How to Use English Phrasal Verbs

How to Use English Phrasal Verbs

English vocabulary consists of many phrasal verbs. You can find them in conversation, business English, movies, songs, books, and virtually everywhere people communicate in English!

What is a phrasal verb?
A phrasal verb consists of a verb and a prepositional particle. Typical phrasal verbs are to get up, sit down, deal with, and look forward to.

As the image shows above, fluent speakers use phrasal verbs. The challenge is that phrasal verbs can be literal in meaning or figurative in meaning. For example, “Look up at the sky” literally means to move your head up and look at the sky. However, “Look up the address of the restaurant in the phone book” figuratively means to search for and find (the address) in a reference book (phone book or dictionary).
In addition, phrasal verbs have different meanings that depend on the context. Always remember that meanings of phrasal verbs are contextual and they depend on the context.
In general, phrasal verbs follow specific grammar constructions:
  • You give up something (verb + ing). For example, I gave up smoking in 1995.
  • You give something up. For example, I gave it up in 1995.
  • You cannot say, “I gave up it in 1995.”
phrasal-verbs-give-upGive up means to stop
making an effort or to
stop doing something.

Pronouns, such as YOU, HIM, HER, THEM, US, and IT go between the verb and the prepositional particle.

More examples:

I picked up my parents at the airport. I picked them up at the airport.
(I went to the airport to get or collect my parents.)
If a phrasal verb consists of two particles, such as look forward to, pronouns go after the last particle.

I am looking forward to my holiday. I am looking forward to it.
(I am anticipating and excited about my future holiday.)

Be careful, because there are many exceptions. For example, the phrasal verb deal with only has one particle, but pronouns go after with and not between deal and with.

I have to deal with customers who have bad attitudes. I have to deal with them.

Phrasal verbs and other multi-word verbs are an important part of the English language.
However, they are mainly used in spoken English and informal texts. They should be
avoided in academic writing where it is preferable to use a formal verb such as “to postpone”
rather than “to put off”.

Transitive and intransitive phrasal verbs :

Some phrasal verbs are transitive.  (A transitive verb always has an object.)
Example : I made up an excuse. (‘Excuse’ is the object of the verb.)

Some phrasal verbs are intransitive . (An intransitive verb does not have an object.)
Example : My car broke down.

Separable or inseparable phrasal verbs :

Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable. (The object is between the verb and the preposition.)
Example : I looked the word up in the dictionary.

Some transitive phrasal verbs are inseparable. (The object is placed after the preposition.)
Example : I will look into the matter as soon as possible.

Some transitive phrasal verbs can take an object in both places.
Example : I picked up the book.
picked the book up.

However, if the object is a pronoun, it must be placed between the verb and the preposition.
Example : I picked it up.


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