Understanding and Using Phrasal Verbs in English

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are a type of verb in English that consist of a main verb and one or more particles (prepositions or adverbs) that can change the meaning of the main verb. The combination of the main verb and the particle(s) creates a new meaning that is often different from the meaning of the main verb alone.

For example, the phrasal verb “turn up” means “to arrive unexpectedly” or “to increase the volume”. In this case, “turn” is the main verb, and “up” is the particle that changes the meaning. “Turn” alone does not convey the same meaning as “turn up”.

Types of Phrasal Verbs:

Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable. Separable phrasal verbs have the main verb and particle separated by an object, while inseparable phrasal verbs cannot be separated by an object. For example, “put off” is a separable phrasal verb, as in “I put off the meeting” (the object “the meeting” separates the verb and the particle), while “look after” is an inseparable phrasal verb, as in “I look after my children” (the object “my children” cannot separate the verb and the particle).

Phrasal verbs can be challenging to learn because they often have multiple meanings and can be used in different ways in different contexts. However, they are very common in English and are important to understand for a fluent communication.

Some examples of phrasal verbs in tables, including their meanings and whether they are separable or inseparable:

Phrasal Verb Meaning Separable/Inseparable
bring up to raise or mention a topic separable
call off to cancel or abandon separable
cut down to reduce or decrease separable
get along to have a good relationship with someone inseparable
look up to search for information in a reference book separable
put up with to tolerate or endure inseparable
take off to remove or start a flight separable
turn down to reject or refuse separable
wake up to stop sleeping and become alert inseparable
work out to exercise or solve a problem separable


Some example sentences that demonstrate the difference between separable and inseparable phrasal verbs:

Separable phrasal verbs:

  • I need to bring up an important issue at the meeting tomorrow.
  • The company had to call off the project due to budget cuts.
  • We should cut down on our use of single-use plastics.
  • I always look up new words in the dictionary.
  • I don’t know how much longer I can put up with the noise from the construction site.
  • The plane will take off in an hour.
  • I’m sorry, but we had to turn down your proposal.
  • I set my alarm for 6:00 AM so I could wake up early.
  • I’m going to work out at the gym after work.

Inseparable phrasal verbs:

  • My best friend and I have always gotten along well.
  • The students had to work hard to come up with a solution to the math problem.
  • The sun will start to come up soon.
  • I think we should just sit down and talk this out.
  • I can’t wait to see my grandparents and catch up on their news.
  • My car broke down on the highway and I had to call a tow truck.
  • I’m sorry, I can’t come to the party tonight because I have to look after my little sister.
  • My mom always reminds me to clean up my room before I go to bed.
  • My sister and I will stay up late to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Here are some alternative ways to write sentences with separable phrasal verbs, using the same meaning but with the object placed in a different position:

  • I need to bring an important issue up at the meeting tomorrow.
  • The company had to call the project off due to budget cuts.
  • We should cut our use of single-use plastics down.
  • I always look new words up in the dictionary.
  • I don’t know how much longer I can put up with the noise from the construction site.
  • The plane will take off in an hour.
  • I’m sorry, but we had to turn your proposal down.
  • I set my alarm for 6:00 AM so I could wake early up.
  • I’m going to work out at the gym after work.

Examples of common phrasal verbs:

Phrasal Verb Meaning Example
Back up To make a copy of the data Don’t forget to back up your files before the upgrade.
Break down To stop working properly My car broke down on the highway.
Bring up To raise a topic or subject Let me bring up an idea for discussion.
Call off To cancel or abandon something We had to call off the picnic due to the bad weather.
Carry out To complete or conduct a task The police carried out an investigation.
Come across To encounter or find unexpectedly I came across an old photo while cleaning out my closet.
Cut down To reduce in size or amount I’m trying to cut down on sugar.
Do without To manage without something We’ll have to do without air conditioning for a few days.
Fall apart To disintegrate or fail The old building was falling apart.
Figure out To solve or understand something I’m trying to figure out how to use this software.
Get along To have a good relationship with someone My sister and I get along well.
Give up To stop doing something I gave up smoking last year.
Hang out To spend time together Let’s hang out at the park this afternoon.
Hold on To wait or pause Please hold on for a moment while I transfer your call.
Look forward to To anticipate or be excited about something I’m looking forward to the concert next week.
Make up To invent or fabricate something Don’t make up stories to avoid getting in trouble.
Pick up To collect or acquire something Can you pick up some groceries on your way home?
Put off To postpone or delay something We’ll have to put off the meeting until next week.
Run into To encounter or meet someone unexpectedly I ran into an old friend at the coffee shop.
Take up To begin or start a new hobby or activity I’m thinking of taking up yoga.

Read the Short Story and Find The Phrasal Verbs:

Sarah had been looking forward to her camping trip for weeks. She had planned everything carefully and had even picked up some new camping gear from the store. She and her friends, Rachel and Tom, drove to the campsite early on Saturday morning.

As they set up their tents, they realized that they had forgotten to bring the tent poles. “Don’t worry,” said Tom. “We can make do without them.” Sarah was skeptical, but they managed to back up the tent against a tree and tie the corners to some nearby bushes. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.

That night, they built a fire and hung out around it, roasting marshmallows and telling stories. Sarah couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy, though. She had heard a strange noise earlier and was worried that something was going to break down their makeshift tent. She decided to ask Rachel to come with her to investigate.

As they walked through the woods, they came across a clearing and saw a group of people having a bonfire. “Let’s go say hi,” said Rachel, and they walked over to the group. Sarah was shy and wasn’t sure how to introduce herself, but Rachel was outgoing and soon they were all chatting and getting along well.

Later that night, Sarah and Rachel returned to their campsite, feeling much more relaxed. “I’m glad we ran into those people,” said Rachel. “It’s nice to know there are friendly campers out here.” They fell asleep under the stars, listening to the crickets and the sound of the fire crackling.

The next morning, they decided to take a hike and explore the woods. They picked up some trail maps and set off. As they walked, Sarah couldn’t help but admire the beauty of nature around her. “This is amazing,” she said. “I could do without my phone and internet for a while.” Rachel agreed, and they continued on their adventure.

After a few hours of hiking, they realized they had lost track of time and would have to hurry back to the campsite to pack up and leave. They picked up their pace and made it back just in time to carry out their gear and head home.

As they drove back, Sarah couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction. They had made it work without the tent poles, they had made new friends, and they had figured out how to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors. She made up her mind to go camping again soon and to pick up some new skills, like how to build a better tent without the proper equipment.



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