Phrasal verbs

Phrasal VerbsWhat are phrasal verbs?

Phrasal verbs are phrases that indicate actions. They are generally used in spoken English and informal texts. Examples of such verbs include: turn down, come across and run into.

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and a preposition or an adverb:

Verb Preposition/adverb
get up
go through
write down
take after

Sometimes phrasal verbs consist of three elements:

Verb Preposition / adverb 1 Preposition / adverb 2
look forward to
put up with
sit in for

When added to the verb the preposition or adverb may change completely the meaning of the verb. Here are some examples:

Phrasal verb Meaning Example
look for search/seek He is looking for his keys
look up to have a great deal of respect for a person His father is his model. He is the person he looks up to.
look forward to await eagerly/anticipate with pleasure She is looking forward to visiting Paris.
look up to try to find a piece of information by looking in a book or on a computer: She didn't understand the word. So she looked it up in her dictionary

The meaning of phrasal verbs

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the meaning of phrasal verbs. Before looking them up in a dictionary, it would be helpful to use the context to understand them.

Literal meaning

Some phrasal verbs have a literal meaning. They can be easily understood.

  • She opened the door and looked outside.
  • She was walking across the street when she heard the sound of an explosion.

Idiomatic meaning

Phrasal verbs can also have a figurative or idiomatic meaning which makes them difficult to understand.

  • Can you put me up for tonight?
    The phrasal verb 'put up' here does not mean to build (as in putting a fence up). It has, however, an idiomatic/figurative meaning. It means to let someone stay in your house.

Separable or inseparable?

1. Sometimes, the preposition/adverb is placed either after the verb or after the object.


  • Mary made up a really entertaining story.
  • Mary made the story up.

2. If the object is a pronoun, however, the preposition/adverb has to be placed after the pronoun (object).


  • She made it up.
  • Put it down.
  • Take it off.

3. Some phrasal verbs are always inseparable.


  • I came across some old photos in a drawer.


  • I came some old photos across in a drawer.

Frequently used phrasal verbs

This is a list of phrasal verbs and their meaning arranged in alphabetical order:

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