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What Are Phrasal Verbs? (with Examples)

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

A phrasal verb is a verb made up of a verb and another word (either a preposition or a particle). Here are some examples of phrasal verbs:
  • to catch up
  • to blow up
  • to break in
  • to break down
  • to cut back
A phrasal verb has a different meaning to the verb used in the phrasal verb. (For example, to catch up does not mean the same as to catch.)

A phrasal verb is also known as multi-word verb or a compound verb.

There Are Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs are transitive (i.e., they can take a direct object), and some phrasal verbs are intransitive (i.e., do not take a direct object).

Here are some examples of transitive phrasal verbs. (The phrasal verbs are shaded and the direct objects are in bold.)
  • Fill in the form as quickly as possible.
  • Did you go over those reports last night?
  • I will look into it immediately.
  • I felt compelled to hand the purse in .
  • (Note: Some phrasal verbs are separable. There is more on this below.)
Here are some examples of intransitive phrasal verbs. (The phrasal verbs are shaded. Of course, there are no direct objects.)
  • If you're unhappy, please stand up .
  • The lorry is starting to drop back.
  • The tree could fall down.
  • Do not give in.
Some phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive depending on their meaning. For example:
  • She will show up soon.
  • (This is intransitive. It means "She will appear soon.")
  • She will show up the opposition.
  • (This is transitive. It means "She will embarrass the opposition.")

There Are Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable. This means the direct object appears between the verb and the preposition. For example:
  • I will make you up to look like a princess.
  • She talked her father into letting her attend the party.
Some transitive phrasal verbs are inseparable. This means the direct object appears after the preposition. For example:
  • She looks up to her sister.
  • You must stick to the plan at all costs.
Lots of transitive phrasal verbs can be used in a separable way or an inseparable way. For example:
  • He looked my address up on the National Voter Register.
  • (This is the separable way.)
  • He looked up my address on the National Voter Register.
  • (This is the inseparable way.)
  • He looked it up on the National Voter Register.
  • (Note: When the direct object is a pronoun (like it), you cannot use the inseparable way.)
  • He looked up it on the National Voter Register.
  • (You cannot use the inseparable way when the direct object is a pronoun.)
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Is the Accompanying Word a Particle or a Preposition?

A phrasal verb is a single verb made up of more than one word. A phrasal verb is made up of a verb and an accompanying word (or words). The accompanying word (or words) is classified as either a preposition or a particle.

When the accompanying word introduces a prepositional phrase, it is classified as a preposition. If it does not, it is classified as a particle. For example (phrasal verbs shaded):
  • She takes after her mother.
  • (In this example, the prepositional phrase is after her mother. The word after is a preposition.)
  • Please think it over.
  • (In this example, the word over does not introduce a prepositional phrase. Therefore, it is a particle as opposed to a preposition.)
  • I can stand in for you next week.
  • (In this example, the word in is a particle but the word for is a preposition as it introduces the prepositional phrase for you.)
Read more about prepositional phrases.