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Phrasal Verbs? No Problem.

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If you’re learning English, you’ve definitely heard about Phrasal Verbs. Phrasal verbs are a rather complex piece of language, and language learners often have trouble connecting some phrasal verbs to their meanings. Why is that? A phrasal verb has a different meaning to that of the original verb – but this is also what makes them fun! Let’s take a look at the 3 possible structures of a phrasal verb:

  • (verb) + (adverb)
  • (verb) + (preposition)
  • (verb) + (adverb) + (preposition)


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Phrasal verbs are used quite often in everyday speech, usually in place of a more formal expression. Here are a couple of examples:

I need to write an essay by next week, but I keep postponing it.

I need to write an essay by next week, but I keep putting it off.

She was seen exiting the car at 7 pm.

She was seen getting out of the car at 7 pm.


But wait!

There are many verbs in English which are followed by prepositions or adverbs used in a literal sense. When something is described as ‘literal’, it is to be taken in its most basic sense:

If you look up, you will see a beautiful blue sky. [Literal]

I don’t know what this word mean. I’m going to look it up in a dictionary. [Meaning ‘to search for’]


Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb can be transitive or intransitive. The best way to understand the difference between these two types of verbs is by trying to find the direct object. The direct object is a noun or noun phrase referring to a person or thing which is receiving the action of a transitive verb. To sum up –


Transitive phrasal verbs have a direct object:

E.g. I will set up a meeting with the manager.

Studying phrasal verbs

What is being ‘set up’? The meeting with the manager.

John gave up smoking 5 years ago.

What did John ‘give up’ 5 years ago? Smoking.

Intransitive phrasal verbs have no direct object:

E.g. Francesco said he would meet us at 6pm, but he never showed up.

Katy grew up in Brighton, England.

Remember! Some phrasal verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, with different meanings:

E.g. look up

Transitive: It is important to look up any new vocabulary in a dictionary.

Here, ‘look up’ means to search for something.

Intransitive: It has been a difficult year, but things are starting to look up.

Now, ‘look up’ means to get better or improve.

Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

A large number of phrasal verbs are transitive, meaning that they take an object. There are some specific rules for using this type of phrasal verb.

Let’s take a look at some examples:


learning phrasal verbsE.g. write down [separable]

Ali wrote down some important notes during the lesson.

Ali wrote everything down during the lesson.


E.g. run into [inseparable]

We always run into Daniel at parties. Correct

We always run Daniel into parties. Incorrect 


*To run into: to meet someone unexpectedly, without planning to do so.

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