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What are Phrasal Verbs?

Have you ever wondered what phrasal verbs are and why they are very common in English? 

You might even be using them without realizing it. That is because phrasal verbs are considered collocations in English, and native speakers use them a lot. 

Phrasal verbs are an interesting part of the English language, but beware as they are not as easy as they seem.

To know more about phrasal verbs, please continue reading. 

What are Phrasal Verbs?

A phrasal verb is a group of words (a verb plus a preposition or a verb plus an adverb) that, when combined, have a different meaning than the original verb.

Take, for example, the phrasal verb ‘put off’. It means to postpone, which is not the same as the meaning of the two words together, ‘put’ and ‘off.’ 

Another example would be the phrasal verb’ turn down’, which means to refuse. The meaning is entirely different from the words that were put together, ‘turn’ and ‘down.’ 

English language learners may have difficulty understanding these phrasal verbs because they are one of the aspects of everyday English that include multi-word units.

Only a few people with a basic understanding of them can grasp, figure out, and perceive how they work. 

To assist you in overcoming any difficulties you may have with phrasal verbs, continue reading to the next section to know the different types of phrasal verbs and how they are structured. 

What are the Different Types of Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are employed in sentences in the same manner as normal verbs. In addition, we frequently utilize them in casual settings and spoken English.

Because phrasal verbs can have a variety of meanings, they can be confusing at times. 

To help you understand phrasal verbs better, here are their different types and some examples:

1. Phrasal Verbs can be Categorized Depending on their Composition

a. Verb + Preposition

When the element is a preposition, the phrasal verb is prepositional since it is the head of a full prepositional phrase. 

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
argue out To give reasons to persuade someone to do or not do something“The siblings argued out on who would occupy the biggest room.” 
blow upTo be destroyed by a blast“The machine blew up and injured the custodian.”
buckle downTo begin working diligently“She is buckling down because her exams are coming.” 
look afterTo take care of something or someone“I will be looking after my younger sister, who is sick.” 
run intoTo happen upon unintentionally or by coincidence“My mom ran into an old friend of hers in the supermarket last week.” 
stand byTo be faithful to someone in a tough situation“The employers stood by the company even during the crisis.” 
take afterTo have the appearance or mannerisms of an elderly family member“You should take after your older sister, who is smart and hardworking.” 
talk bout To use words to communicate one’s feelings, thoughts, or opinions“They talked about the upcoming projects during the meeting.” 

b. Verb + Particle

Because it does not take a compliment, the element cannot (or no longer can) be understood as a preposition when it is a particle.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
bring upTo take care of a child and teach them proper manners“She was brought up by her grandparents.” 
dress downTo dress informally “He was dressed down for the event.” 
get offTo depart from a location, usually to embark on a journey“We need to get off before sunrise to witness the parade.” 
give inTo give up the struggle or the argument; concede; surrender“She finally gave in after her parents’ incessant persuasion.” 
hand overTo officially or formally give something or someone to another person“You must hand over your passport to the officer.”
hang outTo spend some time for unstructured relaxation or chatting“We often hang out at this place every weekend.”
run overTo knockdown and pass over the body of a person or an animal“Our aunt’s cat  was run over by a lorry yesterday.”  
think over To think about something thoroughly“You have to think over the offer before turning it down.” 

c. Verb + Particle + Preposition 

A particle and a preposition are often combined in phrasal verbs.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
bear down onTo approach someone or something in a hostile manner“She looked up and saw the car bearing down on her.” 
check up onTo try to figure out what someone is doing so that you can be sure they are doing what they should be doing.“My older brother checked up on me to make sure if I was working on my project.” 
go along withTo agree with someone’s point of view or to support an idea“I knew the plan won’t work, but I still went along with it anyway.” 
live up toTo be on par with something“The show was spectacular; it lived up to our expectations.” 
load up onTo amass or purchase a massive quantity of something“She loaded up on cosmetics and perfumes on her birthday.” 
looking forward toTo be glad and enthusiastic about something that is about to occur“I am looking forward to working with my best friend.” 
put up withTo accept or continue to accept a bad condition or experience or someone who acts in an unsatisfactory manner.“She just couldn’t put up with his vices anymore.” 
sit in forTo fill in for someone who would ordinarily do a specific task or attend a specific meeting.“My teacher was absent today, so the headteacher sat in for her.” 

2. Phrasal Verbs can also be Categorized Depending on their Transitivity

a. Transitive Phrasal Verbs

A transitive phrasal verb requires the presence of an object in the sentence.

