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

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

Hi Oanh123123111,

Sorry, apart from saying that it means "a combination that is free", I'm not sure what it means. Can you tell us more about the sentence or context where you saw this?

Jonathan

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

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

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