Phrasal verbs

Do you know how to use verbs in phrases like pick the kids up, turn the music down and look after my cat?

Look at these examples to see how phrasal verbs are used.

This is the form. Please can you fill it in?
Why are you bringing that argument up now?
Police are looking into connections between the two crimes.
We need to come up with a solution.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Separable and non-separable multi-word verbs: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Phrasal verbs are very common in English, especially in more informal contexts. They are made up of a verb and a particle or, sometimes, two particles. The particle often changes the meaning of the verb.

I called Jen to see how she was. (call = to telephone)
They've called off the meeting. (call off = to cancel)

In terms of word order, there are two main types of phrasal verb: separable and inseparable. 

Separable

With separable phrasal verbs, the verb and particle can be apart or together.

They've called the meeting off.
OR
They've called off the meeting.

However, separable phrasal verbs must be separated when you use a personal pronoun. 

The meeting? They've called it off.

Here are some common separable phrasal verbs:

I didn't want to bring the situation up at the meeting.
(bring up = start talking about a particular subject)

Please can you fill this form in?
(fill in = write information in a form or document)

I'll pick you up from the station at 8 p.m.
(pick up = collect someone in a car or other vehicle to take them somewhere)

She turned the job down because she didn't want to move to Glasgow.
(turn down = to not accept an offer)

Non-separable

Some phrasal verbs cannot be separated. 

Who looks after the baby when you're at work?

Even when there is a personal pronoun, the verb and particle remain together.

Who looks after her when you're at work?

Here are some common non-separable phrasal verbs:

I came across your email when I was clearing my inbox.
(come across = to find something by chance)

The caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly.
(turn into = become)

It was quite a major operation. It took months to get over it and feel normal again.
(get over = recover from something)

We are aware of the problem and we are looking into it.
(look into = investigate)

Some multi-word verbs are inseparable simply because they don't take an object.

I get up at 7 a.m.

With two particles

Phrasal verbs with two particles are also inseparable. Even if you use a personal pronoun, you put it after the particles.

Who came up with that idea?
(come up with = think of an idea or plan)

Let's get rid of these old magazines to make more space.
(get rid of = remove or become free of something that you don't want)

I didn't really get on with my stepbrother when I was a teenager.
(get on with = like and be friendly towards someone)

Can you hear that noise all the time? I don't know how you put up with it.
(put up with = tolerate something difficult or annoying)

The concert's on Friday. I'm really looking forward to it.
(look forward to = be happy and excited about something that is going to happen)

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Separable and non-separable multi-word verbs: Grammar test 2

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Submitted by Qasim Shah on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 16:33

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Is there any difference between Phrasal Verbs and Prepositional Phrases? I thinks Prepositional Phrases are the ones in which the head word retain its original meanings whereas in case of Phrasal Verbs, they may have idiomatic meanings.

Hello Qasim Shah,

Prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs are quite different things.

 

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and its object. For example: in the corner, on the table, with my friend, after the meeting, instead of Susan, without a car.

You can see some examples here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adpositional_phrase#Prepositional_phrases

 

Phrasal verbs are more often termed 'multi-word verbs'. They are verb forms made up of a verb and one or more particles or prepositions.

You can see the various types here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_phrasal_verbs#Verb_+_particle_(particle_verbs)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Martian2022 on Sat, 07/05/2022 - 13:30

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Hello, Team!

Could you please clarify the meaning of the following sentence using the phrasal verb 'stand out?'

One man stands out as the architect of the Midland's golden era: Sir Edward Holden.

Does the phrasal verb 'stands out as the architect' indicate the following meaning: to be important among the other persons as he was the architect of the Midland's golden era?

What would the sentence look like if the phrasal verb were replaced with other verbs?

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

Hello Martian2022,

Yes, I'd say the intended meaning of 'stand out' here is 'to be much better than other similar people'. So the idea is that, compared to all the other architects of the Midlands' golden era, Sir Edward Holden is easily the best of them. It doesn't mean he was the only such architect -- just that he was the best or most important.

You could rephrase the sentence by saying something like 'Sir Edward Holden was the most important architect of the Midlands' golden era'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by piuminici on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 20:07

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Hello, Team!

Could you help me?
I've seen that To Set Up has many different meanings. Are all of them separable? Do they depend on the meaning and the context or the form never changes?

Thank you!

Hello piuminici,

I can't think of an instance when set up would not be separable so I think the form does not change, whatever the meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Muriel34 on Wed, 13/04/2022 - 07:10

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Hello, team!

Can you help me?
You said 'Separable phrasal verbs must be separated when you use a pronoun.'

: The only rule is not to pass anything on to others that you wouldn't eat yourself .
Is it okay to say,
: The only rule is not to pass on anything to others that you wouldn't eat yourself .
?

I googled "pass on anything", which has many resuls.
I think that 'anything' is pronoun,
thus, in this sentence do I need to place a pronoun 'anything' between the verb and the particle?

or both will be fine?

Thanks in advance.

Hello Muriel34,

'Anything' is indeed a pronoun. It is an indefinite pronoun like something, anything, everyone, no-one etc. 

