English phrasal verbs

What are phrasal verbs?

A phrasal verb (or multi-word verb) is made up of a verb and one or two particles (preposition and/or adverb) but function as a single unit of vocabulary.

I'd like to get away (go somewhere different) for Christmas and go somewhere warm.

Learning phrasal verbs develops your vocabulary and understanding of native-English speakers and using phrasal verbs will also develop your English fluency.

Visit our English phrasal verbs list to start improving your vocabulary!

Use & examples

Are phrasal verbs used mainly for informal speech?

NO. Phrasal verbs are used in speech and writing for informal, neutral and formal situations.

This does not mean that you can use all phrasal verbs for all situations, and so it is important to learn the meaning and the context.

A limited number of phrasal verbs are only used in a colloquial and informal speech context (e.g. chill out = relax). More frequently, phrasal verbs are neutral in their formality (e.g. put out a fire) and their single-word equivalents (e.g. extinguish) are more formal.

Other phrasal verbs have greater frequency in academic English than in conversation (e.g. refer to, live on).

Tip: Learn English phrasal verbs with example sentences to understand the meaning and the situations in which they can be used.

Meaning

Phrasal verbs change the meaning of the verb

Some phrasal verbs have a more literal meaning and it is possible to understand from the individual words.

It's getting colder and I've switched on the heating. (switch on = make something start working)

Other phrasal verbs are idiomatic and it is more difficult to guess the meaning.

I've turned off the television because I want to go to bed. (turn off = to stop something from working)

Some phrasal verbs have more than one meaning

It is also possible that phrasal verbs have more than meaning.

My car broke down last night. (break down = stop working because of a problem)

She broke down when he told her the terrible news. (break down = to start crying)

One verb can produce several phrasal verbs

Multiple phrasal verbs can often created from the same verb.

He broke up with his girlfriend last week. (break up = end a relationship)

Someone broke in yesterday evening and stole my laptop. (break in = to enter a place with force)

Form

How do you write English phrasal verbs?

Form: Key points

  • Phrasal verbs can be transitive (i.e. they take an object) or intransitive (i.e. they do not).
  • They can also be separable (i.e. verb and particle can be separated) or inseparable (i.e. they cannot).

Phrasal verbs can be divided into four key types:

1) Intransitive and inseparable

Intransitive phrasal verbs do not take an object.

VERB + ADVERB

My brother's plane took off at 5 o'clock this afternoon.

phrasal verbs

2) Transitive and separable

Transitive phrasal verbs take an object. The verb and particle can be used together or they can be separated by an object.

VERB + ADVERB + OBJECT

I'll pick up my brother from the airport next week. 🗹 Correct

VERB + OBJECT + ADVERB

I'll pick my brother up from the airport next week. 🗹 Correct

If we use object pronouns (e.g. me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them), we must separate the verb and particle.

I'll pick up him next week. 🗷 Incorrect
I'll pick him up next week. 🗹 Correct

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3) Transitive and inseparable

Transitive phrasal verbs (prepositional verbs) take an object. The verb and particle cannot be separated by an object.

VERB + PREPOSITION + OBJECT

I'm looking after my brother’s dog while he was away.

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4) Transitive and inseparable

Transitive phrasal verbs (phrasal-prepositional verbs) take an object. The verb and particle cannot be separated by an object.

VERB + ADVERB + PREPOSITION + OBJECT

look forward to my holiday next year.

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