Phrasal verbs can present daunting obstacles to many English learners. Very often, they might have unpredictable meanings, which leads to misinterpretations and communication gaps. So, it’s vital to understand the basics of phrasal verbs. In this article, you will learn what is a phrasal verb, discover some examples, and get tips to avoid common mistakes when using phrasal verbs.
What is a phrasal verb
A phrasal verb is a verb that consists of several words, together forming a new meaning. Usually, verbs are combined with prepositions or adverbs to create new expressions. Their functions are to enrich the language and everyday conversations. Here are some examples:
- “to look”+”up” forms “to look up” means “searching for information”;
- “to take”+”of” forms “take off,” which literally means “begin to fly” and metaphorically - “rapid start or success of something (project, career, etc.);
- “to break”+”down” forms “break down,” which means “to stop functioning.” It’s used in literal meaning regarding machines (My computer broke down) or metaphorical ones regarding some processes (The negotiation broke down after trying to find common ground for 2 hours.)
The special thing about phrasal verbs is that they are used both in spoken and written forms. You may find the phrasal verbs in informal and formal communication. Understanding the phrasal verbs, you will be confident in different contexts.
Types of phrasal verbs
Generally, phrasal verbs are divided into two big categories: separable and non-separable. The former offers flexibility, meaning you can put something between the parts of a phrase without losing the meaning. Non-separable phrasal verbs don’t offer such an opportunity. Understanding the difference is crucial for grammatical accuracy and communication.
Separable phrasal verbs
Usually, the separable phrasal verbs are separated by the object of the verb. In other words, by the thing that the phrasal verb refers to. For example, “to turn off” means to deactivate. Both “turn off the light” and “turn the light off” are correct sayings, although they have different structures.
Here are the golden rules for using separable phrasal verbs in English:
- Identification. You should understand whether the phrasal verb is separable. Just try to put the object between the parts of the phrasal verb and check whether it makes sense.
- Pronoun Placement. If the verb is separable, and the object is a pronoun (e.g., it, them), it must come between the verb and the particle. You can say "pick it up" but not "pick it up."
- Contextual Flexibility. The choice to separate a phrasal verb or keep it intact often depends on the context, emphasis, or stylistic preference. For example, "turn off the light" might be preferred in formal writing, while "turn the light off" could be more common in casual speech.
Here are some common mistakes in using separable phrasal verbs.
- Forcing separation. Beginner language learners often tend to separate an inseparable phrasal verb. For example, they try to say “to come it across” when it should be “come across it.” Remember to identify in advance whether the verb is separable.
- Skipping the context. In formal writing, it’s safer to keep the verb and particle together after the object (unless the object is a pronoun). This ensures clarity and avoids possible misinterpretations.
Practice using different phrasal verb examples to remember these rules. These constructions might be challenging, but by completing several exercises, you will start using the separable phrasal verbs intuitively.
Non-separable phrasal verbs
The non-phrasal verb meaning is straightforward: it combines a verb and preposition or adverb that function as a single unit. So, you can’t put an object between the parts of such a verb. For example, "to run into" means to meet someone unexpectedly. You can’t “run someone into” because such a structure will significantly change the meaning, creating nonsense. So, the rules for using non-separable phrasal verbs are as follows:
- Fixed Structure. The verb and its particle(s) (preposition or adverb) remain together, regardless of the verb's object.
- Object Placement. Since the verb and particle cannot be separated, the object (if there is one) always follows the phrasal verb. This rule applies even when the object is a pronoun, as in "look after it."
- Interpreting Meaning. The meanings of non-separable phrasal verbs must be learned as a whole. Because these meanings can be idiomatic or figurative, context clues and common usage patterns are invaluable for understanding and application.
There are several strategies to master these rules:
- Learn through a context. Don’t rely just on remembering the verb itself. Practice it through reading, listening, and speaking. Try integrating it into different contexts, or ask your tutor to create relevant exercises.
- Repeat. Of course, you shouldn’t overuse the verbs. However, try to practice them in your communication when it’s appropriate. This will help you to remember the correct usage.
- Engage with proficient learners. Connect with tutors or learners who have reached higher fluency levels and ask for their feedback. This approach will help you understand the non-separable phrasal verbs faster.
By understanding the structure of non-separable phrasal verbs, embracing their idiomatic meanings, and avoiding common errors, you can confidently integrate such expressions into your language.
List of Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs are a versatile language tool, so there are many combinations of them. Below, you can find some common phrasal verbs examples with their meanings.
|Separable Phrasal verbs
|Non-separable Phrasal verbs
|Please turn off the lights before leaving.
|To find by chance
|I came across an old friend in the city.
|To lift and hold something
|Can you pick up the book from the floor?
|To have a harmonious relationship
|They get along very well.
|To complete (a form, survey)
|Remember to fill out your application.
|To meet unexpectedly
|I ran into your brother at the mall.
|To fail to function
|My car broke down on the way to work.
|To care for
|She looks after her younger siblings.
|To depart or ascend
|The plane takes off at noon.
|To rely on
|You can count on me.
|To tidy up by storing
|Put away your toys after playing.
|To handle or confront
|He deals with stress very effectively.
|It's time to throw out the old magazines.
|To disintegrate or fail
|The plan fell apart at the last minute.
|She brought up an interesting point during the meeting.
|To recover from
|It took him a while to get over the illness.
|The game was called off due to rain.
|To endure or undergo
|She went through a lot last year.
|To establish or arrange
|They set up a new company.
|To continue doing
|Keep on trying until you succeed.
|To reconcile or invent
|We need to make up after the argument.
|look forward to
|To anticipate with pleasure
|I'm looking forward to the vacation.
|To search for information
|I'll look up the word in the dictionary.
|Several students passed out from the heat.
|To return something
|Please give back the book tomorrow.
|put up with
|I can't put up with the noise anymore.
|To retract or take back
|I take back what I said earlier.
|run out of
|To deplete one's supply of
|We're running out of milk.
|To dress oneself with
|Put on your coat; it's cold outside.
|To represent or mean
|What does this acronym stand for?
|To wait or pause
|Hold on, I'm on the phone.
|To change into
|The caterpillar turned into a butterfly.
|To dispose of
|Throw away the expired food.
|watch out for
|To be cautious of
|Watch out for icy roads.
|To try clothes for fitting
|Try on the dress to see if it fits.
|To retreat or yield
|He backed down from the challenge.
|To exercise or solve
|I work out at the gym every day.
|To erupt or flare up
|A fight broke out at the concert.
|To explain or go over quickly
|Let's run through the presentation again.
|come up with
|To devise or think of
|We need to come up with a solution.
Keep in mind that this list is non-exhaustive. Enriching your language vocabulary, you will face more expressions that can be useful for everyday communication.
Remember, mastering phrasal verbs is not just about learning the language. It’s about understanding people better and even embracing the cultural contexts. Learn these expressions, practice through phrasal verb exercises, and communicate with confidence in English.