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

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
No votes yet

Submitted by Mayura on Tue, 15/11/2022 - 13:34

Permalink

Hello, Sir!
I was wondering if the two sentences are correct and if "looked on" and "heard on" are phrasal verbs:
1. I looked on the news that the price of gas is going up a gain.
2. I heard on the news that the price of gas is going up again.

Best Wishes!

Hello Mayura,

2 is correct (well done!) but in 1 the verb 'looked' should change to 'saw'.

Neither of those is a phrasal verb. 'on the news' describes the location or source of the information and the verb tells us about seeing or hearing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by disconzi on Fri, 07/10/2022 - 15:16

Permalink

Hello Team,

Could you help me understand in what situation should I use the below phrasal verbs?
Come back, go back, and get back.
To my understanding, the meaning is very similar, but I understand there are specific situations where we should use either one or the other.

Thanks in advance,

Mara

Hi Mara,

For "come back" and "go back", it depends on where the speaker is right now.

  • "Come back" means returning to the place where the speaker is now. For example, if I have visitors to my home, I may say "Come back soon" to them when they are leaving, and parents may say to their children "Come back before 8 pm" if they are going to play outside.
  • "Go back" means returning to a place that is not where the speaker is now. For example, if I am telling somebody that I've seen a doctor once but I need to have a second appointment, I can say "I'm going back next Monday" (assuming I am not in the clinic right now). Or, at the end of a meal in a restaurant with my family, I can say "Let's go back home now".

"Get back" focuses more on the moment of arriving or reaching the destination. "Go back", in comparison, involves the whole process of moving to the destination. Here are some examples using "get back".

  • I got back from work at 6 pm.
  • When I got back from my holiday, I found a lot of letters in my mailbox.
  • It's dangerous out there. Get back home safely.

I hope that helps to differentiate them!

Jonathan 

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wilson3827 on Fri, 12/08/2022 - 17:12

Permalink

Hello,
I heard these two phrases, I'd like to know if both can be used interchangeably or if there's one right and one wrong.

1) something was passed on from generation to generation
2) something was passed down from generation to generation

Thanks in advance

Hello wilson3827,

I'd say both are fine and that they have the same meaning in this context.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink

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

Permalink

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.