English Phrasal Verbs

Many students are scared by English phrasal verbs, but they aren't really too scary. If you have a strategy for learning them, they can be just as easy to learn as other English vocabulary.

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So what are English phrasal verbs?

A phrasal verb is a verb that is combined with an adverb or a preposition. The combination creates a new meaning.

The meaning of the combination of words is not usually obvious from the dictionary definitions of the two words separately.

  • Run = to move very quickly with your legs.
    ("She can run fast!")

    She can run fast!

  • Into = in the direction of something.
    ("He looked into my eyes.")

    He looked into my eyes.

  • Run into = to meet someone by accident.
    ("I ran into Joe yesterday.")

    I ran into Joe yesterday.
  • Make = to create or do something.
    ("He made some pancakes.")

    He made some pancakes.

  • Up = to a higher point.
    ("Look up!")

    Look up!

  • Make up = invent (a story, an excuse).
    ("It has never happened. He made the whole thing up!")

    It has never happened. He made the whole thing up!

  • Put = to place something somewhere.
    ("He put the plates on the table.")

    He put the plates on the table.

  • Up = to a higher point.
    ("Look up!")

    Look up!

  • With = concerning.
    ("She is happy with her workplace.")

    She is happy with her workplace.

  • Put up with = to tolerate.
    ("I cannot put up with this behavior any more!")

    I cannot put up with this behavior any more!

Some more examples:
  • Get up = to stand up after sitting or lying.
    ("It's hard for him to stand up on his own.")

  • Put on = to dress yourself in something.
    ("Put on your gloves. It's Cold outside.")

  • Fall for = to begin to love someone.
    ("He fell for her the minute he saw her.")

How to remember English phrasal verbs?

1. Phrasal verb = single meaning

The first thing to do with phrasal verbs is to learn them as phrases and not only as separate words. Try to remember them as if they were a single verb.

2. Group phrasal verbs together

The second thing that will help you is to remember them in groups.

For example, make a list of phrasal verbs with the word get in them and try to remember them.

If you find it easier, you can put them in groups of verbs with the same preposition. For example, phrasal verbs including the word up.

There are special books with lists of phrasal verbs that can help you do just that.

3. Your own sentences

The third thing that will help you learn phrasal verbs is to make up or write sentences that will help you remember how they are used.

4. Other necessary prepositions

The fourth important thing about phrasal verbs is to remember if there are any other prepositions which always follow them.
  • For example: "He gets on well with his brother."

Separable and inseparable phrasal verbs

There are two kinds of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable.

Separable phrasal verbs can have the object in the middle of the two words.
  • For example: "He put it down."

Inseparable phrasal verbs must have the object after the two words.
  • For example: "He fell for his best friend's sister."

Separable phrasal verbs can take the object in between the two words, or after the two words.
  • For example: "She put her socks on," or "She put on her socks."

Writing or making up sentences with the phrasal verbs you are trying to learn will help you to remember whether they are separable or inseparable.

Useful English phrasal verbs activities

Activities that may help you remember phrasal verbs include memorizing them and writing sentences using the phrases, then looking back at your notes and checking.

Also, writing the two parts of the verb on different pieces of paper and trying to match them up again may also help you remember them.

This is especially useful if you have a visual memory, or if you remember things by doing actions, rather than just reading or speaking.

There are many books and websites that can help you learn phrasal verbs.

You can buy books which include lists of thousands of phrasal verbs, and some which have a more exercise-based approach to helping you learn.

Whichever resources you use, they are no substitute for you studying English phrasal verbs yourself, and using them in your speech and your writing.

The more you use any vocabulary, the easier it will be to remember it.

So keep practicing and be sure to visit the other pages in this section:

Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal-Prepositional Verbs

Common Phrasal Verbs

Illustrated Worksheet on Phrasal Verbs

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