Everything You Need To Know About Phrasal Verbs

Level: Intermediate    Reading Time: 10 minutes    Category: Phrasal Verbs

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Do you find phrasal verbs confusing? Are you sick of not being able to understand what these words mean? Don’t worry, loads of English learners feel the same way.

There is a lot of stuff that you need to understand about phrasal verbs to be able to understand and use them like native speakers. 

That’s why I made this lesson. You will learn exactly what phrasal verbs are, why you need to know them and the best way to learn and use them in your own conversations.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about phrasal verbs!

Why you need to learn phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs are a really important tool for all English speakers.

You can’t watch a TV show, listen to a podcast or read a book without running into them. 

Even that last sentence had one in it. Run into is a phrasal verb that means to encounter something.

They are used all the time by native speakers so this means that if you want to be able to understand natives, you need to know phrasal verbs, otherwise you might be confused by the words they use.

If you want to be able to speak fluently, you should also be able to use and understand phrasal verbs. If native speakers use them loads, you should try and use them loads too.

They are pretty powerful because one phrasal verb can be used to easily express a pretty complex idea in a single phrase. You can also use the same phrasal verb in lots of different situations because one phrasal verb can have a lot of different meanings. This means that phrasal verbs can be pretty efficient. 

So that is why you should learn phrasal verbs, but what actually are they?

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are a commonly used part of the English language. There are literally thousands and thousands of them and they are used all the time.

To put it simply…

Phrasal verbs are the combination of a verb, with one or two particles.

Particles is a fancy “English teacher” word. It can mean prepositions, such as in/on/at and it can also mean adverbs, such as out, over and around.

Some common examples of phrasal verbs are:

  • Come in
  • Get around
  • Give up
  • Take care of
  • Look down on

 

Phrasal verbs are actually pretty simple, but they are quite hard to learn.

Why are they so difficult to learn?

Phrasal verbs can be tricky to learn for a number of different reasons.

 

There are so many!

First of all, the huge number of different combinations of verbs and particles makes it a little overwhelming for English learners. When you look online for phrasal verbs to learn, you will find pages and pages of them and that scares a lot of people. How are you supposed to learn and remember all of these combinations?

 

Different words… Same meaning!

Not only are there a lot of phrasal verbs, the meanings can be confusing. For example, you can get different phrasal verbs with very similar meanings. Consider the following sentences:

  • Could you fill in this form please?
  • Could you fill out this form please?

Even though these phrasal verbs are different, they both mean the same thing. In this case, they are asking you to complete the form by inputting your details in the correct boxes. So, why do these two different phrasal verbs mean the same thing? Well… they just do.

 

Same Word… Different meanings!

Sometimes, we have phrasal verbs with more than one meaning, and those meanings are completely different. Take a look at these examples:

  • I was brought up by my mum. (bring up = raise a child)
  • Sorry to bring this up again, but I still haven’t received that email. (bring up = start talking about a new topic)

One phrasal verb can have lots of different meanings that are not related to each other. No wonder they are confusing, right?

 

It’s hard to guess the meaning!

Finally, phrasal verbs are often idiomatic. This means that you can’t really guess the meaning of the phrasal verb just based on the words. Take a look at this phrasal verb for example…

Look down on doesn’t mean to be taller than people and physically look down when you want to talk to them. It actually means to disapprove or dislike someone or something.

  • My teacher really looks down on students who cut class = My teacher disapproves of students who cut class

There is no way you would be able to guess this by just looking at the words. 

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are different kinds of phrasal verbs that you need to be aware of.

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Transitive or intransitive?

One thing that you need to think about when you are learning phrasal verbs is what kind of verb is it. There are two kinds, transitive and intransitive.

 

What does transitive mean?

Transitive means that the phrasal verb must have an object to make sense.

For example, the phrasal verb pick up can be used to mean to buy. However you can’t just say “I picked up” because I don’t know what you bought. You need to tell me what you picked up. This means it is a transitive phrasal verb. Here is an example sentence:

  • I usually pick up a sandwich on the way to work.

 

The other kind of phrasal verb you need to know about is intransitive.

 

What does intransitive mean?

Intransitive phrasal verbs do not need an object to make sense. They can be used on their own.

