Introduction to Phrasal Verbs


This week we’re going to begin talking about phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is an idiomatic expression consisting of a verb plus an adverb or preposition. The addition of the adverb/preposition gives the verb a different meaning than it has on its own.


If you need more help with phrasal verbs or any other aspect of the English language, contact the English Island in Atlanta. Our passionate, dedicated ESL teachers can create a lesson plan that is tailored to your individual needs.


 Phrasal Verbs in Action


Each student must turn in his or her research paper topic by the end of the week.


“Turn in” means to “submit” something, in this case the topic for a research paper.


Be sure to look up a familiar-looking word before you use it in a conversation. English has many false friends with other languages.


“Look up” means to “research” or search in a list.


Intransitive and Transitive Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs are intransitive. This means that they cannot take direct objects:


After sleeping for ten hours, Mark finally woke up.


“Wake up,” meaning “to awaken,” cannot take a direct object.


Other phrasal verbs are transitive and can take direct objects:


My brother agreed to look after my cat while I’m away.


“Look after” means “to care for” someone or something. In this example, the object being cared for is “my cat.”


Separable and Inseparable Transitive Phrasal Verbs

Transitive phrasal verbs can be either separable or inseparable. When using a separable transitive phrasal verb, you can “interrupt” the phrase by placing the object between the verb and the preposition. Consider “look up,” which we used earlier in this lesson:


Maria always looks new words up to make sure that she understands their meanings.

Maria always looks up new words to make sure that she understands their meanings.


The object, “new words,” can be placed either between “look” and “up” or after the entire phrase.


Other transitive phrasal verbs cannot be separated by an object:


Because of rising tuition prices, George went through his entire college fund in less than a year.


“Go through,” which means to “consume or use up,” cannot be interrupted by “college fund.” If you try to separate an inseparable phrasal verb, you will end up with a sentence that sounds intuitively “wrong” to most native English speakers:


George went his entire college fund through in less than a year.



That’s all for this week’s lesson on phrasal verbs. Next week, we’ll discuss more advanced phrasal verb topics, including three-word phrasal verbs and using p