If there is no object, the sentences will not be able to express the whole meaning or content of the statement.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
call forTo require or merit a specific action, remark, or quality“The manager called for a meeting to address an issue.” 
fix upTo repair“He needs to fix up the garage because of the flood.”
hold backTo refrain from doing something, usually out of fear or a desire not to exacerbate a terrible situation.“She was brave enough this time and didn’t hold back.”
let downTo fail someone by not doing what you agreed to or were expected to do“If you don’t want to let down your parents, you will study hard.” 
pay offTo succeed“Her hard work finally paid off now that she has been promoted.” 
take offTo remove one’s or another’s garments from one’s, or another’s body“We were advised to take off our sweater inside because it was hot in there.” 
turn offTo cease the operation or flow of something using a valve, switch, or button.“Please turn off the lights before you sleep.” 
use upTo utilize the entirety of a stock or supply of something“I have used up my cash for the trip; I need to use my credit card now.” 

b. Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Intransitive phrasal verbs do not need an object to make a statement sound complete.

They demonstrate that a statement can be understood without an object.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
break downTo cease functioning because of a flaw“She was late for the party because her car’s engine broke down.” 
carry onTo continue“They carried on with their plan after thinking about it thoroughly.” 
get upTo rise from bed after a nap or sleep“I get up at 6 every morning.” 
go outTo leave one’s place to attend a social or entertainment function, usually in the evening.“We are going out for dinner to celebrate our parents’ silver wedding anniversary.” 
grow upTo advance to adulthood“Who would have thought that he would grow up to be a fine young man?” 
pass awayTo die“The old man who lived across the street passed away in his sleep.” 
run awayTo abandon or flee a location, person, or situation“She is an irresponsible person for running away from the situation.” 
slow downTo become less busy and more relaxed“The doctor advised my dad to slow down because of his heart condition.” 

3. Phrasal Verbs can also be Classified as Whether they are Separable or Inseparable. 

a. Separable Phrasal Verbs

These phrasal verbs can have their words separated and employed in different parts of a sentence.

Phrasal verbs can be used in both joined and separated forms. Although not all transitive phrasal verbs are separable, separable phrasal verbs are always transitive.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
call offTo cancel“The couple decided to call off their wedding.” OR “The couple decided to call the wedding off.” 
calm downTo reduce the agitation of someone or something“The teacher was the only person who could calm down the noisy students.” OR “The teacher was the only person who could calm the noisy students down.” 
leave outTo exclude something“The teacher accidentally left out my name when she checked the attendance.” OR “The teacher accidentally left my name out when she checked the attendance.” 
hand overTo officially or formally give something or someone to another person“Your job is to hand over the flyers to passers-by.” OR “Your job is to hand the flyers over to passers-by.” 
rule outTo eliminate the possibility of something “They are not ruling out the possibility of identity theft.” OR “They are not ruling the possibility of identity theft out.”

b. Inseparable Phrasal Verbs 

These phrasal verbs cannot be separated, and the verb must be used with the preposition or adverb.

Intransitive phrasal verbs can only be inseparable, but transitive phrasal verbs can be either transitive or intransitive.

Phrasal VerbsMeaningExamples of Sentences
end upTo arrive at an unexpected location, state, or situation“They could end up winning with a big margin.” NOT “They could end winning with a big margin up.” 
go overTo review“Go over your answers before turning in your handwork.” NOT “Go your answers over before turning in your handwork.”
pick onTo bully or tease someone “He always picks on someone younger than him.” NOT “He always picks someone on younger than him.”  
run againstTo compete against someone “She is running against her friend in the election.” NOT “She is running her friend against in the election.” 
look down onTo treat someone with a sense of superiority “You should not look down on anybody.” NOT “You should not look down anybody on.” 

What are the Rules Regarding Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are employed in sentences in the same manner as normal verbs. In addition, we frequently utilize them in casual settings and spoken English.

Because phrasal verbs can have a variety of meanings, they can be confusing at times.

Here are the rules that you have to adhere to regarding phrasal verbs. 

1. The meaning of phrasal verbs differs from that of the original verb.


“I am planning to give my mom a new purse.” 

Meaning: give – to provide or present with something

“Do not give up, the best is yet to come.” 

Meaning: give up – to stop making an effort

2. Because they do not require an object, intransitive phrasal verbs are inseparable.


“The Lee family comes back to this place every year. 

NOT “The Lee family comes to this place back every year.” 

“He showed up late for practice.” 

NOT “He showed late up for practice.” 

3. Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable, whereas others are inseparable.


“He gave away his money to the charity.” 

OR “He gave his money away to the charity.” 

