What Are Phrasal Verbs?

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

A phrasal verb is a verb combined with a preposition or adverb (or both) that means something different from each of the words that make up the verb.


Take (verb)  / Off (preposition)  / Take off (phrasal verb) - take off can meaning different things depending on the content such as; leave, remove, & improve

Look (verb) / out (preposition) / Look out (phrasal verb) - look out means be careful.

As you can see above, phrasal verbs have a completely different meaning to the verb. This is where a lot of people learning English find it difficult to learn phrasal verbs. Native English speakers just know them like any other word or expression in the English language.

Separable or Inseparable

There are two types of phrasal verbs. Separable phrasal verbs can be broken up by other words, while inseparable phrasal verbs cannot be separated by other words.

Separable phrasal verb example:

Can you take your shoes off?

Can you take off your shoes?

In the example above, you can see that the preposition can be separated from the verb or not. In the example above, take off means to remove and can be used in both ways.

Inseparable phrasal verb example:

When will the plane take off?

Here, the meaning of take off is to leave. When the phrasal verb take off has this meaning, we cannot separate the the verb and preposition.

Look out for the car!

In the example above, we cannot separate the preposition from the verb. I would be strange to say: “Look for the car out” (wrong)

More information about phrasal verbs

In the English language we have over 50,000 phrasal verbs! Yes, that’s correct over 50,000! Think of all the verbs we have in the English language, then think about all the prepositions and some adverbs and try to put them together. There are a lot!

Let’s just look at the verb take and see how many variations we have (there are more but this is just an example).

  • Take off
  • Take in
  • Take out
  • Take on
  • Take down
  • Take away
  • Take apart
  • Take after
  • Take over
  • Take up

As you can see, we already have 10 phrasal verbs with just the verb take (and there are more). And to make things a bit more complicated, each phrasal verb can have more than one meaning. Some phrasal verbs have up to 15 meanings depending on the context.

As an exercise for you to learn more about phrasal verbs, I suggest you use Google to check how many meanings each of the phrasal verbs above has.

If you want to learn more about phrasal verbs, consider joining our English courses in Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah.


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