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.

Literal Meanings

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.

Idiomatic Meanings

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.


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