Phrasal Verb

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Understanding Separable & Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

A PHRASAL VERB may be defined simply as a phraseOpens in new window (such as get up, put on, take out, get away with, give in to, etc.) that combines a verbOpens in new window with a prepositionOpens in new window or an adverbOpens in new window—and sometimes both elements—to form a verb whose meaning is different from the separate meanings of the individual elements.

PHRASAL VERBS are therefore made up of a verb and a following particle.

The particle in this sense, refers to words that function as prepositions or adverbs in other contexts (e.g., up, on, down, out, around) but do not function as prepositions or adverbs when part of a phrasal verb.

In the following sentences, examples of phrasal verbs are presented in bold, and accompanied on the right is their meanings.
  • My vehicle broke down on the highway. → broke + down (spoilt/developed fault.)
  • I think he's making up stories. → making + up (telling lies)
  • He takes after his father. → take + after (He looks/behaves like his father.)
  • I'm counting on you. → count + on (I'm trusting/hoping on you.)

    Difficulty with Phrasal Verbs

    Ambiguity is one reason that phrasal verbs present a challenge to learners of English language because they come with ambiguous meanings.

    The meaning of a phrasal verb cannot always be predicted from the meanings of its individual elements.

    For instance, the meaning of rule out (“eliminate”) cannot be determined by simply understanding what rule means and combining that meaning with the meaning of out.

    As a result, non-native speakers of English language often have difficulty understanding the differences between phrasal verbs such as put off, put out, put on, and put down.

    In some cases, it's even more troublesome to sort out the difference between expressions such as, Let’s put it off until tomorrow and his manner puts me off.

    Phrasal verbs also present difficulties because the words in some are separable; in others, they are not.

  1. When the Words are Separable

    If the words are separable, the parts of the phrasal verb may be separated, and they are always separated when the direct object of a sentence is a pronoun.

    For Example:
    • I put on my coat.
    • I put my coat on.
    • I put it on. And not I put on it.
  2. When the Words are Inseparable

    If the two words are inseparable, they are never separated.

    For Example:
    • I got over my disappointment
    • I got over it. And not I got it over.

Forms of Phrasal Verb

Phrasal verbs fall into two major forms: transitive phrasal verbsOpens in new window and intransitive phrasal verbsOpens in new window. These can be either:

  • separable by which the object may come after the phrasal verb and in some cases separate the two parts, or
  • inseparable by which the phrasal verb that carries the “verb-meaning” cannot be separated from the prepositions (or other parts) that accompany it.
  1. Intransitive Phrasal Verb

    As with intransitive verbsOpens in new window, an intransitive phrasal verb does not transfer action to objects.

    Observe the sentence below:
    • The boy is always acting up.

    The subject here is boy, there is no object in this sentence.

    The following phrasal verbs are not followed by an object, for example:

    • “Once you leave home, you can never really go back again.”

    The following is an overview of Intransitive Phrasal Verbs.

    1. break down (example)
      • Our car could not take us a mile before it broke down.
      Meaning

      to develop fault or stop normal function

    2. catch on (example)
      • Hit single songs seem to catch on in the west before they spread eastward.
      Meaning

      to become boom/fashionable or popular

    3. come in (example)
      • They came in through the back yard.
      Meaning

      to go into a place

    4. come to (example)
      • The patient was able to come to after the brain surgery.
      Meaning

      to recover/regain consciousness

    5. come over (example)
      • Andy called home and promised to come over during the holidays.
      Meaning

      to pay a visit

    6. drop by (example)
      • I was on my way to the office and decided to drop by at Jesse's.
      Meaning

      to make a short visit

    7. eat out (example)
      • When we visited Paris, we loved eating out in the sidewalk cafes.
      Meaning

      to dine in a restaurant

    8. get by (example)
      • Though he earns little but he always get by with his financial needs.
      Meaning

      to have just enough money to survive

    9. give away (example)
      • I bought a Tv at the Simpson's and I was given away a standing fan.
      Meaning

      to give something for free.

    10. get up (example)
      • Grandmother can't get up on her own without a prop.
      Meaning

      to rise from bed/sitting position

    11. go back (example)
      • I may never go back there again.
      Meaning

      to return to a place

    12. go on (example)
      • The ideal practice is to finish one before we go on to the next.
        I wonder what's going on in the next apartment.
      Meaning

      to continue or an occurence/something happening

    13. grow up (example)
      • The baby has a rapid growing up.
      Meaning

      to arrive at physical/mental maturity.

    14. keep away (example)
      • Andy seems to be keeping away from his girl friend.
      Meaning

      to keep distance or avoid someone/something

    15. keep on (example)
      • The band keep on singing despite poor reception from the audience.
      Meaning

      to keep persisting

    16. pass out (example)
      • The patient had passed out before the surgery commenced.
      Meaning

      to faint/lose consciousness

    17. show off (example)
      • The star boys usually show off with their dancing skills.
      Meaning

      to ostentatiously display one's affluence/achievement

    18. show up (example)
      • The couple were among the people who showed up at the movie premier.
      Meaning

      to arrive

    19. wake up (example)
      • I usually woke up late on Saturdays.
      Meaning

      to arise from sleep

  2. Transitive Phrasal Verb

    Transitive phrasal verbs almost always transfer action to objects.

