Learning Phrasal Verbs

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs contain a verb and one or more words (called particles in some grammar books!). They’re very common in spoken English, so you’ll hear them almost all the time. Mostly from Anglo-Saxon roots, the best way to learn phrasal verbs is the same as for other vocabulary: little and often.

How to Learn Phrasal Verbs

Some other ideas to help you learn phrasal verbs quickly include thinking of examples and repeating them.  Writing and repeating your own sentences with phrasal verbs will help you to memorise and use them in everyday conversations.

Examples of Phrasal Verbs

Example – to go in:

“Yesterday I went in(/into) the DIY shop because I saw a special offer.”
(Not ” … I entered the…”)

Let’s look at another example: ‘to look forward to’:
If we look forward to something, this means we feel happy (or even excited) about something good that is going to happen in the future. We might say: “I’m looking forward to seeing you again”.

Click here for more examples of ‘to look forward to’.

Many phrasal verbs have two or more meanings – a literal sense and an idiomatic one.

‘to take off’ means (literally) to remove a garment – for example, “Please take off your coat.”. Its idiomatic meaning is when an aeroplane starts its flight – it taxis to the runway, then accelerates and takes off – climbing into the air.

‘to take on’ can mean to assume or accept responsibility – especially in a work context: “The new employee has taken on some of the project work”, or
“The company has decided to take on two new members of staff (= employees)” – here, ‘take on’ means ‘to hire’ or ‘to recruit’.

Literally, the phrasal verb ‘to take on’ means physically carrying something – e.g. “You can take two bags on the ‘plane.”

‘to take up’ – often used idiomatically to refer to starting a new hobby or sport: “Retired people sometimes take up golf, to get regular exercise and fresh air and to make new friends.”. The literal meaning is to carry something upwards: “Let’s park the car and take the shopping up to the apartment” – here, note the optional separation of the verb and particle here with the direct object ‘the shopping’.

‘to take out’ can mean either ‘to remove’ or ‘to contract’ something. We could say (if we were unfortunate enough!): “The dentist took out my tooth” or  ““The dentist took my tooth out”.  Alternatively, the idiomatic use could refer to contracting services – “When we buy a car, we have to take out motor insurance”.

Do you know what the opposite of ‘to take out’ is?

Finally, the opposite of the phrasal verb ‘to take out’ is ‘to put back’. It has two meanings:

1. Literal
To replace or return something to its original position (“After the meeting, I put my things back in my briefcase.”).

2. Idiomatic
To postpone – for instance, “The meeting has been put back from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning.”

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