4 Easy Ways to Remember English Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are very important to understand because we use them a lot when we speak. In fact, they’re typical in informal English. If you can use them, you’ll sound more natural!

So, what is a phrasal verb?
A phrasal verb is a verb with a “particle”. For example:
to take up (“take” + particle “up”) = to start a new hobby
to work out (“work” + particle “out”) = solve a problem or do a calculation

Phrasal verbs are often logical. You can understand the meaning of the phrasal verb from the verb and the particle together:
“turn up” the volume = make the volume louder
“turn down” the volume = make the volume quieter

But sometimes they aren’t logical. You can’t understand the meaning from the two parts.
I “put on” a coat (I wear it), but the opposite is “take off” – not “put off”!

You can replace a phrasal verb with a longer verb. For example, we’d say “I can’t put up with his behaviour” in spoken English, but maybe write “I can’t tolerate his behaviour” for more formal English.

Phrasal verbs are typical in spoken, informal English.

The 4 Types of Phrasal Verbs

There are four types of phrasal verbs.

1.Phrasal verb with no object
You don’t need to add anything to this phrasal verb. For example:
“Watch out!”
“He ran away.”

2. Phrasal verb with an object that you can separate. For example:
“work out a calculation”
In this example, “calculation” is the object. You can put it between the verb and the particle (separating the phrasal verb) or at the end.
work out a calculation / work a calculation out
“look up a word”
In this example, “word” is the object. You can separate the phrasal verb or put it at tne end.
look up a word / look a word up

But there is an important rule.
When the object is a pronoun (like “me”, “it”, or “them”) you must put it between the verb and the particle.
“work it out” (not “work out it”)
“look it up” (not “look up it”)

3. Phrasal verb with an object that you can’t separate. For example:
“go into” a room (not “go a room into”)

4. Three-part phrasal verbs. You can’t separate any part of these. For example:
“put up with”
“look up to”

How Can You Learn Phrasal Verbs?

Here are four ways you can learn and use phrasal verbs.

First, it’s important to see and hear them. Luckily, we normally stress the particle when we speak, so it’s easier to hear. For example, we’d say “Put your coat on“, stressing the “on”.

Then, read informal, conversational English. So read blog posts and informal newspapers to see phrasal verbs.

Always check in a dictionary if you don’t understand how a verb is used. When you see phr v in the dictionary, you’ll know that it’s a phrasal verb.

Focus on the particle. Remember – the particle helps you to understand the phrasal verb.

Very often, the particle – not the verb – gives you the meaning.

When you understand the particle, you can often understand the entire phrasal verb.

For “logical” phrasal verbs this is easy. For example, if you “turn up” the volume you make it louder. If you want a person to speak more loudly you can ask them to “speak up”.

Another example. You “check in” to a hotel when you arrive. So when you leave, you “check out”.

But it also helps when the phrasal verb is less logical. For example, we use the particle “up” to mean increase.
You can “add up” numbers, and prices “go up”.

We use “down” to mean reduce.
So prices “go down”. But we can also “cut down” on other things. We can “cut down” on the food we eat, or the money we spend.

There are lots and lots of phrasal verbs in English, and in my Speak Real English program I teach you the most common ones for everyday situations.

If you want to learn more, check out the video below!

My English fluency course “Speak Real English” is launching soon!
Stay tuned for the details…


Did you miss the first post in the series “Speak Real English”?

2 Secrets for a Native English Vocabulary