The Ultimate 5-Minute Introduction to Phrasal Verbs.
At some point, all English learners will come across phrasal verbs. Although it is totally possible to get by without them, all native English speakers use them on a daily basis. They are often hard for learners to pick up, as they don’t exist in most other languages. Here is our quick guide.
What are phrasal verbs?
Phrasal verbs are compound verbs. They contain more than one part – generally two, but occasionally more. One of these parts will be a verb, and the other will be a particle or preposition. However, a phrasal verb is a whole that cannot be understood by looking at its pieces!
e.g. Carry on – continue, maintain
The meaning of the verb carry and the particle on have no relation to the meaning of the phrasal verb ‘carry on’.
When are phrasal verbs used?
Native English speakers use phrasal verbs interchangeably with normal verbs. They are extremely common, and most people don’t even know that they are using them. They are used both in speech and writing, and can be both formal or informal.
Mary turned down the offer of moving to the Sydney office.
Mary rejected the offer of moving to the Sydney office.
These two sentences are interchangeable.
Why should I learn Phrasal Verbs?
It could be possible to learn English without any phrasal verbs, however, I wouldn’t recommend it. The best reason for this is because there are certain occasions in which the single-verb alternative is very uncommon, and it would be strange for someone to say it.
This morning I got up at 7AM.
This morning I arose at 7AM.
The single-word verb option is almost unused in today’s English.
Apart from needing to use some phrasal verbs to be able to communicate in a normal way, knowing phrasal verbs can greatly help English learners to understand native speakers’ writing or speech.
How many Phrasal Verbs are there?
There are thousands of phrasal verbs. In fact, it wouldn’t be possible to give an exact number, as they are constantly being invented. If you had said the words log in, scroll down or hack into twenty years ago, nobody would have understood you!
Can the parts of a phrasal verb be separated?
Some phrasal verbs can have their parts separated, and others must always stay together. There are even some occasions in which some must be separated if there is a pronoun! (e.g. ‘You should look it up’ cannot be ‘You should look up it’). Unfortunately, there are no rules to know which phrasal verbs can, cannot or must be separated. For a detailed answer, see here.
How can I know the meaning of a Phrasal Verb?
The meanings of phrasal verbs must be learnt individually. Sometimes, the meaning of a phrasal verb is related to its parts, but mostly it isn’t, and it may even confuse you more if you try to understand it by its parts.
Mary picked out a dress to wear. Mary chose a dress to wear.
Phil and Theresa got on well. Phil and Theresa had a friendly relationship.
Thinking about the words ‘pick out‘ might help you to understand the true meaning ‘to choose’; however ‘get on with‘ has no relation to its meaning.
Also, many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. They may be completely different from each other.
The children gave in their exam papers.
Learning phrasal verbs isn’t easy, but don’t give in!
In the first example, the meaning is ‘submit’, but in the second example, the meaning is ‘surrender’.
How can I learn phrasal verbs?
Similarly to learning vocabulary, it can be hard to learn phrasal verbs as there are no patterns or rules to help the learning process. Because of this, I would recommend keeping a list somewhere easily accessible, and writing them down with their meanings whenever you come across them. Constant interaction with English is the best way to build up your knowledge of phrasal verbs – by reading the news or stories, listening to the radio or podcasts, and by interacting on social media.
I have spoken to several people who have claimed the success of phrasal verb apps. This could be a fun way to practise a few minutes a day while waiting for the bus or waiting for the water to boil.
What else would you like to know about phrasal verbs?
Please don’t see learning phrasal verbs as a big challenge. The truth is that it is a never-ending process, the same as learning vocabulary. As time goes by, you will naturally increase your use of phrasal verbs.
Have I missed anything out? Do you have any other questions about phrasal verbs? Ask them in the comments section, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.