Phrasal verbs

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. 


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

They've called the meeting off.
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)


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

Average: 3.9 (17 votes)
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Submitted by User_1 on Wed, 17/05/2023 - 16:00


I found out the grammar explanation of phrasal verbs, but the biggest difficulty is the large amount of them and there is an ongoing increase.
So, how can I understand which ones are the most common to be able to memorize them better?
Most phrasal verbs are in ordinary use, so it is hard to figure out which ones to prefer over the others.
Thanks for your help.

Hello User_1,

It's a good question. I think the best approach is as follows:

1) Don't feel you have to learn everything! Multi-word verbs are like any other verbs in that some are more useful than others. Some are very common but others are infrequently used.

2) Organise the multi-word verbs you learn by meaning. For example, a selected list of multi-word verbs for telephoning might include the following: pick up, hold on, put through (to), get through (to), cut off, break up, call up, ring up, call back, ring back, hang up, hang up on, note down, look up. Organising them by topic (e.g. telephoning) will make them much easier to remember.

3) Remember that multi-word verbs usually have more than one meaning. Very often there is a literal meaning and an idiomatic meaning. For example, pick up has the literal meaning of taking something from a surface with your hand (I picked up the pen) and the metaphorical meaning of learning something by doing it (I picked up a little Italian while I was studying there).

4) Read in English as much as possible. Novels or short stories are best as they contain the widest range of language (descriptions, action, dialogue, monologue etc). You'll find you pick up a lot of multi-word verbs without consciously learning them as you read.


I hope those suggestions are helpful.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter for your suggestions on picking up multi-word verbs.
They are very helpful in the huge world of the phrasal verbs.

Submitted by N.Han on Mon, 20/02/2023 - 04:10


Hye team!
I was wondering if "contributes to" is considered as a phrasal verb and that I have to add gerund to the verb after that. is there any way to identify if the verb paired with the particle "to" is a phrasal verb? because I am confused whether to add gerund or not afterwards.

Much thanks!

Hi Han,

'Contributes to' is not a phrasal verb but rather simply a verb with a dependent preposition. Prepositions are followed by objects, so a gerund or a noun should follow.

Sometimes it can be tricky to tell if a verb + preposition is a multi-word verb or not but there are some clues. First of all, you can use 'contributes' with other prepositions: contribute by, contribute with, contribute for, contribute through etc. Secondly, the preposition does not change the meaning of the verb - contribute means the same thing with or without it, whereas multi-word verbs change their meaning from the meaning of the core verb alone. Thirdly, when we do not have an object we do not add the preposition:

In the internet age it's important to have skills like looking up and noting down. [the particles are required]

There are many ways that people can contribute. [the preposition is not included]



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jenny is me on Fri, 30/12/2022 - 12:09


Can you tell me difference between On time and In time?

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


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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,