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English in Use/Phrasal Verbs

< English in Use

Phrasal verbs are usually verbs + prepositions or verbs + particles. Phrasal verbs are used frequently in English, mostly in informal language but increasingly also in formal situations. Most phrasal verbs have an equivalent formal word which could replace them (i.e. put out a fire - extinguish a fire). Phrasal verbs are a problem for many learners of English because most languages don't have anything similar and the meaning of many phrasal verbs is often not obvious.


Here are some examples of phrasal verbs (on the left hand side) and a rough meaning for them (on the right). The phrasal verb in each sentence is written in bold text.

  • Charlie will look after the children - Charlie will take care of the children.
  • The plane took off at 17:30 - The plane left the ground at 17:30.
  • Police are looking into the crime - Police are investigating the crime.
  • The man picked up the rubbish from the ground - The man took and collected the rubbish.

As you can see from the above list the meaning is not always obvious - look after could be interpreted as looking at something after it's happened but the meaning is non literal. Only pick up has an obvious meaning in the above list.

Separable & Non Separable Phrasal VerbsEdit

Phrasal verbs are either separable or non-separable. A separable phrasal verb can be have the object of the phrasal verb either in the middle of the phrasal verb or after it (e.g. pick rubbish up - or - pick up rubbish). With non separable phrasal verbs, the object must come after the phrasal verb only (e.g. Police are looking into the crime NOT Police are looking the crime into)