Well…when you heard about “Phrasal Verbs” did you feel like “giving up” or abandoning the study of English? You’re not alone. Many students who have only learned “academic” English are totally confused when they learn that they’re going to have to start over and learn synomys to the verbs that they know in order to understand spoken English! Panic!

Phrasal Verbs are verbs constructed with a preposition which functions like an adverb as it changes the meaning of the verb. Example:”to call off” which is a synonym of “to cancel“. The preposition “off” changes the meaning of the verb to call which means to speak loudly or to phone.

Phrasal Verbs are also different from prepositional verbs because they are often idiomatic and considered informal. Because they are more informal than one word verbs, they are used more in spoken English or in informal documents such as e-mails or text messages.

Some phrasal verbs are easy to understand. Examples:

  • He invited me to come in (to enter).
  • She turned around (looked back) when she heard me come in.

Others are more difficult to understand as the prepositional adverbs change the meaning of the root verb completely. Examples:

  • Could you turn up (increased) the volume?
  • My boss put off (postponed) the meeting because of the absence of several employees.
  • I can’t make out (distinguish) if it’s a man or a woman?
  • Have you thrown away (discarded) the newspaper?
  • I’m going on (continuing) even though I’m very tired.
  • Steve Jobs dropped out (left school) of college just like Bill Gates.

There are FOUR TYPES of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable and they can take an object or not. Here is a guide to the basics of phrasal verbs.

Phrasal Verbs which Take Objects. They can be SEPARABLE or INSEPARABLE.

Separable phrasal verbs can remain together when using an object that is a noun or noun phrase.

  • I called John up. OR I called up John. (Who did you call up?)
  • They turned up the volume.  OR They turned the volume up. (Why did you turn the volume up?)

Separable phrasal verbs MUST be separated when a pronoun is used:

  • We picked him up at the station. NOT We picked up him at the station.
  • They called them upNOT They called up them.

Some Phrasal Verbs are INSEPARABLE (cannot be separated by an object):

  • They called for (required) tighter rules in order to control speeding on the freeways.
  • They came across (discovered by accident) an important document.
  • She passed on (transmitted) the information.
  • It takes a lot of money to get by (to survive) these days.
  • She got off (descended) at the main station.

Some Phrasal Verbs are INTRANSITIVE and don’t take objects. These phrasal verbs are ALWAYS inseparable:

  • They thieves got away (escaped).
  • The bus broke down (stopped functioning) on the way to work.
  • She began to catch on (to understand) after I explained the problem.


Can’t decide if a verb is separable or inseparable? Well…just use a noun or a noun phrase after the verbal expression and then you will always be correct: 

SEPARABLE Phrasal Verbs: bring up, save up, give up

  • She brought up (educated) her children in a very liberal manner.
  • They saved up (economized) their money so they could go on a fabulous vacation.
  • He gave up (stopped) smoking when his doctor told him that his lungs were suffering.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs: hear from, run against

  • She heard from (received information) a long lost friend on Facebook that she had in High School.
  • Mitt Romney ran against (compete against) Barack Obama in the 2012 US Presidential elections.

Some Phrasal Verbs have an adverb and a preposition making a 3 word verbal unit. Because these verbs are long, they are always INSEPARABLE:

  • I’m looking forward to meeting John. OR I’m looking forward to meeting him.
  • They didn’t get along with their mother. OR They didn’t get along with her.


Listen to an introduction lesson:

Take a look at this video to understand better why Phrasal Verbs are so important in spoken English (American and British English!) and how they are constructed:

Let’s see how they are formed with Jennifer:

Now listen to James from ESL EngVid who explains in more detail how they work:

Now look at some phrasal verbs which are constructed with the verb ‘turn’:

Listen to Alex who tells us about Phrasal Verbs with ‘put’:

Now James points out some different meanings using the word ‘shut’…some of which are not always polite!

Let’s listen to Alex who explains 5 very important Phrasal Verbs in the English language:

Now look at how Phrasal Verbs can be used in movies:

Now are you read to sing? Sing along with this Rap song “That’s What’s Up with Fluency MC!”:

Now would you like to practice with some online exercises? Remember…practice makes perfect!

English 4 U: Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a whole series of exercises on phrasal verbs (with different prepositions)

Englisch-Hilfen: Go here for a phrasal verb fill-in exercise

English Page: Here you’ll find several exercises on phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs

Stuff.co: Phrasal Verb Quiz which is fun

English Club.com: You’ll find here a phrasal verb quiz and a list of phrasal verbs

My English Pages: A Short quiz with some essential phrasal verb expressions

ESL Lounge: Phrasal Verb exercises for advanced students

Using English.com: You’ll find several quizzes and printable sheets here to help you learn more phrasal verbs

Learn English Today: Go here for an alphabetized list of phrasal verb expressions that you can learn little by little

Funky Phrasals with the BBC: To learn some fun and unusual expressions check out this site…you’ll be able to impress your friends!

Phrasal Verbs Online Dictionary: Try to learn some new expressions with some samples by looking them up on this site



Read novels, weekly newspapers (tabloids) or comic strips as often as possible so that you can assimilate phrasal verbs naturally. You will also learn the most used phrasal verbs and discover how they are used.


Don’t clutter your mind with too many expressions that you may never need or hear. Choose some essential expressions that you can incorporate into your ACTIVE vocabulary and buy a phrasal verbs pocket dictionary or e-dictionary application that you can put on your smartphone or tablet


Listening every day will give you access to all of the up-to-date phrasal verbs which you need in your PASSIVE vocabulary to understand native speakers. Learning the expressions is not enough. As these expressions are mostly used in SPOKEN English, you need to discover them orally so that you will understand immediately when someone uses them.

Do you have any tips or websites you’d like to share? We’d be happy to hear about them? …Catch up with you later!!

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