What are Phrasal Verbs?
Phrasal verbs are verbs with two or three words:
main verb + particle (preposition or adverb)
- I wake up at 7:30 every day.
- Please turn off the TV.
- My brother and I don’t get along. We fight all the time.
- She came up with a good idea.
Phrasal verbs are difficult because you often can’t understand the meaning of each expression from the words themselves. Also, many phrasal verbs are very similar (take up, take on, take in, take over, etc.) and a number of phrasal verbs have multiple meanings.
In this lesson, you’re going to learn 4 types of phrasal verbs and how each one functions in an English sentence.
Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive.
Transitive phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable.
Intransitive Phrasal Verbs
Intransitive phrasal verbs have no direct object. (A direct object is “acted upon” by the verb).
Examples of intransitive phrasal verbs:
- I woke up at 10:30 AM.
- You can come over to my house after school.
- He’s going back to Russia next month.
Transitive Phrasal Verbs
Transitive phrasal verbs have a direct object.
Examples of transitive phrasal verbs (direct object is in blue):
- You need to fill out this form to register for the course.
(fill out = complete)
- I’m going to cut down on fast food this year.
(cut down on = reduce)
- Check out that website – it’s really great!
(check out = look at, go to)
Separable & Inseparable Phrasal Verbs
Transitive phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable. If a phrasal verb is separable, it means you can separate the two words and put the direct object in the middle. If it is inseparable, then you can’t do this.
Separable Phrasal Verb Example: TURN OFF
- Please turn off the TV.
- Please turn the TV off.
Inseparable Phrasal Verb Example: LOOK AFTER
- I’ll look after your dog while you’re on vacation.
- I’ll look your dog after while you’re on vacation – INCORRECT
Word Order for Separable Phrasal Verbs
When the direct object is the specific name of a thing or person, it can be located after the phrasal verb or in the middle:
- I threw away the old pizza.
- = I threw the old pizza away.
However, when the direct object is a pronoun (me, you, him, her, us, them, it), then it MUST go in the middle:
- I threw it away.
- I threw away it. – INCORRECT
Here’s an example with a person:
- They’ll pick up John from the airport.
- = They’ll pick John up from the airport.
- = They’ll pick him up from the airport.
- They’ll pick up him from the airport. – INCORRECT
How do you know if a phrasal verb is transitive or intransitive and separable or inseparable?
Unfortunately, there’s no “rule” for looking at a phrasal verbs and knowing what type it is! The best way is just to study each phrasal verb in context with lots of examples.
You can learn 500 phrasal verbs and how they are used in spoken English if you register for the phrasal verbs course.