Phrasal Verbs: Rules, Use and Examples

What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a group of words that indicate an action. Phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by a particle, either a preposition or an adverb.

  • Melissa got on the bus.
  • We look forward to the new business venture.
  • The athlete passed out after running 10 kilometers.

Phrasal verbs are used in the same way as regular verbs in a sentence. In addition, we often use them in spoken English and in an informal setting. Thus, it is best to avoid using these verbs in formal writing. Because phrasal verbs may have varied meanings, this might lead to an ambiguous context. However, the context for formal writing has to be clear and concise. But there is still much we need to know. Do you want to find out more about phrasal verbs? Let’s check out these rules.

Rules of Phrasal Verbs

1. Phrasal verbs have a different meaning from the original verb.

This combination of words forms a single unit of vocabulary expression, which gives a new meaning. Let us take these sentences as examples for comparison:

  • We have to get the documents.
  • Men easily get over certain illnesses.

The original verb “get” means to obtain something. However, when added with a particle its meaning changes. In this case, the phrasal verb “get over” means to recover from an illness.

Other examples:

  • The little girl broke down when her puppy died. (break down = to lose control of one’s emotions)
  • We ran out of drinking water. (run out = to have nothing left.)
  • My friends had to put off their trip due to the pandemic. (put off = to postpone.)

2. Intransitive phrasal verbs are inseparable because they do not need an object.

Similar to regular verbs, these verbs could be classified as transitive or intransitive. Since intransitive verbs do not take any object, it is not possible to separate the verb and the particle.

Examples:

  • The Smith family always comes back to this place every year. (come back = come again)
  • My father wakes up very early. (wake up = to stop sleeping)
  • The players showed up during the rehearsal. (show up = to arrive and be seen)
  • She often shops around before finally buying the items. (shop around = to go to different shops before buying)
  • The color of this shirt wears off easily. (wear off = to disappear slowly)

3. Some transitive phrasal verbs can either be separable or inseparable.

Since transitive phrasal verbs take objects, it is possible for some of these to be separated or put together. Let’s check the following sentences:

  • 1st sentence: Chuck Feeney gave away his money to charity.
  • 2nd sentence: Chuck Feeney gave his money away to charity.
  • 3rd sentence: Chuck Feeney gave it away to charity.

Notice that in the first sentence we can keep the verb and the particle together while followed by the object. In the second sentence, it is also possible to have the verb and the particle separated by the object. However, when using a pronoun for the object, the phrasal verb has to be separated. Thus, it is incorrect to say “Chuck Feeney gave away it to charity.”

Other examples:

call off (to cancel an event or meeting)

  • 1st: The manager called off the meeting.
  • 2nd: The manager called the meeting off.
  • 3rd: The manager called it off.

fill out (to complete a form or document)

  • 1st: Fill out the request form before paying.
  • 2nd: Fill the request form out before paying.
  • 3rd: Fill it out before paying.

put on (to wear)

  • 1st: We should put on a coat in winter.
  • 2nd: We should put a coat on in winter.
  • 3rd: We should put it on in winter.

4. Some transitive phrasal verbs are inseparable.

There are other transitive phrasal verbs in which the verb always goes together with the particle after it.

Examples:

  • Students go over their answers before submitting their examination sheets. (go over = review)
  • Parents look after their children. (look after = take care of)
  • Jason ran into his long-lost friend. (run into = meet by chance)
  • With the way you speak, you take after your mother. (take after = resemble)
  • Wendy can’t get over her past relationship. (get over = recover from a bad experience)

5. Three-Word phrasal verbs are inseparable.

Some phrasal verbs are formed with two particles after a verb. In addition, these types are inseparable.

Examples:

  • We came up with a better strategy for the upcoming project. (come up with = propose something)
  • Laughing can get rid of wrinkles. (get rid of = eliminate)
  • Children look up to their teachers. (look up to = respect)
  • I can’t put up with this noise! It’s too much! (put up with = tolerate)
  • Our childhood memories make us laugh whenever we think back on them. (think back on = recall)

Key Points

  • A phrasal verb is a group of words that indicate action. It consists of a verb followed by a particle, either a preposition or an adverb.
  • Furthermore, we often use them in spoken English and in an informal setting.
  • Phrasal verbs have a different meaning from the original verb.
  • Intransitive phrasal verbs are inseparable.
  • Some of these types of verbs may either be separable or inseparable, while others are always inseparable. However, when using a pronoun for the object, the phrasal verb has to be separated.
  • Lastly, three-word phrasal verbs are inseparable.

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