Rob Lane

By Rob Lane

Phrasal verbs are often frightening for learners. While they are commonly used by native speakers, learners have difficulty understanding and using them. A phrasal verb is a verb comprised of a verb and one or two propositions.

James picked Sam up from the station.
Joan is looking forward to her vacation.

In the classroom, dictionaries, and textbooks, a broad definition of phrasal verbs is used. A more restricted definition does not include phrasal verbs that have a literal sense. This article will apply the broad definition.

Some of the difficulties involved in learning and using phrasal verbs are that they can have multiple senses, which may be transitive or intransitive, separability and use of pronouns. In this article, we will look at each of these issues and recommend a framework of how to approach learning phrasal verbs.


Where do phrasal verbs come from?
Phrasal verbs have a number of different origins. In some cases, they are used in place of another verb that is not well known, or to create a verb for an idea not otherwise represented.


Some people say that phrasal verbs are informal. I disagree. In some cases, it may be more traditionally professional to use a single word verb instead.e.x put off instead of postpone. One must remember that in many cases, there may be no alternative to the phrasal verb or the single word verb may not be commonly known. Answer? Don’t worry about it.


Why do native speakers use them so much?
The majority of native speakers do not know what a phrasal verb is but use them all the time. Because the component words are usually simple, they are easy to use. Plus, one phrasal verb can have many senses.

Before you do anything else, you should get a phrasal verb dictionary. These can be found and printed from the internet, bought as a book, or just ask your teacher.


What should I do when I come across a new phrasal verb?

Firstly, you should search for the phrasal verb in your phrasal verb dictionary.

Next, you should look for any additional senses. For each sense, it is necessary to know if it is transitive (takes an object) or intransitive.

Next, if it is transitive, you need to know if it can be separated (if you can put the object between the verb and preposition)

Note: If it can be separated, and you want to use a pronoun as the object, you must put it in the central position.

He picked her up from the station.



Pick up (v)
Lift (Transitive, separable) – He picked up the pen.
Collect (Transitive, separable) – She picked her friend up from the airport.
Improve (Intransitive) – Sales picked up in the final quarter.
Learn by experience (Transitive, separable) – I picked up some new vocabulary.

Look forward to (v)
Having a positive expectation (Intransitive) – I’m looking forward to my holiday.


You Should

Focus on a list of the most frequently used phrasal verbs and apply the process above. Take a few each week and put the time into study and practice them. Create dialogues using the verbs and have these checked by a teacher.