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

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Hello h_k,

I'm afraid I don't see the phrase 'adverbial participle' anywhere on this page. Could you please tell me where you see it?

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Sorry at that time, I was a little anxious, so I was confused with the page.
Sir, I saw it on the Cambridgedictionary site. The below text I copied from the Cambridgedictionary site. Please help me, sir, why they mixed preposition with adverbial particles? Why did they emerge prepositions in adverbial participle.

"Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs have two parts: a main verb and an adverb particle.

The most common adverb particles used to form phrasal verbs are around, at, away, down, in, off, on, out, over, round, up:

bring in go around look up put away take off ."

Hi k. k_h,

At, away, down etc. can all be either adverbs or prepositions. Here are some examples.


  • The cat ate up the food. ("up" = adverb, part of phrasal verb "eat up")
  • I can't put up with the noise any longer. ("up" = adverb, part of phrasal verb "put up with")
  • We walked up the hill. ("up" = preposition, part of prepositional phrase "up the hill")


  • Somebody broke in while we were away. ("in" = adverb, part of phrasal verb "break in")
  • I live in London. ("in" = preposition, part of prepositional phrase "in London")

To tell whether the word is a preposition or an adverb, here are some tips.

  • As prepositions, these words tend to have more literal meanings than when they are used as adverbs (for example, "up the hill" literally means in an upward direction, while it does not have this meaning in "eat up" or "put up with").
  • As adverbs they sometimes occur with another preposition (e.g. "put up with").
  • A preposition must have a direct object (e.g. "in London"), but a phrasal verb with an adverb may not have one (e.g. "break in").

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Sir, you know the phrasal verb could be trasitive or intransitive.

There, they also use preposition as an adverbial particle.

I think that in the phrasal verb, we have two things main verb+ particles. In participle, we have both adverbs and prepositions. When prepositions modify the main verb, then it is called adverbial participle. Am I right, sir?

And I got you point of literal meaning if preposition gives us literal meaning instead of connotative then it is prepositional phrase.

Hi k. k_h,

Yes, right - when a word such as at, away, down or in modifies the verb, it is an adverb.

However, it might be confusing to think of phrasal verbs as "using prepositions" as adverb particles. It might be better to think of these words as adverbs in their own right, because they differ sometimes very substantially from prepositions in their structure and meaning. For some words in the group that you mentioned (e.g. downup), their adverbial uses are actually more common than their prepositional uses.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by User_1 on Sat, 22/07/2023 - 15:46


About the Phrasal Verb "to grind away at something" means to work on something for a long time or with a lot of efforts.
This sentence:
"I am grinding away at my English to improve it day by day", is it correct in the meaning?
Thanks for help.

Submitted by fairynaili on Thu, 20/07/2023 - 03:06


Two questions, A phrasal verb is equal to a multi-word verb?
And does run is a phrasal verb? For example, it is run out, run away, and run down

Hi fairynaili,

Yes, a phrasal verb is one kind of multi-word verb. There is also another kind: prepositional verbs (e.g. listen toarrive at). You may be interested in this Cambridge Dictionary page (linked) about phrasal and multi-word verbs.

About your second question, run by itself is not a phrasal verb, but run out/away/down are. The Longman Dictionary is good for checking this sort of thing - see this page (linked) about run down, for example. I hope it helps.


LearnEnglish team