Indefinite pronouns are treated like regular objects and can follow separable multi-word verbs, unlike personal pronouns. For example:

note down (separable)

Please note down the message.

Please note the message down.

Please note everything down.

Please note down everything.

Please note it down.

NOT *Please note down it.*

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 30/12/2021 - 19:52

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Hello Team. Could you please help me to form the following sentence correctly? If both are OK, is there any difference?
- I don't know how they found (out - out about) our secret plan.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are OK, and there is a small difference in meaning. "Found out" means they became aware of the secret plan with a high level of detail. "Found out about" means that they know that the plan exists, but does not necessarily mean they know all the details of it.

Grammatically, both can be followed by a noun, as in your example sentence. But only "find out" can be followed by a clause (e.g. "They found out that we were having a party").

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by a.kopuz on Mon, 29/11/2021 - 17:56

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Hello Team: Which one is correct?
There is a very fat child in the elementary school and unfortunately the other children often pick on him. or
There is a very fat child in the elementary school and unfortunately the other children often pick him on.
Best regards,

Hello a.kopuz,

'pick on' is a non-separable phrasal verb, so the first sentence is grammatically correct and the second one is not.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Jamil Harumi on Thu, 18/11/2021 - 01:58

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These are REALLY difficult to remember! There has got to be an easier way to practise them...

Hello Jamil Harumi,

You're right that these are difficult to remember. What we are describing here is a complex system but it can be broken down into three questions:

1. Does the verb have an object?
2. Can the verb come between the verb and the particle, or does it always go at the end?

That said, native speakers don't have all these rules in their minds when they are speaking. Through constant exposure they pick up the correct usage of such items without even being aware of the rules. My advice to you is to expose yourself to English as much as you can. Listen to podcasts from good media organisations like the BBC and the Guardian. Read as broadly as you can, especially fiction. Watch films in English with subtitles. All of these will help you to pick up correct usage so that you will be using the items correctly even though you are not conscious of the rules.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 25/10/2021 - 08:51

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Hello Team, could you please help me decide which form is correct or both are?
- Can you turn the sound up? I can't hear it.
- Can you turn up the sound? I can't hear it.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both of those are correct; 'turn up' is a separable phrasal verb.

By the way, the Longman dictionary is particularly useful for finding this sort of information. Look, for example, at the first two example sentences on https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/turn-up and you'll see what I mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk.
Another question, please!
Are there some separable verbs in which the verb and the particle are "always" separated by the noun?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

When the object of a separable phrasal verb is a pronoun, then the two parts of the verb are always separated. For example, we can only say 'I picked it up' (not *'I picked up it'). But if the object is a noun phrase, both of these forms are correct:

I picked up the book.
I picked the book up.

There's a good summary of the basics of phrasal verbs on https://www.lexico.com/grammar/phrasal-verbs that you might find useful.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again. When I want to say: "to physically move someone or something upwards", which form is correct or both!!!

1- I can still pick up my little sister.

2- I can still pick my little sister up.

Thank you.

Submitted by maira18 on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 11:17

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Hi team, What does the phrasal verb 'for when' mean in a sentence like 'for when the sun shines, the heat returns, the wild flower blooms'? Thanks!
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 03:40

In reply to by maira18

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Hi maira18,

Actually, this isn't a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb always has a verb in it, but there's no verb here. 

In this sentence, 'for' means 'because'. It seems like the writer wrote this sentence to explain something that he or she said before.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mehransam05 on Mon, 08/02/2021 - 20:41

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Hi team, What is the difference between following phrases: A) the dwindling chance, B) the chance dwindling Or A) the flooding water, B) the water flooding Thanks in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 08:02

In reply to by mehransam05

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Hi mehransam05,

The first example in each pair (example A) is a normal adjective+noun combination.

The second example needs a context. By itself, these phrases do not look like correct forms but they could exist as parts of sentences. For example, you could have a reduced relative clause here: the chance (which is) dwindling. Without knowing the context, however, we would just be guessing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by amit_ck on Fri, 18/12/2020 - 19:59

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Could you please rephrase the capitalised words 1. The training necessary to enable them to CARRY OUT their duties 2. We CARRIED OUT her instructions precisely. 3. Will the government CARRY OUT its promise to reform the law? 4. Soldiers are expected to CARRY OUT orders. 5. An investigation into the accident will be CARRIED OUT as soon as possible 6. Turn off the water supply before CARRYING OUT repairs 7. Extensive tests have been CARRIED OUT on the patient.

Hello amit_ck,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to tasks from elsewhere. It's not our role to do exercises (homework or tests, for example) for our users. We're happy to give advice and explanations, of course, but not to do tasks for you!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Stellaaa on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 00:14

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Hello Sir You need to fill the form in. You need to fill in the form.Which one is correct?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 08:31

In reply to by Stellaaa

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Hello Stellaaa,

Fill in is an example of a separable phrasal verb. With these verbs you can place a noun object after the particle or between the verb and the particle. However, if the object is a pronoun, it always comes between the verb and the particle.

