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? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Language level

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No votes yet

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

Profile picture for user Jamil Harumi

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

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

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.