Phrasal Verbs – Learn To Use Them Right!

03.05.21 Grammatical rules & structures Time to read: 6min

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Phrasal Verbs

Do you ever wonder why ESL teachers and lecturers put more emphasis on phrasal verbs? Well, the answer is very simple; if you want to be fluent at speaking English and want to be good at academic writing, you must understand and be in a position to use any given phrasal verb correctly. This article discusses phrasal verbs, what they are, and how to use them in sentences.

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Phrasal Verbs - FAQ

A phrasal verb is often formed by combining a verb and a preposition, e.g., run into, turn down, sit on, etc. They can also be formed by joining a verb and an adverb, e.g., run up, turn on, take off, give in, etc. Or a verb and both a preposition and adverb, e.g., look forward to, put up with, look out for, etc.

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Identifying a phrasal verbs in a sentence is easy. You need to look at the entire sentence first. If you can understand the two words or if the words have a complex meaning with very little or no relationship with the verb alone, then it’s a phrasal verb.

For example
Let’s see how to recognize phrasal verbs using ‘went out.’

  • He went out of the house for a moment.
  • In this sentence, the word went (verb) and out (preposition). So, the phrase went out simply means ‘went’ and ‘out.’
  • I went out with her several times.
    Here, ‘went out’ is the phrasal verb and it means ‘spent time romantically.’ The meaning is quite complex as it doesn’t necessarily show that you went anywhere.

Yes, you can separate a phrasal verb, but only if you can use the adverb or preposition either after the verb or the object. For example, in the phrase take out, you can separate take (the verb) from out (preposition) by inserting a pronoun or object like ‘it’ or ‘him.’ This gives us something like take him out or take it out. By separating the phrasal verbs, you get a separable phrasal. And where the phrasal verbs cannot separate, they are called inseparable phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs offer the best way to improve your English. When used frequently, they help individuals communicate fluently and add to their vocabulary store.

Phrasal Verbs: Definition

Basically, phrasal verbs refer to phrases used to show actions and have either a literal meaning or idiomatic meaning. They can be created by combining a verb and an adverb or preposition or both. Additionally, they are widely used in spoken English and written texts. Besides, new phrasal verbs are formed most of the time as they are flexible to use.

The Meaning of Phrasal Verbs

Understanding the meaning of a phrasal verb can, at times, be challenging. Before you start checking them up in your dictionary, it would be best to use the basic context to understand what they mean. Typically, phrasal verbs may have several meanings depending on how they are used or formed. Plus, the meanings can vary from one place to another. Let’s look at some of the meanings.

A. Literal meaning

Some phrasal verbs give a literal meaning. Hence they are easy to understand what they mean. As a result, you don’t have to go through all the trouble checking them from a dictionary.

Example in a sentence

  • He opened the window and looked outside.
  • I was walking across the market when I heard a loud sound of an explosion.

B. Idiomatic Meaning

In layman’s language, phrasal verbs can have a symbolic meaning, making them hard for many people to understand. You will not tell the meaning of these phrasal verbs just by looking at the two or three words used. This is where you will have to use a dictionary to get the meaning of such terms. However, using phrasal verbs every day in our speech in an idiomatic or figurative way makes them very important.

For instance, “get over” in the sentence, ‘The cat got over the fence.’ can literally mean “to move to the other side of something by climbing over it.” As for symbolic meaning, the term “get over” in the sentence ‘The sleep will help him get over the pain’ means feeling better or recovering from a situation.

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Separable or inseparable?

A phrasal verb refers to a phrase formed by combining a verb with an adverb, or preposition, or both. They often have a different meaning from the individual words that form the verb.
We have two types of phrasal verbs. Separable phrasal verbs are phrases that you can use other words, while inseparable verbs are phrases that cannot be split up with other words.

Separable Verbs

With these verbs, you can add other words between them.



For Example:

John made up a very interesting story.

The term ‘made up’ can be separated in the sentence and still give meaning as below:

John made the story up.

However, if the object is a pronoun, the adverb or preposition must come after the object (pronoun).


  • Made up – I made it up.
  • Take out – Take it out.
  • Pull down – Pull it down.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

They can be transitive in that they can refer to a direct object. However, you cannot include the direct object in between the phrasal verb. This is to say, you can never insert other words between them, hence their name. If you do so, the sentence will be grammatically incorrect.

For Example:

I’m looking after my family.


I’m looking my family after.

→ the phrase ‘looking after’ is inseparable.

Rules to consider when constructing separable and inseparable phrasal verbs

For separable phrasal verbs, you can separate a verb, and an adverb or preposition can be separated by inserting an object between them. You can also place them at the end of a sentence.
Inseparable phrasal verbs must stay together and come at the end of a sentence.
If an object gets replaced by a pronoun like it or they, then you must separate the phrasal verb. E.g., He switched it off. But not, He switched off it (this will be ungrammatical).
If a verb is combined with a particle, then the phrasal verb can either be transitive or intransitive. And you separable only if transitive.
A phrasal verb formed by joining a verb and a preposition is always transitive but not separable.
A phrasal verb formed by combining a verb, preposition, and an adverb is always transitive and inseparable.
After knowing the meaning of phrasal verbs and the above essential rules, we can now move to the next section of our article.
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A List of Phrasal Verbs

Generally, there are hundreds of phrasal verbs, and this is because they are super flexible to use and create new terms. Let’s now see some of the common phrasal verbs, their meaning, and example in sentences.

Phrasal Verb Meaning Example Sentence
Catch On to understand I’m late for class, but I’ll catch on after writing all the notes.
Drop Out to leave college or university before the end of a course Ben had dropped out of university in the second year.
Fall Behind to be behind the learning level of other students in your class or not to be on schedule Her performance in school was outstanding, but she fell behind due to challenges she faced at home.
Find Out to learn something new, or you didn’t know Click the link below to find out what courses the college offers.
Go Over to review or check something Let me go over my calculations to see if they are accurate.
Hand In to provide a piece of your work done to your lecturer for them to read or deal with it Students should hand in their assignments for marking.
Hand Out to give items to people in a group so that every individual has one or several The lecturer opened a folder he came with and handed out sheets of paper to all the students.
Cut Out to remove part of something by cutting The students were asked to cut out the flower from a hibiscus plant for study
Take In to absorb new information and facts I felt ashamed that I didn’t take in anything we learned.
Kick Somebody Out to force someone to leave a course, job, place, etc. The lecturer kicked him out of class after being rude.
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In a Nutshell

• Understanding what phrasal verbs are and being able to use them is the best way to make your English sound more native-like and natural.
• Phrasal verbs comprise a verb and a preposition or an adverb, or both.
• We gave four main kinds of phrasal verbs:

  1. Transitive phrasal verbs – they need or take an object in a sentence.
  2. Intransitive phrasal verbs – they don’t need an object in a sentence
  3. Separable verbs – ones that words can be inserted between a verb and a particle
  4. Inseparable verbs – they don’t allow usage of other words between them.

• There are plenty of phrasal verbs you can use every day.