Phrasal Verbs: Terrifying or Terrific?

Terrified woman
Image courtesy of Michelle Souliere

Phrasal verbs scare many English learners, but they are a really important part of mastering the vocabulary and grammar of the language. In this post, you will find some useful resources to help you learn and practise them.

Getting to know your multi-word verbs:

A phrasal verb, or multi-word verb, is formed by a verb + an adverb or preposition (or both!). The adverb or preposition is called a particle. Each one can have several meanings and some of these meanings are not immediately clear.  Let’s look at an example:

to turn down

A. I turned down the volume when the neighbours complained.  (reduced)

B. She had to turn down the job offer because the schedule didn’t suit her. (refuse)

C. When it’s not raining, I usually turn down the collar of my jacket. (fold)

In each case, the phrasal verb turn down has a different meaning, and you can see that in some cases it is very difficult to guess the meaning of this verb from the context.

Another thing that makes these verbs challenging, is that you have to learn whether they are separable or inseparable, and when. If the verb is separable, the object of the verb can go between the verb and the particle. Look at the example below from MacmillanDictionary.com:

Can you turn the music down a bit?

The object the music separates the verb turn and the particle down. Compare this to sentences A, B and C above, where the object comes after the phrasal verb.

Some phrasal verbs are inseparable:

The good weather seemed to be coming back at last.

When you use come back, the object never separates the verb and the particle.

For more about the grammar of phrasal verbs and why it’s so useful to learn them, watch the video below:

This video is from a site called Phrasal Verb Demon. The name is a bit frightening, but the dictionary, exercises, quizzes and games they offer are excellent.
Click below to explore the site:

Phrasal verb demon

There are many other sites with explanations of the grammar of phrasal verbs, as well as games and activities to help you practise. Some of the best ones are linked below:British CouncilOxford University Press

Macmillan Dictionary

Using English Logo

Using these interactive resources is a great way to see and practise phrasal verbs in context. Studying long lists of these verbs, without understanding how they are really used in sentences, won’t help you to use them correctly in your spoken and written English! It’s always a good idea to include them in your vocabulary notebook, but remember to make notes on their meaning as well, and to use a learner’s dictionary, or one of the phrasal verb dictionaries at the links above to find other possible meanings.

Some homework:

Look up these common phrasal verbs using the dictionaries on PhrasalVerbDemon.com and UsingEnglish.com.

to break down

to get on

Then add these to your vocabulary notebook, remembering to include a sentence or example for context.

Do you have a good method for learning or practising phrasal verbs? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I think students should keep on using phrasal verbs in their English conversations. It’s great that students can always count on nice schools like Cork English College to help them pick up useful tips and brush up their English 🙂

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