Phrasal Verbs and Their Usage: A Guide About Phrasal Verbs

Hello everyone,

If you’re learning English, you’ve probably come across some puzzling verb phrases that don’t seem to make sense at first.

Things like “put up with,” “figure out,” and “get over” are examples of something called phrasal verbs.

These unique verb constructions are very common in English, so it’s important to understand what they are and how they are used.

This lesson will explain phrasal verbs in easy-to-understand language.

What Is a Phrasal Verb?

A phrasal verb is a phrase that combines a verb like “put” or “get” with another short word like “up” or “over.” The short word is usually a preposition, but sometimes it’s an adverb.

When you put the two parts together, they create a new meaning that is often quite different from the original verb’s meaning.

For example, the verb “get” generally means to acquire or obtain something. But when you combine it with different prepositions, the meaning changes dramatically:

Get up = To rise from a lying or seated position
Get over = To recover from something difficult
Get on = To continue or start making progress

You can see how the meaning of “get” shifts depending on the preposition used with it. That’s what makes phrasal verbs so confusing for English learners – you can’t always deduce the meaning from the individual words.

Common Phrasal Verbs

Here are some of the most common phrasal verbs used in English:

Break down – To stop functioning or collapse
Bring up – To introduce a topic for discussion
Call off – To cancel something
Carry on – To continue doing something
Check out – To investigate or examine
Come across – To find something unexpectedly
Drop off – To deliver something
Figure out – To solve or understand something
Get along – To have a good relationship
Give up – To stop trying or quit
Go on – To continue or happen
Look into – To investigate something
Make up – To invent or create
Pick up – To lift up or collect something
Put off – To postpone or delay
Run out – To use up a supply
Set up – To prepare or arrange
Take off – To remove something quickly
Turn down – To refuse an offer
Work out – To exercise or solve a problem

As you can see, phrasal verbs are used to express a wide variety of meanings related to different actions and situations.

They are extremely common in casual English speech and writing.

Transitive vs. Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

One important distinction is whether a phrasal verb is transitive or intransitive. A transitive phrasal verb has a direct object, while an intransitive one does not.

Transitive examples:

– She turned down the job offer. (“the offer” is the direct object)
– I figured out the answer. (“the answer” is the direct object)

Intransitive examples:

– The plane took off on time. (No direct object)
– Don’t give up! (No direct object)

With transitive phrasal verbs, you can separate the verb from the preposition/adverb particle and insert the direct object in the middle.

For example:

– Turn the job offer down.
– Figure the answer out.

However, you cannot separate intransitive phrasal verbs in this way.

Separating Transitive Phrasal Verbs

As mentioned above, with transitive phrasal verbs you can split up the two parts and put the direct object in the middle. This separating of the phrasal verb is very common, especially in a more informal style.

Here are some examples of separated transitive phrasal verbs:

She turned her job offer down.
– I’m going to pick that book up later.
– They called the meeting off.
– He worked his math problems out.

When the direct object is a pronoun, the pronoun must go in the middle:

Pick it up.
– Turn them down.
– Work it out.

You can’t separate intransitive phrasal verbs that don’t have direct objects:

The show went on. (Not “went it on”)
– Don’t give up! (Not “give it up”)

Meanings Can Vary With Separation

In some cases, the meaning of a phrasal verb actually changes depending on whether it’s separated or not. Consider these examples:

– I turned on the TV. (Intransitive, meaning to activate something)
– I turned the TV on. (Transitive, meaning the same)

Versus:
– I can’t turn down that offer. (Intransitive, meaning to reject something)
– I can’t turn that offer down. (Transitive, meaning the same)

With “turn on” meaning activate, you can use it transitively or intransitively with no change in meaning and separate the two parts.

But with “turn down” meaning reject, the transitive and intransitive uses have different meanings. Only the transitive use allows separation.

So you have to be careful, as separating some phrasal verbs can shift the meaning entirely.

Multiple Meanings

One difficulty with phrasal verbs is that many of them have multiple possible meanings depending on the context. Here are some examples:

Break down

– My car broke down on the highway. (To stop working)
– Let me break down the problem for you. (To explain by separating into parts)

Pick up

– I need to pick up some groceries. (To collect or obtain something)
– Business is picking up for us. (To increase)
– She quickly picked up Spanish. (To learn rapidly)

Run out

– We’re running out of milk. (To use up a supply)
– Time ran out before I could finish. (For a duration to end or expire)

As you can see, the same phrasal verb can have quite different meanings.

You generally have to rely on the context and your familiarity with common usage patterns to determine which meaning is intended.

Learning Phrasal Verbs

Because of their idiomatic meanings and multiple usages, phrasal verbs can be one of the biggest challenges for English learners.

Here are some tips that can help:

– Study the most common phrasal verbs first, as these make up the core you’ll encounter frequently.
– Learn them together with their meanings and examples of real usage. Don’t try to deduce based on the root verb.
– Be aware that some phrasal verbs have multiple meanings depending on context.
– Pay attention to whether a phrasal verb is transitive or intransitive.
– Notice whether separating a transitive phrasal verb changes its meaning or not.
– Use flashcards, apps, and other study tools to build your phrasal verb vocabulary through practice.

The more you are exposed to real examples of phrasal verbs in use, the more familiar and natural they will become.

Phrasal verbs are a very common part of the English language that frequently befuddle learners when first encountered.

By understanding how they are constructed, the different types, and the common patterns of usage, you can become more skilled at comprehending and using these tricky but indispensable verb phrases like a native speaker.

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