English phrasal verbs, we all know them, we all use them, whether you know it or not, but do we really even know what a phrasal verb is? Well, they are essential in conversational English, I will tell you that right now. I can also just go ahead and tell you to buckle your hypothetical seat belt because the English language sure does have a lot of these phrasal verbs too.
Ask any native English speaker on the street what a phrasal verb is, and I’m sure the majority may not even know how to respond. As native English speakers, we do not realize that we are using phrasal verbs so often. However, if you were to give that same person an example of a phrasal verb, I’m sure they could go on to list a few more for you. So, let’s jump right to it, all you need to know about phrasal verbs: examples, lists, and facts.
What is a phrasal verb?
Now that we know that phrasal verbs are extremely common in the English language, let’s try to figure out what they really are. I will give a phrasal verb list in this post, so stay tuned, but first, what is a phrasal verb? Well, by definition, a phrasal verb is “an idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element, usually an adverb.” Still confused? Yeah, the definition here may do more harm than good, so let me elaborate. Phrasal verbs combine a verb with another word, and together, make an entirely new word/ phrase with a new meaning. For example, “sit down.” Sit is a verb, down is a direction, but combine them together and you have a new phrase. The same goes for “get up” or “back off.”
Notice how I mentioned earlier that these phrasal verbs are essential in conversational English? Well, there’s a reason for that. Surprisingly, as much as we use these phrasal verbs in our everyday lives, they are not really popular in written English. However, in normal, spoken English, it is said that about 80% of our verb usage is actually made up from phrasal verbs. Mind blowing, I know! How can something so common be swept under the rug like this? I for one am an advocate for adding Phrasal Verbs 101 to the list of mandatory courses you have to take for college, but, what can I do? It would be nice to have a class on the most common phrasal verbs, or at least supply us with a phrasal verb dictionary, right? Well, sadly, I have no control over that. So for now, let’s go ahead and separate these American phrasal verbs into four categories to make it a little easier to comprehend.
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4 Types of phrasal verbs
There are four main types of phrasal verbs. I’m going to separate these for you and give you the four types and some phrasal verbs examples of each.
Separable phrasal verbs
So, if you run into a separable phrasal verb, what does that mean? Separable phrasal verbs, literally means that you can separate the two words, and put a direct object in the middle. For example, “add up”. You can say ” Hey, can you add up the bill for me?” But you can also say “Can you add the bill up for me?” This is the usage of separable phrasal verbs. They can be separated, still make sense, and still be considered a phrasal verb.
Stemming off of that, here are some more examples of common separable phrasal verbs with meanings expressed through example sentences…
- burn up
- I didn’t expect the leaves to burn up so quick./ Go out and burn those leaves up.
- break down
- Please break down the course for me./ I asked her to break the course down for me.
- clean up
- Could you clean up your room?/ Why haven’t you cleaned your room up?
- dress up/down
- Please dress up for the event./ I was told we could dress any way we want, even down.
- fill in
- Please fill in the information that applies to you./ Make sure you fill the correct information in the corresponding blanks.
- hold off
- You should hold off on that purchase./ Weren’t you told to hold your purchase off until pay day?
- keep up
- I couldn’t keep up with the driver./ The driver was so fast, that the police tried to keep his car up with the thief’s, but in the end, the thief got away.
- leave out
- Please, leave out the food for your sister./ Please, leave the food out for your sister.
- pick up
- Pick up the phone, it’s an emergency!/ It’s an emergency, so pick the phone up right away.
- rule out
- I never rule out the idea of moving abroad./ I think my husband has ruled that idea out a long time ago, though.
Non-separable phrasal verbs
Yep, you’ve guessed it. Non-separable phrasal verbs are just the opposite of separable phrasal verbs. These are phrases that cannot be separated without losing the meaning. So, a noun or pronoun cannot come between the verb and the particle. For non-separable phrasal verbs, the object can only come after the phrasal verb. Again, here is where that phrasal verbs dictionary would come in handy, now wouldn’t it?
Here are some examples of common non-separable phrasal verbs
- turn into
- The divorce turned into a huge mess for everyone involved.
