Phrasal verbs are verbs that are made up of a main verb together with an adverb or a preposition, or both. Typically, their meaning is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves. For example:
She has always looked down on me.
Fighting broke out among a group of 40 men.
I’ll see to the animals.
Don’t put me off, I’m trying to concentrate.
The report spelled out the need for more staff.
For instance, in the first example, the phrasal verb ‘to look down on someone’ doesn’t mean that you are looking down from a higher place at someone who is below you; it means that you think that you are better than someone.
Phrasal verbs can be intransitive (i.e. they have no object):
We broke up two years ago.
They set off early to miss the traffic.
He pulled up outside the cottage.
or transitive (i.e. they can have an object):
The police were called to break up the fight.
When the door is opened, it sets off an alarm.
They pulled the house down and redeveloped the site.
The verb and adverb elements which make up intransitive phrasal verbs are never separated:
✓ We broke up two years ago.
✗ We broke two years ago up.
The situation is different with transitive verbs, however. If the direct object is a noun, you can say:
|✓ They pulled down the house.
If the object is a pronoun (such as it, him, her, them) , then the object always comes between the verb and the adverb:
|✗ They pulled down it.
The meaning of phrasal verbs
Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the meaning of phrasal verbs. Before looking them up in a dictionary, it would be helpful to use the context to understand them.
Some phrasal verbs have a literal meaning. They can be easily understood.
- She opened the door and looked outside.
- She was walking across the street when she heard the sound of an explosion.
Phrasal verbs can also have a figurative or idiomatic meaning which makes them difficult to understand.
- Can you put me up for tonight?
The phrasal verb 'put up' here does not mean to build (as in putting a fence up). It has, however, an idiomatic/figurative meaning. It means to let someone stay in your house.
Separable or inseparable?
1. Sometimes, the preposition/adverb is placed either after the verb or after the object.
- Mary made up a really entertaining story.
- Mary made the story up.
2. If the object is a pronoun, however, the preposition/adverb has to be placed after the pronoun (object).
- She made it up.
- Put it down.
- Take it off.
3. Some phrasal verbs are always inseparable.
- I came across some old photos in a drawer.
I came some old photos across in a drawer.
|Separable Phrasal Verbs
The object may come after the following phrasal verbs or it may separate the two parts:
|The terrorists tried to blow up the railroad station.
|mention a topic
|My mother brought up that little matter of my prison record again.
|It isn't easy to bring up children nowadays.
|They called off this afternoon's meeting
|repeat a job
|Do this homework over.
|complete a form
|Fill out this application form and mail it in.
|fill to capacity
|She filled up the grocery cart with free food.
|My sister found out that her husband had been planning a surprise party for her.
|give something to someone else for free
|The filling station was giving away free gas.
|return an object
|My brother borrowed my car. I have a feeling he's not about to give it back.
|submit something (assignment)
|The students handed in their papers and left the room.
|put something on hook or receiver
|She hung up the phone before she hung up her clothes.
|I hate to hold up the meeting, but I have to go to the bathroom.
|hold up (2)
|Three masked gunmen held up the Security Bank this afternoon.
|You left out the part about the police chase down Asylum Avenue.
|The lawyers looked over the papers carefully before questioning the witness. (They looked them overcarefully.)
|search in a list
|You've misspelled this word again. You'd better lookit up.
|invent a story or lie
|She knew she was in trouble, so she made up a story about going to the movies with her friends.
|He was so far away, we really couldn't make outwhat he was saying.
|There were three men in the line-up. She picked outthe guy she thought had stolen her purse.
|lift something off something else
|The crane picked up the entire house. (Watch them pick it up.)
|call attention to
|As we drove through Paris, Francoise pointed outthe major historical sites.
|save or store
|We put away money for our retirement. She put away the cereal boxes.
|We asked the boss to put off the meeting until tomorrow. (Please put it off for another day.)
|put clothing on the body
|I put on a sweater and a jacket. (I put them onquickly.)
|The firefighters put out the house fire before it could spread. (They put it out quickly.)
|I read over the homework, but couldn't make any sense of it.
|to arrange, begin
|My wife set up the living room exactly the way she wanted it. She set it up.
|make a written note
|These are your instructions. Write them downbefore you forget.
|It was so hot that I had to take off my shirt.
|We have serious problems here. Let's talk them over like adults.
|That's a lot of money! Don't just throw it away.
|put clothing on to see if it fits
|She tried on fifteen dresses before she found one she liked.
|I tried out four cars before I could find one that pleased me.
|Your radio is driving me crazy! Please turn it down.
|turn down (2)
|He applied for a promotion twice this year, but he was turned down both times.
|raise the volume
|Grandpa couldn't hear, so he turned up his hearing aid.
