Phrasal Verb


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.

      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.

      to become boom/fashionable or popular

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

      to go into a place

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

      to recover/regain consciousness

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

      to pay a visit

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

      to make a short visit

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

      to dine in a restaurant

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

      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.

      to give something for free.

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

      to rise from bed/sitting position

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

      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.

      to continue or an occurence/something happening

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

      to arrive at physical/mental maturity.

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

      to keep distance or avoid someone/something

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

      to keep persisting

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

      to faint/lose consciousness

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

      to ostentatiously display one's affluence/achievement

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

      to arrive

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

      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.

    being patient

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

    unlawful access/entrance

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

    to be interested in something

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

    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.

    to study/review something

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

    to raise up (esp a vehicle)

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

    to severely scold

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

    to take care of

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

    to investigate

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

    to meet up someone by sheer chance

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

    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.

    to ensure something happens

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

    to represent

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

    resembling another

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

    resembling another

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

    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.


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

    mention an issue

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

    to raise children

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


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

    to repeat a job

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

    to complete a form

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

    to fill to capacity

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

    to discover

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

    to give something for free

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

    to return an item or make a refund

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

    to submit something

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

    to put something on hook

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

    to delay

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

    to rub

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

    to omit

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

    to cross examine/cross check

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

    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.

    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.

    to understand

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

    to choose/find or recognise

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

    to lift something off its location

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

    to direct attention to someone/something

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

    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)

    to postpone

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

    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.)

    to extinguish

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

    to read a piece carefully

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

    to arrange/start something

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

    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.

    to have one's clothing removed

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

    to have something discarded

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

    to put clothing on, to see if it fits

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

    to test/sample something

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

    to bring the volume lower or reject something

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

    to increase volume up or arrive in attendance.

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

    to switch off/stop an electronic working temporarily.

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

    to switch on an electronic to a working condition

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

    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.

    to interrupt on something

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

    to stay abreast

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

    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.

    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.

    to reduce something (esp. expenses)

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

    to leave school

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

    to have a good relationship with a person

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

    to escape/go unpunished

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

    to eliminate/destroy

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

    to finish/done with

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

    to maintain pace with

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

    to anticipate with excitement

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

    to despise

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

    to visit

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

    to be vigilant/watchful

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

    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.

    to verify

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

    to tolerate

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

    to exhaust something

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

    to take responsibility of someone/something

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

    to reply impolitely

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

    to recall

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