There are single-word verbs like look, run, and stay, and there are phrasal verbs containing multiple words. It changes the meaning of the verb when combined with a preposition or adverb. For example, the single-word verb, look, means to use one’s eyes to observe something. However, the phrasal verb, look up, means to search for information.
Since there are thousands of phrasal verbs in English, mastering the most common ones and using them correctly is essential. Moreover, native English speakers use phrasal verbs in their daily conversations. In this article, you will learn what phrasal verbs are and the common phrasal verbs with meanings and examples.
What are Phrasal Verbs?
A phrasal verb is two or more words that create an idiomatic expression with a separate meaning from the words alone. The combination are either (1) verb + preposition, (2) verb + adverb, or (3) verb + verb + adverb + preposition.
Let’s take the verb, break, for example. On its own, it means to separate into pieces. But when combined with a preposition and adverb, it changes the meaning.
|break out||to start something suddenly||– A fight broke out among the partygoers.|
– The crowd broke out into cheers when they heard the news.
– The fire broke out in the middle of the night.
|break out of||to escape by force out of a place||– The prisoners broke out of jail last night.|
– A few minutes after I placed my cat in the cage, it broke out of it in a few seconds.
– He can break out of the room through the window.
Phrasal Verbs Rules
Every language is governed by a set of rules. Phrasal verbs, for example, can’t be formed by placing a preposition or adverb before the main verb. “With deal” does not make sense, but “deal with” does. The structure of phrasal verbs, as well as their related grammar rules, is explained below.
Formation of Phrasal Verbs
The three combinations of phrasal verbs are (1) verb + preposition, (2) verb + adverb, and (3) verb + verb + adverb + preposition. The table below shows some examples of phrasal verbs following three formulas.
|count on||verb + preposition||to rely or depend on someone or something||I can always count on my best friend for help.|
|move in||verb + preposition||to start living in a new place or home||We are moving in our new house next week.|
|watch out||verb + adverb||warning to be careful or vigilant||Watch out for the speeding cars when you cross the street.|
|look up||verb + adverb||to search for information or data||I need to look up the address of the restaurant before I go.|
|stick up for||verb + verb + adverb + preposition||to defend or support someone||My brother always sticks up for me when I’m in trouble.|
|look forward to||verb + verb + adverb + preposition||to anticipate something with excitement or pleasure||The captain is looking forward to their new voyage.|
As you notice from the examples, phrasal verbs adhere to the tenses rule. Remember that only the main verb is affected by the change of tense and the adverb and preposition stay the same. For example, the phrasal verb, count on, becomes will be counting in future progressive tense and had been counting on in the past perfect progressive tense.
Refer to the table below for the different tenses of verbs:
|Tense / Aspect of Time||Simple||Progressive / Continuous||Perfect||Perfect Progressive / Continuous|
|Present||is, am, are, or base for of verb||is / am /are + (verb + ing)||has / have + past participle||has / have been + (verb + ing)|
|Past||was, were||was / were + (verb + ing)||had + past participle||had been + (verb + ing)|
|Future||will + base verb||will be + (verb + ing)||will have + past participle||will have been + (verb + ing)|
Types of Phrasal Verbs: Transitivity
Transitivity is a property of a verb that refers to the ability of the verb to take an object. Phrasal verbs can be either transitive or intransitive.
|Point of Comparison||Transitive Verb||Intransitive verb|
|Meaning||payback, lift up, fill up, read out, hold down, pin up, leave out, mix up, pass around, switch off||Intransitive phrasal verbs do not require an object to complete their meaning.|
|Examples||payback, lift up, fill up, read out, hold down, pin-up, leave out, mix up, pass around, switch off||lie down, get ahead, work out, calm down, come through, run away, back down, sign in|
|Sample Sentences||– He needs to pay back the money he borrowed.|
– Please fill up my glass with wine.
– You need to switch off the lights when you’re not using them.
|– Sign in here.|
– Don’t run away!
– Please lie down.
Types of Phrasal Verbs: Separability
The separability of phrasal verbs refers to whether a direct object can be placed between the main verb and the adverb or preposition. Generally, three-word phrasal verbs are inseparable.
|Point of Comparison||Separable Phrasal Verb||Inseparable Phrasal verb|
|Meaning||The direct object can come in between the phrasal verb.||The direct object must come after the phrasal verb.|
|Examples||rinse out, bring over|
fill up, wipe off, move over, pass on, clear up, add up, point out, quiet down
|pass on, see to, talk over, come by, run out of, look after, call for, put up with, turn into, get away with|
|Sample Sentences||– Wipe your shoes off before entering the house.|
– She cleared his desk up last week.
– She needs to bring the documents over here.
|– She needs to look after his health.|
– You can talk over the issue with the manager.
– He is putting up with his parents’ decision.
Examples of Phrasal Verbs
Here are 15 examples of phrasal verbs used in sentences:
- Joan blew away her money at the casino.
- The intern apologized for the mix-up in the report.
- I’m going over my notes before the exam.
- Andrei, the mechanic, put the car together in no time.
- The new law came about after months of debate.
- She needs to find out more information about the investment.
- My friend helped me out when I was in need.
- The soldier fought back against his captors.
- Oliver dressed up as Joker for Halloween.
- Carry on with your explanation about the project.
- I asked around, but no one knew the answer.
- Please plug in my charger on the socket.
- We wrapped up the meeting early.
- He showed off his new car to all his friends.
- She disagreed with her classmate on the issue.