The phrasal verb “break down” can be used to mean “to stop working due to a fault” and is often used to talk about things like cars or washing machines.

This is an intransitive verb and therefore we do not need an object in the sentence when we use it. Look at this example:

  • My car broke down last week.

 

You need to be careful though…

Sometimes phrasal verbs can have multiple meanings and one meaning is transitive, while the other is intransitive.

Consider the phrasal verb take off. One meaning is to remove something. This is common for things like clothes. In this case, it is a transitive phrasal verb because you need to say what you are removing.

  • I always take off my shoes before going in the house.

However, another meaning of this phrasal verb is when an airplane leaves the ground and flies into the sky. In this case it is intransitive and there is no object.

  • My flight takes off at 6pm.

 

Transitive or intransitive is important to know, but you also need to consider another thing about phrasal verbs when you are learning them…

Separable or Inseparable?

You also need to know if the phrasal verb you are learning is separable or inseparable. The good news is that this only applies to transitive phrasal verbs.

 

What are separable phrasal verbs?

Separable phrasal verbs can be split and the object can go between the verb and the particles.

This means that you have a bit more freedom with this kind of verbs. There is no difference in meaning so you can choose the way you think sounds the best. Look at this example:

  • I picked up some new shoes in the sale =  I bought some new shoes in the sale.
  • I picked some new shoes up in the sale =  I bought some new shoes in the sale.

 

Be careful with pronouns…

Pronouns always go in the middle of separable phrasal verbs.

When you are using a pronoun, (for example him, her, them, it) you must put it in the middle of a separable phrasal verb. You can’t put it after the verb. Like this…

I picked up them in the sale.

I picked them up in the sale. 

 

What are inseparable phrasal verbs?

Inseparable phrasal verbs must put the object after the phrasal verb. 

This will be familiar to you. Most of the time, the object goes after the verb in English. Look down on is an inseparable phrasal verb, which means you need to put the object at the end. You can’t say…

  • The police look crime down on.

because the object must go after the phrasal verb, like this…

  • The police look down on crime.

This is also true for pronouns. For example…

  • The police look down on it.

 

So now you understand the key points of phrasal verbs, but how do you actually know which ones to learn?

Which phrasal verbs should you learn learn?

There are so many phrasal verbs in the English language, but which ones should you learn?

 

Don’t try to learn them all!

Seriously… don’t so this. It is too hard and a waste of time. Even though there are lots of phrasal verbs in English, we don’t use all of them all the time.

You should only try to learn the ones that you will hear and see regularly. Learning a phrasal verb that you will only encounter once or twice is not worth spending too much time studying.

Picking and choosing which ones your should prioritise is really important.

 

Learn the common ones first.

There are some phrasal verbs that are much more common than others. These are the ones that you should focus on because they will be the ones that will help you understand more English from native speakers.

If you search online, you can find articles, videos, blogs and podcasts that will list the most common phrasal verbs that are used  in daily English. There are also some great text books available like this one.

 

You don’t need to learn every single meaning!

Lots of phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. This doesn’t mean that you need to learn every single one of them. Just learn the most common meanings and that should be enough. Check out this lesson with the most useful and common meanings of phrasal verbs with come:

 Read More: 5 Common Phrasal Verbs with Come

 

Learn them in lists.

If you search on YouTube, you will find a lot of videos. They are called things like…

  • Phrasal verbs with up
  • Work phrasal verbs
  • Phrasal verbs with get

and these are lists of phrasal verbs that have something in common. Maybe they all use the same word or they can be used in the same situation. 

When you get started it can be useful to learn phrasal verbs in this way. It will help you to build up your phrasal verbs word bank quickly.

 

Find ones that are useful for you.

One strategy I always recommend is to learn phrasal verbs that you will use regularly, because they are related to your interests and experiences. 

Find a video, article, podcast or book about something you are interested in. Maybe you love shopping, or figure skating, or even house renovations. Whatever you are into, try finding something about that in English.

Then you should go through it and make a list of all the phrasal verbs you can find and learn those ones first. 

This is really good because you will use them a lot because you are actually interested in the topic. You will also see how they are naturally used by native speakers to talk about that subject. Learning phrasal verbs in context can be very powerful.

Finally, it doesn’t really feel like studying because you are interested in the topic!

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