Phrasal Verbs‏‎ in English

A phrasal verb is a verb‏‎ and preposition which together mean something different from the individual parts.

For example:

The little boy was racing along the corridor when he ran into his teacher.

In this example the boy was running and he literally ran into his teacher and knocked him over. Here the phrase ran into is not a phrasal verb.

However, look at this example:

I was walking down the street when I ran into my old principle.

In this case I was not running at all, I was strolling casually! Here we have ran + into which work together to mean meet by accident. This is a phrasal verb.

About Phrasal Verbs

In modern English there are many words‏ which have a Latin origin. A lot of these are verbs‏‎.

For many of these Latin based verbs there are also English phrasal verbs which mean the same thing. For example:

Original Latin  – English English  – Phrasal Verb
manu tenere  – maintain  – keep up
tolerare  – tolerate  – put up with
succedere  – succeed  – come off

As you can see English uses a modern version of the Latin alongside an equivalent phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs tend to be used in everyday speech and informal writing whilst Latin based verbs are more scientific and formal.

Forming Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by a preposition or adverb‏‎:

{verb} + {preposition/adverb}

run + into

look + after

pull + off

Meaning in Phrasal Verbs

The meaning of a phrasal verb is very different from the meaning of the two words taken together:

go = leave

off = from


go off = become bad, moldy

The same phrasal verb can also have several very different meanings:

take off = remove

take off = imitate

take off = leave the ground

Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Because the meaning of a phrasal verb can’t be guessed by looking at the individual parts, it’s best to teach phrasal verbs as a set phrase in your TEFL class. When you are going through a text with the class and a phrasal verb comes up, by all means check that the class understands it and if not then teach it.

But don’t give out lists of phrasal verbs and get your class to learn them. This is pretty pointless.

No. Simply put, teach them as they come up; teach them as a set phrase.

Objects with Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs can stand alone or be followed by a direct object:

{phrasal verb} + [direct object]

She took off her coat.

The plane took off.

When a phrasal verb takes a direct object, the two parts of the verb can usually be separated and the adverb or preposition can be put before or after the object:

She took off her coat.

She took her coat off.

But if the object is a pronoun, it must break the phrasal verb in two:

She took it off.

* She took off it.

3-Part Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs consist of 3 parts. These function just like 2-part phrasal verbs except that they can never be split.

{verb} + {adverb} + {preposition}

She did away with her husband.

You must not go back on your promise.

See Also
Common Phrasal Verbs‏‎ – a list of common phrasal verbs.

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Posted in Parts of Speech.

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