|switch off electricity
|We turned off the lights before anyone could see us.
|turn off (2)
|It was a disgusting movie. It really turned me off.
|switch on the electricity
|Turn on the CD player so we can dance.
|exhaust, use completely
|The gang members used up all the money and went out to rob some more banks.
|Inseparable Phrasal Verbs (Transitive)
With the following phrasal verbs, the lexical part of the verb (the part of the phrasal verb that carries the "verb-meaning") cannot be separated from the prepositions (or other parts) that accompany it: "Who will look aftermy estate when I'm gone?"
|ask to recite in class
|The teacher called on students in the back row.
|call on (2)
|The old minister continued to call on his sick parishioners.
|recover from sickness or disappointment
|I got over the flu, but I don't know if I'll ever get over my broken heart.
|The students went over the material before the exam. They should have gone over it twice.
|use up; consume
|They country went through most of its coal reserves in one year. Did he go through all his money already?
|take care of
|My mother promised to look after my dog while I was gone.
|The police will look into the possibilities of embezzlement.
|find by chance
|I ran across my old roommate at the college reunion.
|Carlos ran into his English professor in the hallway.
|My second son seems to take after his mother.
|It seemed strange to see my old boss wait ontables.
|Three-Word Phrasal Verbs (Transitive)
With the following phrasal verbs, you will find three parts: "My brother dropped out of school before he could graduate."
|break in on
|interrupt (a conversation)
|I was talking to Mom on the phone when the operator broke in on our call.
|catch up with
|After our month-long trip, it was time to catch up with the neighbors and the news around town.
|check up on
|The boys promised to check up on the condition of the summer house from time to time.
|come up with
|to contribute (suggestion, money)
|After years of giving nothing, the old parishioner was able to come up with a thousand-dollar donation.
|cut down on
|We tried to cut down on the money we were spending on entertainment.
|drop out of
|I hope none of my students drop out of school this semester.
|get along with
|have a good relationship with
|I found it very hard to get along with my brother when we were young.
|get away with
|Janik cheated on the exam and then tried to get away with it.
|get rid of
|The citizens tried to get rid of their corrupt mayor in the recent election.
|get through with
|When will you ever get through with that program?
|keep up with
|maintain pace with
|It's hard to keep up with the Joneses when you lose your job!
|look forward to
|anticipate with pleasure
|I always look forward to the beginning of a new semester.
|look down on
|It's typical of a jingoistic country that the citizens look down on their geographical neighbors.
|look in on
|We were going to look in on my brother-in-law, but he wasn't home.
|look out for
|be careful, anticipate
|Good instructors will look out for early signs of failure in their students
|look up to
|First-graders really look up to their teachers.
|make sure of
|Make sure of the student's identity before you let him into the classroom.
|put up with
|The teacher had to put up with a great deal of nonsense from the new students.
|run out of
|The runners ran out of energy before the end of the race.
|take care of
|be responsible for
|My oldest sister took care of us younger children after Mom died.
|talk back to
|The star player talked back to the coach and was thrown off the team.
|think back on
|I often think back on my childhood with great pleasure.
|walk out on
|Her husband walked out on her and their three children.
|Intransitive Phrasal Verbs
The following phrasal verbs are not followed by an object: "Once you leave home, you can never really go back again."
|That old Jeep had a tendency to break down just when I needed it the most.
|Popular songs seem to catch on in California first and then spread eastward.
|return to a place
|Father promised that we would never come backto this horrible place.
|They tried to come in through the back door, but it was locked.
|He was hit on the head very hard, but after several minutes, he started to come to again.
|The children promised to come over, but they never do.
|visit without appointment
|We used to just drop by, but they were never home, so we stopped doing that.
|dine in a restaurant
|When we visited Paris, we loved eating out in the sidewalk cafes.
|Uncle Heine didn't have much money, but he always seemed to get by without borrowing money from relatives.
|Grandmother tried to get up, but the couch was too low, and she couldn't make it on her own.
|return to a place
|It's hard to imagine that we will ever go back to Lithuania.
|He would finish one Dickens novel and then just go on to the next.
|go on (2)
|The cops heard all the noise and stopped to see what was going on.
|Charles grew up to be a lot like his father.
|remain at a distance
|The judge warned the stalker to keep away from his victim's home.
|keep on (with gerund)
|continue with the same
|He tried to keep on singing long after his voice was ruined.
|lose consciousness, faint
|He had drunk too much; he passed out on the sidewalk outside the bar.
|Whenever he sat down at the piano, we knew he was going to show off.
|Day after day, Efrain showed up for class twenty minutes late.
|arouse from sleep
|I woke up when the rooster crowed.