    Observe this sentence:
    • The CEO called off the meeting.

    In this sentence, the ceo is the subject, while the meeting is an object of the phrasal verb called off.

Inseparable Transitive Phrasal Verb

Some transitive phrasal verbs are inseparable in which the phrasal verb that carries the “verb-meaning” cannot be separated from the prepositions (or other parts) that accompany it.

Examples include:
  • I ran into my high school teacher today.
  • They are looking into the problem.

The following is an overview of Inseparable Transitive Verbs.

  1. bear with (example)
    • Thank you for bearing with us as we apologize for the break in transmission.
    Meaning

    being patient

  2. broke into (example)
    • The robbers broke into the shopping mall carting away various items.
    Meaning

    unlawful access/entrance

  3. care for (example)
    • I’m fixing us lunch, hope you will care for a plate of hotdog and doughnut.
    Meaning

    to be interested in something

  4. get over (example)
    • He is yet to get over the trauma of capital market.
    Meaning

    to recover from something

  5. go over (example)
    • The doctors had to go over the patient’s report all over again before reaching a conclusive decision.
    Meaning

    to study/review something

  6. jack up (example)
    • The car must be jacked up before we attempt to fix the propeller.
    Meaning

    to raise up (esp a vehicle)

  7. lay into (example)
    • His wife cuss and lay into him when he came home drunk last night.
    Meaning

    to severely scold

  8. look after (example)
    • my dad always look after his pet.
    Meaning

    to take care of

  9. look into (example)
    • The authority came in asking questions, taking notes in attempt to look into the fire incident.
    Meaning

    to investigate

  10. run across (example)
    • I can’t believe you ran across an old friend you haven’t seen in 8 years.
    Meaning

    to meet up someone by sheer chance

  11. run for (example)
    • I think john has interest in running for the senatorial seat.
    Meaning

    to campaign for a political position

  12. see to(example)
    • As soon as I get the documents, I’ll see to it that the proceedings be done.
    Meaning

    to ensure something happens

  13. stand for (example)
    • I’m standing for the GM at the moment.
    Meaning

    to represent

  14. take after (example)
    • The young child take after her mum.
    Meaning

    resembling another

  15. take after (example)
    • The young child take after her mum.
    Meaning

    resembling another

  16. wind up (example)
    • She simply needs to rediscover herself unless she wants to wind up in frustration.
    Meaning

    to end or finish(informal)

Separable Transitive Verb

Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable, making room for the object to be placed between the verb and the preposition.

The object may come after the following phrasal verbs or it may separate the two parts.

For Example:
  • You have to do over this fumigation exercise.
  • You have to do this fumigation exercise over.

Notice the separation in the second sentence (this fumigation exercise coming between do and over.)

When the object of the following phrasal verbs is a pronoun, the two parts of the phrasal verb must be separated, i.e, You have to do it over.

The following is an Overview of Separable Phrasal Verbs.

  1. blow up (example)
    • The impact of the accident blew up the vehicle.
    Meaning

    explode

  2. bring up (example)
    • The lawyer brought up the defendant's money laundering issue before the jurors.
    Meaning

    mention an issue

  3. bring up (example)
    • It's a difficult task bringing up children nowadays.
    Meaning

    to raise children

  4. call off (example)
    • The morning assembly was called off.
    Meaning

    cancel

  5. do over(example)
    • I have to do this client's work over.
    Meaning

    to repeat a job

  6. fill out (example)
    • you must follow the instruction and fill out the questionaire.
    Meaning

    to complete a form

  7. fill up (example)
    • The supplies filled up the store house.
    Meaning

    to fill to capacity

  8. find out (example)
    • The police found out the secret hideout of the hoodlums.
    Meaning

    to discover

  9. give away (example)
    • I bought a Tv at the Simpson's and I was given away a standing fan.
    Meaning

    to give something for free

  10. give back (example)
    • He has not given back the money I lent him.
    Meaning

    to return an item or make a refund

  11. hand in (example)
    • The student handed in their papers before the stoppage time.
    Meaning

    to submit something

  12. hang up (example)
    • She hung up the phone before she hung up her clothes.
    Meaning

    to put something on hook

  13. hold up (example)
    • The meeting was held up for 30 minutes.
    Meaning

    to delay

  14. hold up (2nd example)
    • A gang of six robbers held up the bank.
    Meaning

    to rub

  15. leave out (example)
    • The part with a prolonged kissing was left out during the movie reviews.
    Meaning

    to omit

  16. look over (example)
    • The lawyers looked over the papers carefully before questioning the witness. (They looked them over carefully.)
    Meaning

    to cross examine/cross check

  17. look up (example)
    • There are mispelled spellings in the write up. You may need to look it up.
    Meaning

    to find out or investigate information

  18. make up (example)
    • He knew his father was bound to reprimand him, so he made up stories to exonerate himself.
    Meaning

    to tell a lie (esp. making up stories)

