A phrasal verb is a verb formed from two (or sometimes three) parts: a verb + an adverb/preposition. For example, lie down (verb + adverb), look up to (verb + adverb + preposition).
Most phrasal verbs are formed from a small number of verbs (e.g. take, go, get, set, come, etc.) and a small number of particles (e.g. away, off, up, down, in, etc.). A particle is an adverb or preposition used with a verb to form a phrasal verb.
Phrasal verbs sometimes have meanings that you can easily guess (e.g. sit down, get up, lie down, etc.) (related: “Phrasal Verbs for Basic Actions“). However, in most cases their meanings are quite different from the meanings of the verb they are formed from. For example, bounce back means to become healthy, happy, or successful again after something bad has happened to you. The original meaning of bounce (to hit a surface and immediately move away from it) no longer applies.
There are 5 main types of phrasal verbs:
- Intransitive phrasal verbs (= phrasal verbs which don’t need an object): 1) After a terrible start the team bounced back. 2) Why don’t you come over?
- Transitive phrasal verbs ( = phrasal verbs which must have an object) where the object can come in one or two positions: (1) between the verb and the particle(s): Kim had forgotten to put his watch on. (2) after the particle: Kim had forgotten to put on his watch. However, if the object is a pronoun (him, her, it, etc.), it must come between the verb and the particle: Kim had forgotten to put it on.
- Transitive phrasal verbs where the object must come between the verb and the particle: 1) We’re hoping the changes will help speed things up a bit. 2) Graf’s natural athleticism set her apart from other tennis players.
- Transitive phrasal verbs where the object must come after the particle: 1) It can take weeks to get over an illness like that. 2) In looks she takes after her father.
- Transitive phrasal verbs with 2 objects, one after the verb and one after the particle: 1) I put his irritability down to tiredness. 2) There are plans to turn his latest book into a film.
Some transitive phrasal verbs can be used in the passive, but the object cannot come between the verb and the particle:
Active: They cooked up some story. / They cooked some story up.
Passive: Some story was cooked up by them.
Active: You can turn off your computer. / You can turn your computer off.
Passive: Your computer can be turned off.
Look at the 5 types of phrasal verbs again. Type 2 verbs can be called separable because the object can come between the verb and the particle (e.g. to look up: I looked the word up/I looked up the word / I looked it up). Type 4 phrasal verbs are inseparable because the object cannot come between the verb and the particle (e.g. look into: I looked into the matter / I looked into it).
To use phrasal verbs correctly, it’s important to understand their types. If you are not sure which type some phrasal verb is, look it up in a dictionary. Modern dictionaries give all the necessary information, including examples. Some of the best learner’s dictionaries are:
- Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary
- Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary
- Macmillan Dictionary
- Collins Dictionary
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
Complete the sentences by putting the object pronoun in brackets in the correct position. The answer key is at the bottom of the page:
- I stopped smoking when I saw a film about it at school. It really put off. (me)
- Whenever there is flu going round, I always seem to come down with. (it)
- If I catch a cold in winter, it usually takes me ages to shake off. (it)
- My father has always been very fit. It’s a pity I don’t take after. (him)
- At the end of a day, the last thing I want to do is go running. I just don’t feel up to. (it)
- I don’t need to do any exercise – my kids wear out. (me)
- I like tennis. I think I’ll take up. (it)
- Her time is fully taken up with. (it)
- A wave of anger came over. (her)
- Don’t try to make over. (me)
Answer key: 1. put me off 2. come down with it 3. shake it off 4. take after him 5. feel up to it 6. wear me out 7. take it up 8. taken up with it 9. came over her 10. make me over
Materials used: “Check your English Vocabulary for Phrasal Verbs and Idioms” by Rawdon Wyatt; (Macmillan) New Inside Out intermediate student’s book