Phrasal Verbs?!

Phrasal verbs: These are usually two-word phrases consisting of a combination of verb + adverb or verb + preposition. There are hundreds of phrasal verbs in the English language that vary between different English-speaking countries. Teachers should encourage students to study phrasal verbs as they come across them rather than trying to memorize them. The following is a short list of some example phrasal verbs and their meanings:

Phrasal Verb

  • add up tosomething
  • back someone up
  • break down
  • break up
  • call around
  • calm down
  • cut someone off
  • get along with
  • hang up
  • look forward tosomething


  • equal
  • support
  • stop functioning (thing) / get upset (person)
  • end a relationship
  • phone several places/people
  • relax after a period of excitement
  • not talk to someone anymore
  • like each other
  • end phone call
  • be excited about the future

Separable Phrasal Verbs

When some phrasal verbs have a direct object, the two parts of the phrasal verb can be separated.

For example, “break down” is a separable phrasal verb because we can say:

 “break down the story” or “break the story down

Other common separable phrasal verbs include:

  • get up
  • turn off
  • turn down
  • put off
  • switch on

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs can’t be separated from their constituent parts when they take a direct object.

For example, “take care of” is inseparable because we can only say:

 “Take care of yourself,” not: “Take yourself care of” or “Take care yourself of

Other common inseparable phrasal verbs include:

  • fall back on
  • get off of
  • do without
  • hear of
  • look up to
  • run for
  • stand for

Phrasal verbs are units of speech composed of two or three different words, typically verb + preposition(s), that are commonly referred to as multi-word verbs. A phrasal verb cannot be separated into its constituent words without losing its meaning. Only by taking the phrase as a whole is meaning conveyed. Phrasal verbs are frequently used in the English language and are subject to some regional variations.

Here are some examples of phrasal verbs:

Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs can be either transitive or intransitive. A transitive phrasal verb always has an object and an intransitive phrasal verb never has an object.

Transitive phrasal verbs

  • are ALWAYS followed by an object (direct and/or indirect)
  • can be separable, but not always

For example:

  • run across – We often run across beautiful birds by the lake. → (inseparable)
  • → We often run beautiful birds across by the lake. X WRONG
  • run across = phrasal verb, birds = object
  • set up – I set up the tent before it got dark. → (separable)
  • → I set the tent up before it got dark. √ CORRECT
  • set up = phrasal verb, tent = object

Intransitive phrasal verbs

  • are never followed by an object (direct or indirect)
  • are always inseparable

For example:

come over – Last night my friends came over√ CORRECT

came over = phrasal verb, no direct object

Separable & Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

When phrasal verbs have a direct object they are transitive and their constituent words can sometimes be separated by the object.

For example, “turn down” is a separable phrasal verb because we can say:

  • turn down the job offer”
  •             or
  • turn the job offer down

On the other hand, inseparable phrasal verbs cannot be separated – the object cannot be placed in the middle of the phrase.

For example, “look up to” is an inseparable phrasal verb because we say:

  • “The little girl looks up to her father”
  • but not
  • “The little girl looks to her father up.

Here are a few examples of separable phrasal verbs:

  • Can you switch off the light?
  • I hung up the phone before Joe could finish his sentence.
  • She put off our date until next week because she’s busy.

Notice how we can separate the phrases and use them in modified phrases:

  • Can you switch the light off?
  • I hung the phone up before Joe could finish his sentence.
  • She put our date off until next week because she’s busy.

Here are a few examples of inseparable phrasal verbs:

  • I get confused when I come across unfamiliar vocabulary.
  • She disagrees with the decision of the president.
  • Do you think you can fill in for me while I’m on vacation?

Notice what happens when we try to separate them:

  • I get confused when I come unfamiliar vocabulary across.
  • She disagrees the decision with the president.
  • Do you think you can fill me in for while I’m on vacation?

The sentences are no longer correct, and the meaning is confused.

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