What is a
A basic introduction to English phrasal verbs
Phrasal verbs are sometimes called
they’re used just like other verbs
A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb
(such as ‘make’ or ‘pick’)
with one or two particles
(an adverb or a preposition),
that results in a new
word or unit of meaning.
A simple verb plus a preposition is not a phrasal verb
look up – to turn your eyes upwards, is not a phrasal verb
I looked up and saw a plane.
look up (something) – to look at a book or computer
in order to find information, is a phrasal verb
I looked it up in my dictionary.
I looked it up on the internet.
soup up man up
show off step up
hit it off
Phrasal verbs are an important part of English.
They’re particularly common in everyday spoken English,
and informal written English.
But they’re also used in many quite formal and formal texts,
e.g. business letters, academic writing, scientific papers,
technical papers, legal documents, news reports,
and official government documents.
Phrasal verbs can seem difficult to learn
because it can be difficult or impossible to guess the meanings of
phrasal verbs from the meanings of their individual verbs and
• sell up something (or sell something up) – to sell your business or property
and move onto something or somewhere else.
• own up to something - to admit or confess that you have done something wrong
They can also seem difficult to learn because some phrasal
verbs have multiple meanings.
If you pick up a cold or other infectious illness, you get it from
someone or something.
He picked up malaria on holiday.
If something picks up, it improves after a slow start or a bad period.
Business has really picked up this year.
If you pick up a new skill you learn it easily or casually.
Children pick up a second language very easily.
To pick up speed is to go faster.
The cyclists picked up speed after 10 miles.
When the wind picks up it gets stronger.
The wind is picking up.
Intransitive phrasal verbs
are always inseparable: they do not take a direct object
between the two parts of the phrasal verb.
Transitive phrasal verbs have a direct object
Most transitive phrasal verbs can take the direct object between the two
parts of the phrasal verb, or after the phrasal verb (separable phrasal verbs).
look up something or look (something) up
I looked up ‘freelance’ in my English dictionary.
I looked ‘freelance’ up in my English dictionary.
However, if the direct object is a pronoun, it must go between the two
parts of the phrasal verb.
I looked it up in my English dictionary.
Some transitive phrasal verbs must have the object between
the verb and the particle.
talk into – I talked my boss into giving me a pay rise.
pull to – Could you pull the door to, please?
Some transitive phrasal verbs must have the object after the
particle (the phrasal verb is inseparable).
look after – I look after the children while my wife goes to work.
take after – My son takes after his grandfather.
believe in - I believe in ghosts.
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