Study phrasal verbs online

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The grammar

Phrasal verbs are made up of a verb and a particle (or sometimes two particles). The particle can be a preposition or an adverb. Typically, the meaning of the phrasal verb is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves. To complicate matters more, a phrasal verb can often have more than one meaning.

When learning new phrasal verbs, it is important to know if they are transitive or intransitive, separable or inseparable. Let's look at what we mean by this.

Transitive phrasal verbs

Transitive phrasal verbs require an object, i.e. a person or thing that receives the action of the verb. Here are some examples:

- Our neighbours kindly looked after our dog when we went away on holiday.

- John forgot to switch off the light before he went to bed.

- Can you turn down the music, please? I'm trying to study.


Intransitive phrasal verbs

Intransitive phrasal verbs do not require an object. Here are some examples:

- My car broke down on my way to work this morning.

- After almost 5 years together, David and Sarah split up.

- The plane took off as scheduled, at 11:15.


Separable phrasal verbs

When the verb and the particle can be separated by the object, this is a separable phrasal verb. Separable phrasal verbs are, by definition, transitive only. Here are some examples:

- He came into the room and turned the light on (or 'turned on the light').

- I asked her to pick Peter up at the station (or 'pick up Peter').

- She always looks new words up in the dictionary (or 'looks up new words').


Note that when the phrasal verb is separable, if the object is an object pronoun, the object must separate the verb and the particle. For example:

- Peter asked her to pick him up at the station (not 'pick up him').


Inseparable phrasal verbs

Many transitive phrasal verbs can not be separated by the object. These are inseparable phrasal verbs. Here are a few examples:

- He is looking into the possibility of studying abroad next year.

- I came across this old photo when I looking for a book the other day.

- Sally got over her illness very quickly.


Note that two particle phrasal verbs are always inseparable. For example:

- We are all really looking forward to the concert next week. It's going to be great!


So, the grammar is really very straightforward. When you learn a new phrasal verb, you should take note of whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. And if it's transitive, whether it's separable or inseparable.