Phrasal Verbs Exercises with Answers
Match the phrasal verbs in Column A with their meaning in Column B.
|Column A||Column B|
|1. make it up to|
2. ask round
3. set up
4. go beyond
5. walk away from
6. fall apart
7. narrow down
8. drop by
9. phase out
10. come across with
|1. make it up to|
2. ask round
3. set up
4. go beyond
5. walk away from
6. fall apart
7. narrow down
8. drop by
10. come across with
- make it up to → g. to do something to compensate for a mistake or wrong that was done
- ask round → j. to inquire people in order to get information
- set up → a. to arrange or organize something
- go beyond → f. to exceed the limits of what is expected
- walk away from → c. to leave a situation or relationship without resolving it
- fall apart → i. to break down or disintegrate
- narrow down → d. to reduce the number of choices or possibilities
- drop by → e. to visit someone or a place for a short period of time
- phase out → h. to gradually discontinue the use of something
- come across with → b. to provide something that is needed or requested
Phrasal Verbs List
|absorb oneself in||end up||join up||note down||set up|
|account for||enter into||joke around||open up||tag along|
|add up to||even up||jump around||opt-out||tune in|
|aim at||face up to||jump at||tip-off||tear up|
|ask round||fade out||keep out of||order in||throw away|
|warm-up||fall apart||keep to oneself||order out||bailout|
|base on||fall back upon||keep together||pass on||trickle down|
|bear out||fall behind||keep under||pass out||urge on|
|believe in||gear towards||keep up||pass over||use up|
|blurt out||get ahead of oneself||keep up with||pile up||used to|
|call back||give in||lash out||phase out||usher in|
|camp out||go about||lay low||quarrel out||vacuum up|
|cash in||go beyond||lean into||quarrel with||vote in|
|chalk up to||hammer out||lie down||queen up||vote out|
|check off||hand out||log off||queue up||vouch for|
|come across with||hand over||look forward to||quiet down||wake up|
|dawn upon||hear out||make it count||rain down||walk away from|
|dive in||drawback||make it up to||rally around||walk away with|
|double down||hold against||muster up||run across||hideaway|
|draw back||inform on||match up||read oneself in||watch out|
|drift apart||ink in||move on||rely on||zone out|
|drop by||inquire after||nail down||scale down||zoom in|
|dwell upon||improve upon||name after||screen out||zero in|
|ease up||iron out||name for||see through||zero out|
|empty out||join in||narrow down||send out for||zoom out|
Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners
English grammar, like any language, is a complex subject to study. Understanding and applying grammar rules can be challenging, especially for English language learners. However, your success in learning the language is dependent on your learning plan.
First, know that there are different levels of language proficiency. Knowing your status allows you to align it with your study materials and learning strategy. To keep your motivation, select beginner-friendly materials instead of university textbooks when starting. In doing so, you will feel less intimidated by the topics you should learn.
Second, focus on the basics: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Learn how to use them correctly in sentences and understand their meaning. It will help you build a strong foundation for your English language learning journey. Divide those topics into subtopics and learn each concept and rule one by one.
Third, find a reliable source of learning materials. Online resources such as websites, blogs, and YouTube videos are mostly free. LillyPad’s blog, for example, is a great resource for English language learning materials. Additionally, you can find books and other printed materials in your local library or bookstore.
Fourth, practice speaking the language with native speakers or other English learners. It will help you understand how to use the language correctly in conversations and improve your pronunciation.
Finally, be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Learning a language takes time and effort, so set realistic goals and celebrate your achievements along the way.
Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand infinitives and modal verbs.
Common Mistakes Made by English Learners
Learning a new language can be difficult, and English is no exception. Even experienced English learners make mistakes when speaking or writing in the language. Here are some of the most common mistakes made by English learners:
|Common Mistake||Why it Happens||Correction||Examples|
|Placing the direct object in between an inseparable phrasal verb.||Determining separable from inseparable phrasal verbs can be tricky for learners. They learn with sentence patterns that the direct object comes after the main verb. Hence, they might carry that pattern with inseparable verbs.||Placing direct objects that are pronouns after a phrasal verb||Incorrect: We need to go the plan over before the meeting.|
Correct: We need to go over the plan before the meeting.
Incorrect: Sometimes, I look fond memories back on.
Correct: Sometimes, I look back on fond memories.
|Placing a direct objects that are pronouns after a phrasal verb||The general guideline with phrasal verbs is direct object comes after it. However, pronouns are an exemption from this rule.||When the direct object of the phrasal verb is a pronoun, ensure to place it between the phrasal verb.||Incorrect: Hear out me before making a decision.|
Correct: Hear me out before making a decision.
Incorrect: There are a lot of options, but you have to narrow down it.
Correct: There are a lot of options, but you have to narrow it down.
Phrasal Verbs Learning Strategies and Best Practices
A holistic approach to learning a language makes it easier to understand and remember. The five macro skills, reading, listening, viewing, speaking, and writing, should be developed and used in the learning process for better language acquisition. The table below lists activities you can do when learning linking verbs:
|Learning Strategies and Best Practices|
|Reading||Use flashcards to know basic English sight words and their meaning. Search for a material that contains a translation of common expressions from your native language to English. Select study materials appropriate for your language proficiency.|
|Listening||Listen to an audiobook or a song and write what you hear to improve your retention of English words. Compare and contrast two audio materials like TV ads and a speech. Summarize a podcast, movie, audiobook, and other English audio materials.|
|Viewing||Observe how native speakers speak and try to mimic it. Watch English movies, interviews, and tutorials. Use pictographs to learn and remember new words.|
|Speaking||Join a community of English language learners and communicate with them to improve and gain feedback. Integrate the language into your daily life and try to speak using English. Participate in speech organizations (e.g. debate clubs, theatre groups)|
|Writing||Write a journal of your learning journey in English. Answer practice tests and create your own sentences. Create a reflection essay on the media you watch or listen to.|
Phrasal Verb Frequently Asked Questions
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