Phrasal Verbs

1. What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a phrase consisting of a verb plus a preposition or adverb. The phrasal verb creates a meaning that is different from the meaning of the verb on its own. Phrasal verbs are usually two words long, but they sometimes consist of three words.


2. Examples of Phrasal Verbs

Example 1:

When I need help with my homework, I can always count on my dad.

  • In this sentence, we see the verb “count” followed by the preposition “on.”
  • “Count on” is a phrasal verb.
  • The verb “count” usually means to determine the total number of a collection of items.
  • The phrasal verb “count on” means you can trust someone to provide the help or support you need.

Example 2:

My mom taught me to never give up.

  • In this example, the verb “give” is followed by the preposition “up.”
  • “Give up” is a phrasal verb.
  • On its own, the verb “give” means to willingly transfer possession of something to someone else, like giving your friend the last slice of pie.
  • The phrasal verb “give up” means to quit.

Example 3:

If I finish all of my homework, I can go hang out with my friends.

  • The verb “hang” in this sentence is followed by the adverb “out.”
  • “Hang out” is a phrasal verb.
  • The verb “hang” by itself means to suspend from above, like when you hang your clothes in the closet.
  • The phrasal verb “hang out” means to spend time with someone.

When a verb is followed by a preposition or an adverb and creates its own meaning, it is called a phrasal verb.


3. Parts of Phrasal Verbs

  1. Verbs are action words (like run, jump, and sing) or words that link a subject to more information about the subject (like become, seem, and be). A sentence can’t be a complete sentence without a verb.
  2. Prepositions are words that show a location, either a physical location or a location in time. Common prepositions include on, in, beside, above, around, at, before, up, down, behind, and underneath. Prepositions are part of phrasal verbs more often than adverbs.
  3. Adverbs describe a verb, adjective, or even another adverb. They often end in –ly, but this is not always true. Examples of common adverbs are quickly, happily, badly, angrily, always, never, usually, very, really, away, and forward.

Many words can be both prepositions and adverbs, depending on how they are used.

When verbs are used in combination with these word types, we get phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are also idiomatic expressions, which are groups of words that have a meaning different from the meanings of the individual words (like “it’s raining cats and dogs”).

These expressions are like slang and don’t typically appear in the dictionary. Phrasal verbs commonly end with up, down, away, out, and on. Remember that a phrasal verb can be either two words or three words.

Example 1:

The wind knocked down one of the trees in our yard.

  • In this example, the verb is “knocked.” It is used with the preposition “down.”
  • “Knocked down” is a phrasal verb.
  • On its own, “knock” usually means to hit a surface, like when you knock on a door.
  • “Knocked down,” has a completely different meaning. It means to cause something to fall over.

Example 2:

My mom told me to put away my toys before her friends visited.

  • The verb in this sentence is “put,” and it is used with the adverb “away.”
  • “Put away” is a phrasal verb.
  • The verb “put” means to move something or place it in a particular location.
  • “Put away” is more specific. It means to place something out of sight.

Example 3:

Will had to stay home from school on Wednesday because he came down with a bad cold.

  • In this sentence, the verb “came” is followed by two prepositions: “down” and “with.”
  • “Came down with” is a three-word phrasal verb.
  • By itself, “came” usually means to go into a place (like, “She came into the kitchen”) or to happen (like, “The sunset came later than usual,”) and “down” is a directional term.
  • The phrasal verb “came down with” means got sick.


4. Types of Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs are transitive and others are intransitive. Transitive verbs can be followed by an object, but intransitive verbs cannot. An object is the person or thing in the sentence who the action is being done to, or the person/thing who receives the action.

Example 1 (Transitive Phrasal Verb)

My mom told me to clean up my toys.

  • This phrasal verb consists of the verb “clean” and the preposition “up.”
  • In this case, the action is “clean up.” Who or what is being cleaned up? The toys!
  • This means that the toys are the direct object in this sentence.
  • Since the phrasal verb is followed by an object, we know this is a transitive phrasal verb.

Example 2 (Intransitive Phrasal Verb)

Carmen was sad because her dog ran away.

  • In this sentence, the verb is “ran,” and it is followed by the adverb “away.” “Ran away” is a phrasal verb.
  • The action here is “ran away.” Can this action be performed on someone or something? No.
  • There is no direct object in this sentence because “ran away” cannot be followed by a direct object.
  • For this reason, we know that “ran away” is an intransitive phrasal verb.

Some transitive phrasal verbs can be split up, with the object going between the verb and the preposition/adverb. These are called separable phrasal verbs. Transitive phrasal verbs that cannot be split up are called inseparable phrasal verbs.

Example 1 (Inseparable Phrasal Verb)

  • My mom always runs into her friends at the grocery store. Correct!
  • My mom always runs her friends into at the grocery store. Incorrect!
  • The verb “runs” combined with the preposition “into” forms the inseparable phrasal verb “runs into.”
  • We know that “runs into” is an inseparable verb because, as you can see from the example above, we can’t separate the verb from the preposition.

Example 2 (Separable Phrasal Verb)

  • The teacher told his students to write down the notes. Correct!
  • The teacher told his students to write the notes down. Correct!
  • The verb “write” can be followed by the preposition “down” to form the separable phrasal verb “write down.”
  • We know that “write down” is a separable phrasal verb because the verb can be separated from the preposition and still form a grammatically correct sentence.

A phrasal verb is a verb that can be followed by a preposition or adverb to create a meaning that is totally different from the meaning of the individual verb.

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