Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs – everyday English

Phrasal verbs are very common in spoken English — you will hear them in almost every conversation. They originally come from the Anglo-Saxon roots of modern English.

If you are wondering about how to learn phrasal verbs, the best way is to learn them like any new vocabulary – little and often.

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

Example – to go in:

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

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb with a preposition or other word, sometimes called a ‘particle’. Many phrasal verbs have two or more meanings – a literal meaning and an idiomatic one.


Let’s look at some examples:

‘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’.

‘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”.

Finally, the opposite of the verb ‘to take out’ is ‘to put back’. This also means two things: literally, to replace or return something to its original position (“After the meeting, I put my things back in my briefcase.”). Idiomatically, it means ‘to postpone’ – for instance, “The meeting has been put back from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning.”

 Click here for some computer-based exercises.


Ways to learn phrasal verbs in English

Practise English phrasal verbs with Phrasalstein

3 thoughts on “Phrasal verbs

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