You need to fill the form in. [correct]

You need to fill in the form. [correct]

You need to fill it in. [correct]

You need to fill in it. [incorrect]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Min Myat Thukha on Fri, 13/11/2020 - 09:41

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Dear Sir, Which one is correct?"Who should I believe?" or "Whom should I believe?" Thank you in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 08:01

In reply to by Min Myat Thukha

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Hello Min Myat Thukha,

In this sentence the relative pronoun 'who/whom' is the object of the verb, and so both forms are possible. I think 'who' is much more common in modern English.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Serges Orneil on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 10:58

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Dear team Is that sentence correct? "Don't forget to fill your personal profile in the folder"
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 07:28

In reply to by Serges Orneil

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Hello Serges Orneil,

I'm not entirely sure what you want to say here.

 

If you want the person to make sure that their profile has all the required information, then you might say this:

Don't forget to complete your personal profile (which is) in the folder.

On the other hand, if you want the person to add their profile to the folder then you might say this:

Don't forget to add your personal profile to the folder.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Deolinda Maria on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 18:45

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Dear Team I have a doubt relating to the verb to believe. Is the question "Who to believe in?" correct or incorrect? If not, what os the correct way of asking so? Thank you. All the best, Deolinda Marques
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 07:33

In reply to by Deolinda Maria

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Hello Deolinda Maria,

I guess you are asking about what to say if you are uncertain who is telling the truth and who is lying.

 

Grammatically, the question is fine. However, I think a more likely way to ask the question is with the modal verb should:

Who should I believe?

 

Your question sounds very rhetorical and even dramatic, like something an actor might say in a play. In normal conversation the question with should would be more common.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Deolinda Maria on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 18:35

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I've checked grammar section.

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Sun, 04/10/2020 - 18:39

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Dear Team, Could you correct this sentence? I turn her offer to get together down because she cheated me once before. Is this correct? Grammarly?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 04:18

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hi DaniWeebKage,

Yes! It's grammatically correct.

But here's one thing to think about. The phrasal verb and particle are quite far separated: I turn her offer to get together down. There's a lot of information separating them. It is correct, but I suggest changing to this: I turn down her offer to get together. It's is easier for listeners or readers to understand.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

Yes, Sir, It's been a while but I've some confusion about Present Perfect and Past Simple. In my example, Can I use "have cheated" instead of "cheated"? Does the meaning change? Which tense is suitable for this situation?

Hi DaniWeebKage,

Actually, you could use either tense here :) But there's a very slight difference in meaning.

She has cheated me (present perfect) emphasises that the past action is relevant to the present moment of speaking. It implies that the same action (cheating you) could happen again this time, and that's why you don't want to meet her.

She cheated me (past simple) presents this past action as a fact of the past, at a particular time (once before). The same meaning is possible: you don't want to meet her because you fear she will cheat you again. (But, the present perfect shows this more clearly than the past simple because it emphasises the relevance of the past action to the present moment of speaking). Alternatively, it can be understood as some other cause and effect, e.g. she cheated you, so now you're upset with her, and that's the reason why you don't want to meet. 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by amit_ck on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 08:57

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I have some confusion among By chance, By accident and Happen to do something Could you please help me with it? And give me some examples of them.

Hello amit_ck,

They all have very similar meanings. When we say something happens 'by chance', we mean we didn't plan it -- for example, when we see a friend in the supermarket without having planned it. 'by accident' means the same thing. I'd say there is a tendency to use 'by accident' more often when we consider the thing that happens negative, but I'm not completely sure that's true.

'to happen' is used in general to speak about something that isn't planned, and so can also mean 'to do or be by chance'. So 'to happen to do something' means 'to do something by chance'.

You can find examples of all of these in the dictionary -- follow the link I provided and you'll see one.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MarcosPermin on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 18:57

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Hi team, I have a question. In phrasall verbs like "look forward" the verb must be with -ing. In which other phrasal verbs the verb must be with -ing? Is there a rule?
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 14:14

In reply to by MarcosPermin

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Hello MarcosPermin,

'to look forward' is always followed by the preposition 'to', not by an infinitive. In other words, in a sentence like 'I'm looking forward to seeing you', 'to' is not part of a verb -- it is a preposition.

When a verb follows a preposition, it always goes in the '-ing- form.

It's also possible to use a noun phrase after 'look forward to', for example: 'I'm looking forward to the new James Bond film'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Salum Hilali on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 08:05

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Hello.Is it correct to say 'Tomorrow is my birthday,I'm looking forward to it. I have missed my parents so much ,I look forward to visiting them in the next week.

Hello Salum Hilali,

Yes, those are both correct -- well done! 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Karan Narang on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 04:42

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These phrase verb is good enough to use every day and I have remembered All. But now I am looking forward for more to use my daily routine. I have questions for you. How much phrase verb should I know for good speaking in english at every day ?

Hello Karan Narang,

Phrasal verbs are quite common, especially in spoken English, so they're a useful area to study. I can't give you a number of how many you should learn, however, any more than I can tell you how many words you need to know in general. Keep practising, keep good records of words you learn and you will improve day by day.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team