Do you know how to use verbs like pick up, turn down and look after?


Multi-word verbs

There are very many multi-word verbs (sometimes called phrasal verbs) in English and it’s very difficult to learn them all. It can sometimes be quite easy to guess the meaning (He picked up the pencil) but other multi-word verbs are less easy to guess (I picked up Italian quite easily when I lived there) and you should look them up in a good dictionary. When you record new multi-word verbs in your notebook it can be helpful to record what type they are.

Multi-word verbs are made up of a verb and a particle or, sometimes, two particles.


  • He cut the tree down.
  • He cut down the tree.

With separable verbs the verb and particle can be apart or together – the meaning doesn’t change.

Look at another example:

  • Can you turn the radio down please?
  • Can you turn down the radio please?

However, when we use a pronoun – usually ‘it’ in place of the subject – it must come between the verb and the particle in separable multi-word verbs.

  • Can you turn it down please?
  • Can you turn down it please? is NOT possible.


  • Who looks after the baby when you’re at work?

In non-separable verbs the verb and particle cannot be separated.

  • Who looks the baby after is NOT possible.

When there is a pronoun the verb and particle remain together.

  • Who looks after her when you’re at work?

With two particles

  • Who came up with that idea?
  • I don’t know how you put up with it.

There are a few verbs with two particles and they act like inseparable multi-word verbs.


  • What time do you get up?
  • The plane took off and rose into the sky.

Intransitive verbs do not have an object. Multi-word verbs can also be intransitive.



Language level

Upper intermediate: B2