should work out in the end.’
More Examples of Phrasal Verbs
|Phrasal Verb||Meaning||Separable or Inseparable||Example Sentence|
|ask around||ask lots of people the same question||inseparable||I asked around, but nobody knew where to find her.|
|broke down||stop working/functioning||inseparable||The car broke down on the motorway.|
|break-in||force entry into a building||inseparable||There was a break-in down the street last night.|
|bring up||raise a subject in conversation||separable||I didn’t want to bring up the situation. / I didn’t want to bring it up.|
|call off||cancel||separable||We had to call off the party. / We called the party off.|
|check-in||arrive and register at a hotel or airport||inseparable||We have to check in when we get to the airport.|
|check out||leave a hotel||inseparable||We have to check out before noon.|
|check out||investigate, look at something carefully||separable||Do you want to check out the new shop in town? / Let’s check it out.|
|cheer up||become happier||inseparable||She’ll cheer up when she hears the news.|
|cheer up||make happier||separable||She cheered her up by buying her a gift.|
|clean up||tidy, clean||separable||Can you clean up before you go? / You must clean the mess up.|
|chip in||contribute, help||inseparable||We all chipped in to solve the problem.|
|come across||find something, often unexpectedly||inseparable||I came across some old photos in the attic.|
|come across||appear to be||inseparable||I didn’t want to come across that way.|
|come apart||break apart, separate||inseparable||It came apart in my hands.|
|come down with something||fall sick||inseparable||She’s not coming to school today because she’s come down with something.|
|come forward||volunteer to do something or with information||inseparable||They came forward and told the truth about last night.|
|come from||originate from||inseparable||Tea comes from China.|
|count on||rely on||inseparable||I’m counting on him to bring the supplies later.|
|cross out||draw a line through||separable||I crossed out the wrong answer / I crossed it out.|
|cut back on||consume less||inseparable||I’m cutting back on sugar this month.|
|do away with||throw away, discard||inseparable||It’s time I do away with all this junk.|
|dress up||wear nice clothes||inseparable||I’m excited to go to the party tonight and dress up.|
|drop in/by/over||come by without an appointment||inseparable||I might drop by her house later.|
|drop off||take somebody or something somewhere||separable||I’m dropping off my little brother. / I’m dropping my little brother off.|
|eat out||eat at a restaurant / not at home||inseparable||Let’s celebrate and eat out at that nice restaurant.|
|end up||eventually, reach/do/decide||inseparable||We ended up going home after that.|
|fall apart||break into pieces||inseparable||The book fell apart because it was so old.|
|figure out||find a solution||separable||We’ll figure it out. / We’ll figure out how to do it.|
|fill in||write information in the blanks||separable||You must fill in the form. / You must fill it in.|
|get along/on||like each other||inseparable.||They get along well.|
|get round to||have time for something||inseparable||I can finally get around to writing that book.|
|give away||reveal something||separable||He gave away the secret. / He gave the secret away.|
|go after||follow somebody||inseparable||It would help if you went after them.|
|get over||overcome problem||inseparable||He can’t get over losing the championship.|
|get together||meet up socially||inseparable||Let’s get together this weekend.|
|get up||get out of bed||inseparable||I got up late this morning.|
|get up||stand up||inseparable||You should get up and offer your seat.|
|give in||reluctantly stop||inseparable||After a few hours of arguing, they gave in.|
|give out||give to people, usually for free||separable||They were giving out free samples. / They were giving them out.|
|go against||compete||inseparable||We’re going against a tough team tonight.|
|go ahead||start||inseparable||Go ahead and eat.|
|go out||leave the house to go to an event||inseparable||We’re going out tonight.|
|go over||review, look over||inseparable||Let’s go over your essay.|
|go over||visit someone||inseparable||I’m going to go over to my friend’s later.|
|go without||suffer because of a lack of something||inseparable||I don’t want to go without my best friend.|
|grow apart||stop being friends over time||inseparable||We started to grow apart eventually.|
|grow back||regrow||separable||My hair grows back fast. / I cut my hair, but I want to grow it back.|
|grow out of||get too big, physically or mentally||inseparable||She grew out of her old clothes. / She grew out of her old habits.|
|hand down||give something used||separable||I handed down my old toys to my little sister. / I handed it down to my little sister.|
|hand out||distribute things to people||separable||I’ll hand out the drinks. / I’ll hand them out.|
|hang up||end a phone call||inseparable||He hung up the phone when the doorbell rang.|
|hold back||prevent from doing/going||separable||I held my dog back when he saw a squirrel. / I held back my dog when he saw a squirrel.|
|hold on||wait a short time||inseparable||Hold on; I must grab my coat.|
|hold up||made late||inseparable||Traff held her upic this morning.|
|keep on||continue to do something||inseparable||Keep on practicing, and you’ll get better.|
|keep out||stop from entering||separable||I keep my dog out of the living room.|
|keep up||continue at the same rate||separable||Keep it up, and you’ll be a winner. /Keep up with that, and you’ll be a winner.|
|let down||disappoint, fail to help||separable||They let me down on the big day. / It was a letdown.|
|let in||allow to enter||separable||Let me in, please.|
|log out/off||sign out of an account online||inseparable||You should always log out when you finish online.|
|look down on||think less of||inseparable||They look down on people who aren’t like them.|
|look for||search for, try to find||inseparable||I’m looking for my glasses.|
|look forward to||excited about something in the future||inseparable||I’m looking forward to going on holiday.|
|look into||investigate||inseparable||I’ll look into it.|
|lookout||be careful||inseparable||Look out for scams online.|
|pick out||choose||separable||I’ve picked out my dress for the wedding. / I’ve picked it out.|
|point out||indicate||separable||I’ll point her out when we see her.|
|put down||place something you’re holding onto a surface||separable||I put down my coffee mug. / I put my coffee mug down.|
|put off||postpone, procrastinate||separable||I put off doing my homework. I put my homework off.|