“The president called off the meeting.”

OR “The president called the meeting off.”


“My grandmother looks after me when I am sick.” 

NOT “My grandmother looks me after when I am sick.” 

“You need to get on the bus, and it’s leaving.” 

NOT “You need to get the bus on; it’s leaving.” 

4. Phrasal verbs with three words are inseparable.


“She can’t put up with his bad behavior anymore.”

NOT “She can’t put up his bad behavior with anymore.” 

“The children look up to their parents as role models.” 

NOT “The children look up to their parents as role models.”

“He came up with a brilliant idea.” 

NOT “He came up with a brilliant idea with.” 

Which Phrasal Verbs Can Be Used in Academic English?

Although phrasal verbs are prevalent in spoken English, they are frequently considered too informal for academic writing. 

Additionally, phrasal verbs often have several meanings. Your goal is to produce a clear and concise paper in plain English. 

Thus, you must distinguish which phrasal verbs are appropriate for general English and which are more fit for academic English. 

Phrasal Verbs for General English 

Phrasal verbs used in everyday English are more conversational and informal than those used in academic contexts. 

The following list contains the twenty most commonly used phrasal verbs in social situations, especially among friends or on the street.

Phrasal VerbsMeaning
add upTo make sense
broke upTo end a relationship
bring upbring forth a topic for debate or consideration
call offTo cancel
calm downTo reduce the agitation of someone or something
eat outTo eat at a restaurant rather than at home
find outTo learn or discover 
get longTo have a welcoming and friendly relationship with 
get overTo recoup from an illness or a shocking or traumatic situation
give upTo give up the struggle or the argument; concede; surrender
hang outTo spend some time for unstructured relaxation or chatting
look afterTo take care of someone or something
look forward toTo be excited about something
pass outTo lose consciousness
put offTo postpone something 
put up withTo accept or continue to accept a bad condition or experience or someone who acts in an unsatisfactory manner
turn upTo be discovered after being lost, especially by chance
turn downTo reject whatever has been presented or proposed
wake upTo stop sleeping 
watch outTo be alert 

Phrasal Verbs for Academic English 

Many academic English textbooks and tutors may advise you to avoid using phrasal verbs altogether.

While it is a fact that you should be extremely cautious when using such words in your assignments, these structures should not be avoided entirely. 

Most phrasal verbs used in this context are more formal and lack idiomaticity. The twenty most common phrasal verbs in academic writing are listed below.

Phrasal VerbsMeaning
account forTo provide an explanation or justification for
adhere toTo follow a set of guidelines, values, or convictions
base onTo use an idea or facts 
carry outTo conduct something 
come acrossTo be understood
come up withTo produce anything, especially when forced or challenged
consist of To be made up of
disapprove ofTo withhold permission to
discuss byTo talk about something
embark onTo begin doing something new 
fall apartTo be in a poor state 
figure outTo find or determine a solution to a problem
follow throughTo accomplish something, one has started 
get acrossTo be clearly communicated
hand overTo officially or formally give something or someone to another person
look intoTo examine something
point outTo emphasize 
put forwardTo suggest someone as a good candidate for a job or a position
resort toTo use or do something because there are no alternative options available
subject toTo cause or force to undergo

Avoiding Phrasal Verbs in Academic Writing 

Finally, how can English language learners learn to avoid phrasal verbs, which are highly frequent in conversation and informal English but should not be used in academic writing? 

The short answer to this difficulty is that the easiest way to avoid phrasal verbs that you have already mastered is to look up and use a synonym for these words in your academic presentations and writing. 

Using a one-word synonym for the phrasal verb you have chosen (if one exists) is the most preferred and academic alternative, as seen in the instances below:

Phrasal VerbsSingle-Word Synonym
bring about cause
come out publish
cut down reduce
fall apart disintegrate
find out discover
get along communicate
hand out distribute
leave out omit
look at investigate
pick out select
pick up resume
put off reschedule
put up with tolerate
stamp out eradicate

Why Do Phrasal Verbs Matter?

As an English learner, mastering phrasal verbs is one of the most challenging tasks you will face. 

But is it really worth the effort and time to study phrasal verbs?

Without a doubt, YES. 

Phrasal verbs are crucial because English people frequently use phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs will make it much easier for you to express yourself. 

You just need to set reasonable goals rather than being overwhelmed by an unending array of phrasal verbs. It is impossible to comprehend all of them at once because there are so many! 

The good news is that learning phrasal verbs is entirely achievable, and once you have done so, we guarantee you will agree that the effort was well worth it. 


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