Phrasal Verbs

"Drop off", "back down", 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 adverbs or prepositions. PVs are also referred to as two-part verbs, multi-word verbs, or composite verbs. Phrasal verbs function as a single grammatical unit and have a different meaning than their 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 broken 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  speaker would say, "I ran into (informal) a friend." rather than, "I encountered (formal) a friend."  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 Meaning
Phrasal Verb Verb + Adverb get up awake
Prepositional Verb Verb + Preposition get to  perform a task
Phrasal Prepositional Verb Verb + Adv. + Prep. get away with  not punished for a bad action


All phrasal verbs function as verbs. Like all verbs, they can express all tenses and aspects.

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.

 All Aspects

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

Phrasal Verbs can be divided into two types of verbs, intransitive and transitive verbs. Intransitive PVs do not take a direct object. Transitive PVs must have a direct object.

Transitive phrasal verbs can be subdivided into inseparable and separable types. 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. Some transitive PVs can take both an indirect and direct object. 

Intransitive Phrasal Verbs: No object.

  • woke up at 7 a.m. / He came down with a cold.  
Transitive Phrasal Verbs:  Has one or two objects
  • Inseparable: He takes after his father.
  • Separable / SplittableI turned on the T.V. I turned it on

        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! Second, different countries and different regions of large countries use different phrasal verbs. A Brit would say "pop by" (impromptu visit) while an American would say "drop by". Thirdly, one phrasal verb may have multiple meanings. For example, "check out" means 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. Lastly, different meanings will often use different grammatical forms. 

        • Intransitive - He checked out of the hotel. 
        • Transitive and 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 for your age group, level, or subject. Then add those which your students will encounter most often.

        At what level should phrasal verbs be taught? Since phrasal verbs are used in everyday speech, they should be taught at all levels as new vocabulary. The grammatical usage can be taught after students understand transitive verbs and direct objects.

        There are a wide variety of methods to teach PVs. Most English language teachers focus on phrasal verbs as new vocabulary words. Context enables English students 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. No matter which method you use, it is important to teach the definition/s and practice using PVs in both oral and written sentences. Below are some common teaching methods.

        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. 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)

          Just like all new vocabulary, repetition and practice are necessary. "Keep up" the good work.

          Happy Teaching! 

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