  19. make out (example)
    • The connection was blurred. I could not make out what he was saying.
    Meaning

    to understand

  20. pick out (example)
    • She was able to pick out her boyfriend in the dark.
    Meaning

    to choose/find or recognise

  21. pick up (example)
    • The crane picked up the generator and its compartment. (Watch them pick it up.)
    Meaning

    to lift something off its location

  22. point out (example)
    • She pointed out at the house that the robbery took place.
    Meaning

    to direct attention to someone/something

  23. put away (example)
    • We put away money for our retirement. She put away the cereal boxes.
    Meaning

    to store/keep or save in its usual place

  24. put off (example)
    • The meeting has been put off untill next Tuesday. (They put it off for Tuesday)
    Meaning

    to postpone

  25. put on (example)
    • We need to put on something nice and look presentable.
    Meaning

    to have clothe worn on the body

  26. put out (example)
    • The firefighters had the fire put out before it could spread. (They put it out quickly.)
    Meaning

    to extinguish

  27. read over (example)
    • The document is typographical error free. I read it over time, and time again.
    Meaning

    to read a piece carefully

  28. set up (example)
    • The interior decor set up the house to suit my preference.
    Meaning

    to arrange/start something

  29. take down (example)
    • The student took down notes during the lecture.
    Meaning

    to separate into pieces or write down information

  30. take off (example)
    • The room was so hot that I had to take off my clothes.
    Meaning

    to have one's clothing removed

  31. throw away(example)
    • John threw away the gadget because it stopped working (He threw his gadget away.)
    Meaning

    to have something discarded

  32. try on (example)
    • She tried on fifteen dresses before she found one she liked.
    Meaning

    to put clothing on, to see if it fits

  33. try out (example)
    • She tried out different methods before maintaining one she uses.
    Meaning

    to test/sample something

  34. turn down (example)
    • She wasn't at all pleased with the offer, so she turned it down.
    Meaning

    to bring the volume lower or reject something

  35. turn up (example)
    • John turned up at Gretchen's birthday party.
    Meaning

    to increase volume up or arrive in attendance.

  36. turn off (example)
    • I have finished my project. I can now turn off the computer.
    Meaning

    to switch off/stop an electronic working temporarily.

  37. turn on (example)
    • John turned on the TV set.
    Meaning

    to switch on an electronic to a working condition

  38. use up (example)
    • Can you imagine she used up the data plan.
    Meaning

    to exhaust something

Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

With the following phrasal verbs, you will find three parts. For example:

  • “My brother dropped out of school before he could graduate.”
  1. break in on (example)
    • I was talking to Mom on the phone when the operator broke in on our call.
    Meaning

    to interrupt on something

  2. catch up with (example)
    • We usually listen to the evening news to catch up with recent information.
    Meaning

    to stay abreast

  3. check up on (example)
    • The board decided to check up on the gas plants from time to time.
    Meaning

    to examine/investigate

  4. come up with (example)
    • Every member of the team come up with one thing or the other to support the team.
    Meaning

    to contribute/provide money or form an idea to support a cause

  5. cut down on (example)
    • The company has laid out plans to cut down on production to level with demand.
    Meaning

    to reduce something (esp. expenses)

  6. drop out of (example)
    • I hope none of my students drop out of school this semester.
    Meaning

    to leave school

  7. get along with (example)
    • Andy doesn't seem to get along with his sister.
    Meaning

    to have a good relationship with a person

  8. get away with (example)
    • She has a way of getting away with her laziness.
    Meaning

    to escape/go unpunished

  9. get rid of (example)
    • The bad programs were gotten rid of.
    Meaning

    to eliminate/destroy

  10. get through with (example)
    • He finally got through with the project last night.
    Meaning

    to finish/done with

  11. keep up with (example)
    • It's difficult to keep up with the Tigers when you drop vital points.
    Meaning

    to maintain pace with

  12. look forward to (example)
    • It's an interesting fixture. I am looking forward to the outcome of the game.
    Meaning

    to anticipate with excitement

  13. look down on (example)
    • There is tendency for humans to look down on others.
    Meaning

    to despise

  14. look in on (example)
    • We were going to look in on him.
    Meaning

    to visit

  15. look out for (example)
    • Good instructors will look out for early signs of failure in their students.
    Meaning

    to be vigilant/watchful

  16. look up to (example)
    • First-graders really look up to their teachers.
    Meaning

    to admire or hold someone in high esteem

  17. make sure of (example)
    • You must make sure of their PIN before granting anyone of them access to the theatre.
    Meaning

    to verify

  18. put up with (example)
    • I can't put up with John's finicky attitude.
    Meaning

    to tolerate

  19. run out of (example)
    • We have ran out of printing materials.
    Meaning

    to exhaust something

  20. take care of (example)
    • We were taken care of by our elder brother.
    Meaning

    to take responsibility of someone/something

  21. talk back to (example)
    • Andy suddenly became furious and talked back to his father.
    Meaning

    to reply impolitely

  22. think back on (example)
    • I sometimes think back on my childhood experience.
    Meaning

    to recall

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