Phrasal Verbs

'Blow up', 'get over', and 'put up with' are just a few of the thousands of phrasal verbs in English. A phrasal verb (PV) is a combination of a verb and one or more adverb/s or preposition/s. Phrasal verbs function as a single grammatical unit and have a different meaning than its individual words. For example, get means to retrieve something, and over means to be above something. However, when used together as a PV, get over means to recover from a cold or relationship. It took a week to get over her cold.

Commonly used in informal speech, phrasal verbs often take the place of more formal words.  A native English speaker would say, "I ran into (informal) a friend." rather than, "I encountered (formal) a friend." PVs are also referred to as two-part verbs, multi-word verbs, or composite verbs. Phrasal verbs are an important component of the English language and are used primarily in casual conversation and informal situations. Learning PVs is essential to understanding everyday interactions and communicating naturally in English.

Types of Phrasal Verbs

There are three types of Phrasal Verbs: verb + adverb (get up), verb + preposition (get to), and verb + adverb + preposition (get away with). In the U.S., the term phrasal verb commonly refers to all three types. However, some curricula use a specific term for each type: phrasal verb (verb + adverb), prepositional verb (verb + preposition), and phrasal prepositional verb (verb + adverb + preposition). 

Specific Term  Combination Example
Phrasal Verb Verb + Adverb get up (awake) 
Prepositional Verb Verb + Preposition get to (allow)
Phrasal Prepositional Verb Verb + Adv. + Prep. get away with (not punished for a bad action)

Grammar for Phrasal Verbs

All phrasal verbs function as verbs. Phrasal verbs can be divided into two grammatical categories, intransitive and transitive verbs. An intransitive PV, like an intransitive verb, does not take a direct object. A transitive PV requires a direct object.

There are three forms of transitive PVs. Inseparable: The direct object follows directly after the adverb or preposition and the words do not separate.  Separable / Splittable: This form can use the standard word order but can also separate or split the PV with the direct object (usually a pronoun) in the middle. Two Objects: The third type has both an indirect and direct object. 

  1. Intransitive PV: I woke up at 7 a.m. / He came down with a cold.  
  2. Transitive PV:  
  • Inseparable: He takes after his father.
  • Separable / Splittable:  I turned on the T.V. I turned it on
  • Two Objects: I will fix you up with a tutor.
    Phrasal Verbs can use all tenses.
    • Present Tense - I go over phrasal verbs every day.
    • Past Tense -  I went over phrasal verbs yesterday.
    • Future Tense - I will go over phrasal verbs tomorrow.

     Phrasal verbs can show different aspects. 

    • Simple - We go over vocabulary every day.
    • Continuous - We are going over vocabulary right now.
    • Perfect - We have gone over vocabulary for 10 minutes.
    • Perfect Continuous - We have been going over vocabulary for all year.

    Teaching Methods

    Teaching phrasal verbs can be challenging for several reasons. With over 10,000 PVs in the English language, it is impossible to teach all of the PVs! Different countries and different regions of large countries use different PVs. A person from Britain would say 'pop by' while a person from the U.S. would say 'drop by'. One phrasal verb may have multiple meanings (check out -1. Pay for purchases at a store. 2. Pay a bill at a hotel and leave. 3. Look at something or someone who is interesting/attractive. 4. Determine if something is true. 5. Borrow a book from a library.). Different meanings will often use different grammatical forms (Intransitive - He checked out of the hotel. Transitive, Separable - I checked a book out from the library.).

    So how do you choose which phrasal verbs to teach? Start with a list of the common phrasal verbs and then add those which your students will encounter most often. At what level should PVs be taught? Since phrasal verbs are used in everyday speech, they should be taught at all levels as vocabulary. The grammatical usage can be taught after students understand direct objects.

    There are a wide variety of methods to teach PVs. Most ESL and EFL teachers focus on phrasal verbs as vocabulary words. Context enables English learners to understand their meaning.  Different methods create different connections enabling students to better remember the phrasal verb and its meaning. Choosing the best teaching method depends on your students' needs and your teaching situation. Below are some common teaching methods. No matter which method you use, it is important to teach the definition and practice using PVs in both oral and written sentences.

    1. In Context - Identify PVs in a reading passage, song, or video. 
    2. By Topic - Teach all the health PVs (throw up-vomit, pass out-faint, etc.)
    3. 5 Minute Warm-Ups - Teach 1-3 PVs each day.
    4. By Grammar - Practice 10 Separable Transitive PVs.
    5. Same Verb - (get up, get by, get over, etc)
    6. Same Preposition - (put on, try on, turn on, etc)
    7. Same Adverb - (get up, stand up, start up, etc)

      As with any new vocabulary, repetition and practice are necessary. Keep up the good work.

      Happy Teaching!




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