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. 

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

Average: 4.4 (70 votes)

Submitted by Ama1 on Wed, 08/05/2024 - 18:38

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Hi,

I would like to know:

1- if it is possible to use a simple verb instead of a "Phrasal verbs" which has the same meaning of course?

2- If yes, what is the purpose or usefulness of using “Phrasal verbs”?

3- is there a way to understand the meaning of “Phrasal verbs”? Or we have to learn them by heart? for example, I understand each word of this Phrasal verbs "come up with" but I cannot understand the whole thing.

THANKS.

Hi Ama1,

1. Yes, there are often alternatives which can be used. This is true of almost all items in all languages. Having alternatives ways of expressing things is what makes languages so rich and beautiful.

2. See above! Phrasal verbs, or multi-word verbs, are very common in speech. Often the alternatives sound drier or more formal, and having different ways to express the same idea allows the speaker options for emphasis, rhythm, cadence and so on. For example, these two sentences below mean the same but the first has an entirely different rhythm to it which is pleasant to the ear:

> I picked them up and dropped them off an hour later.

> I collected them in the car from school and took them home an hour later.

3. Multi-word verbs usually have more than one meaning, which makes them very flexible. Often there is literal meaning (pick something up from the floor) and an idiomatic meaning (pick someone up from school). The literal meaning is usually easy to work out but the idiomatic meaning can be less clear and often needs to be memorised.

 

The best way to pick up and become familiar with multi-word verbs is to read and listen to as much authentic/natural English as possible. Happily there's a lot to choose from online, and watching films or series with the subtitles (in English) on is also a very good option. You can watch something in your own language with English subtitles or something in English with English subtitles. These are great ways to grow your English and pick up good grammatical and lexical patterns.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rob23 on Mon, 26/02/2024 - 12:30

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This is not a criticism or anything like that (I love all the work you share with everyone), but it's really difficult to find a rule that cannot be, well, bent, if not broken. Here's a sentence you can find in the Cambridge dictionary, with the verb and the two particles separated:

I'll be glad to get these exams over with.

Kind regards.

Hello Rob23,

You're not wrong! The explanation on this page is an introduction to the topic of phrasal verbs. It doesn't cover everything and doesn't explain all the details, which are quite complex, because it would be too much information for people at the B1 or B2 level. But since you ask, I'll explain this particular case a bit more even though in the end it's still an example of a 'bent' rule.

'to get over with' is a phrasal-prepositional verb. Such verbs can be broken down as verb + particle + preposition. Most of these verbs are inseparable, i.e. the objects of most phrasal-prepositional verbs come after the preposition.

But there are a number of phrasal-prepositional verbs (including 'to get over with') that also allow the object after the verb.

And so that's why the sentence you found is correct. I don't think it would ever be wrong or awkward for you to always put the object after the preposition, though, so in terms of your own speaking and writing, just follow the rule and you'll be fine!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by Melis_06 on Sun, 11/02/2024 - 17:06

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Hello! May I ask you something? The thing that I want to ask is easy to understand but complicated to write. So, I will give an example. 'Suck something into something' is a phrasal verb meaning to cause someone or something to gradually become involved in an unpleasant situation or harmful activity. I got that definition from the dictionary. But why the same group of words (suck sth into sth) is not a phrasal verb in the following sentence: The spaceship was sucked into a blackhole. Is it because its meaning is different from the one I wrote above? It is literally sucked into sth, not involved in an unpleasant situation. So is that possible to use the same group of words both as a phrasal verb and not in different sentences? Could you please give another example? (What I mean is for example we know X+into is a phrasal verb which means A. If it means B in another sentence, can we still count it as a phrasal verb or not?) Thanks in advance!

Hi Melis_06,

What you said is right. A phrasal verb is normally understood as having a meaning that comes from not just the verb but also the particle, so the verb does not normally have its original and literal meaning. In the spaceship example, it is literally and physically sucked into the black hole, so this is simply a verb with a preposition. But if you say, e.g., the company was sucked into debt, it's not a physical action but a figurative one, which is why the dictionary that you checked considered it a phrasal verb. 

One more example is look forward to.

  • I looked forward to the boy sitting in front of me. (literal meaning of "looked"; not a phrasal verb)
  • I look forward to hearing from you again. (phrasal verb)

Another example is bring up. Here, "up" is an adverb in the phrasal verb rather than a preposition.

  • I'll bring the kids up to the third floor. (literal meaning of "bring"; not a phrasal verb)
  • They brought their kids up to be very polite. ("brought up" meaning "educated"; phrasal verb)

So, yes - the same group of words can be a phrasal verb or a prepositional verb in different sentences, depending on its meaning.

Hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

I have one more question about this sentence: I really don't to get involved in this argument, but I can feel myself being sucked into it. How do we form the first part in this sentence? 'I really don't to get involved in...' Why do we use this form? Could you please give another example? By the way, thank you for the previous answer! It is really helpful, you are the best!

Hello Melis_06,

The clause 'I really don't to get involved in this argument' is not grammatically correct.

I imagine that the word 'want' was left out by mistake; in other words, I imagine that intended sentence is 'I really don't want to get involved in this argument'.

If you found this sentence in a publication, it's most likely a misprint.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

I also thought like that, thank you for your answer! I found this sentence from Cambridge Online Dictionary. That was actually why I thought it had to be correct. Thanks again!

Submitted by h_k on Wed, 26/07/2023 - 11:06

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Hello sir, I have a question may be lot of people notice but it gave me headache.

The question is that particle means both prepositions and adverbs. Then why I am seeing above the word adverbial participle, in which the preposition is also treated like adverbial participle. That's why? Are they modifying the verb in phrasal verb, that's why it is treated like adverb?