- take after
- I think my son takes after his father; they look and act so similar.
- touch on
- The teacher only briefly touched on this subject, so I am still a little confused.
- put up with
- Sometimes, I am amazed with what I have to put up with being a mother to two boys.
- run into
- I want to go to the park early, so we don’t run into a bunch of school kids.
- go over
- I didn’t go over the rules with the babysitter; I should call her.
- look after
- I trust my mom to look after my sons while I work.
- count on
- I know I can always count on my best friends to be there when I need them most.
- back out of
- He wanted to ride the roller coaster, but he backed out of it last minute.
- settle on
- Finally, I think we have settled on a color to paint our house.
How To Make Long Sentences In English
Transitive phrasal verbs
Transitive phrasal verbs, not to be confused with separable phrasal verbs, takes on an object. It is possible that this object will come between the verb and the adverb/preposition, or, it can be put afterwards, as in the phrase “hang up your jacket.”
Not always, like the example I just gave you, but usually, transitive phrasal verbs are three words long. So, keep that in mind too, it may help. Now, let’s go over a few more examples in hopes of this getting a little easier along the way.
- catch up on
- I don’t think I can go to the party, I have a lot of work to catch up on.
- get along with
- I hope my oldest son with get along with his baby brother.
- look down on
- I feel like my siblings look down on me because I am the youngest.
- get rid of
- We need to get rid of so many things before we move.
- look up to
- I look up to my mom, she is such a strong woman.
- make sure of
- He won’t miss his test this time, I will make sure of it.
- talk back to
- I’m dreading the day my son talks back to me.
- think back on
- When I think back on pre-covid times, I sometimes am shocked at how unsanitary we were.
- check up on
- I used to go and check up on my elderly neighbor, but sadly, he passed away.
- drop out of
- To my dismay, my niece decided to drop out of school.
Intransitive phrasal verbs
Ok, so maybe the names of these kind of give away the definition, but hey, that makes it easier for you, right? Intransitive phrasal verbs are, as you probably guessed, the opposite of transitive phrasal verbs. Intransitive phrasal verbs have NO direct object, for example, “I woke up at 7:00 AM.” So, once again, here are some common examples of intransitive phrasal verbs.
- grow up
- My dog grew up to be a lot heavier than I thought.
- drop by
- My friend said she will drop by later tonight.
- pass out
- The doctors were worried that the patient would pass out due to the loss of blood during the surgery.
- come back
- I need to come back tomorrow and pick up my package.
- keep away
- I tend to keep my kids away from the skate park because they are still too young.
- show up
- I didn’t show up for my appointment. To be honest, I completely forgot.
- go on
- The teacher told me to go on with the reading, even though most of the students were, clearly, not interested.
- come in
- I noticed that I never ask my parents if I can come in; I always just enter their house as if it were my own.
- get up
- As I get older, it is harder for me to get up in the morning.
- eat out
- Since changing to a healthy lifestyle three years ago, I try not to eat out often.
20 Most common phrasal verbs and their meanings
to top off:
to fill something to the top
to throw away:
to dispose of something
to think over:
to consider something
to pull up:
to bring something nearer
to give up:
to accept defeat
to give away:
To donate something for free
to find out:
to end up:
to eventually become a certain way
to check out:
to verify a person or a thing
to call off:
to clean up:
to clean a general area
to wait on:
to take out:
to move something outside
to see to:
to make sure something is done
to run out of:
to drain the supply of
to put on:
to add something to your person or to an object
to let down:
to disappoint somebody
to cheer up:
to feel happier, more cheerful
to chip in:
to bring down:
to make unhappy, to be sad
All in all, phrasal verbs are everywhere. They are used even without realizing you’re using them. They are most definitely a staple in conversational English, and, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, they’re very important to learn. You have also learned by now that a phrasal verbs definition depends on which type of phrasal verb you are referencing, as there are four different types. I hope that this post has helped answer your question of “what is a phrasal verb”, and also, I hope that I have given you plenty of examples to use in your future English conversations.
Stay motivated, and learn English!