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Phrasal verb

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Phrasal verb is the name given to an English verb which is composed of two or three words. One verb is combined with a preposition (like on, in, under) or an adverb (like up, down, away). Sometimes a phrasal verb can have a meaning that is very different to the meaning of at least one of those two or three words separately. Some text books call these verbs multi-word verbs. Phrasal verbs are used more frequently in everyday speech than in formal, official writing or speaking.

Here are some examples:

Maria didn't know the word, so she looked it up in the dictionary.

Oh no, we've run out of milk! I'll have to buy some more.

Farmers have to get up early in the morning.

The rocket took off with a loud roar.

Often these phrasal verbs have a one-word equivalent in other languages. In Spanish, to get up can be translated as levantarse, in French as se lever etc.

Many students of English as a foreign language panic when they hear the term "phrasal verbs", but in fact phrasal verbs are just vocabulary to memorize, and not some strange, secret grammatical formula. In fact many native speakers of English do not know the term "phrasal verb" at all, even though they probably use them very often!

Types of phrasal verbs

There are four different types of phrasal verbs. These are:

  • Phrasal verbs which take objects and are separable
  • Phrasal verbs which take objects and are inseparable
  • Phrasal verbs which do not take objects (these are always inseparable)
  • Three-word phrasal verbs

Instead of "separate" or "separable", some text books use the word "split" or "splittable".

A useful piece of advice to confused students of English is this:

If you do not know if a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable ALWAYS use a noun or noun phrase and do not try to separate the verb.