Most Commonly Used Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal Verbs 101 Guide

Phrasal verbs are an integral part of the English language, and knowing them is crucial for clear and effective communication. This post provides an in-depth look at what phrasal verbs are and how to construct and use them in English correctly.

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and a particle (preposition, adverb). The particle can change the meaning of the verb completely.

For example:

  • Break down:
    • The car broke down on the highway. (The car stopped functioning.)
  • Break up:
    • They decided to break up after years of dating. (They ended their romantic relationship.)
  • Break into:
    • Someone tried to break into our house last night. (Someone attempted to enter the house illegally.)

Types of Phrasal Verbs

  1. Transitive Phrasal Verbs: These phrasal verbs need a direct object to complete their meaning. For example, when you say “turn off the lights,” where “lights” is the direct object influenced by the verb and preposition combination.
  2. Intransitive Phrasal Verbs: These verbs do not require a direct object and can stand alone. For instance, “She woke up early,” where the phrasal verb “woke up” doesn’t need an object to convey its meaning.
  3. Separable Phrasal Verbs: In these verbs, the particle can be placed between the main verb and the object or at the end of the sentence. For example, “They called the meeting off” and “They called off the meeting” are both correct.
  4. Inseparable Phrasal Verbs: In this case, the particle is always attached to the verb, and the verb and particle cannot be separated. Consider “She takes after her mother” or “He looks up to his older brother.”
Phrasal verbMeaningExample
Become ofHappen toIf she is sent to prison, what will become of her children?
blow upexplodeThey tried to blow up the railroad station.
bring upmention a topicPlease fill out this application form and mail it in.
bring upraise childrenIt isn’t easy to bring up children nowadays.
call offCancelThey called off this afternoon’s meeting
do overrepeat a jobDo this homework over.
Deal withtake action to do somethingI spent the morning dealing with my exercises.
fill outcomplete a formmake out,
fill upfill to capacityShe filled up the grocery cart with free food.
find outdiscoverMy sister found out that her husband had been planning a surprise party for her
give awaygive something to someone else for freeThe filling station was giving away free gas.
give backreturn an objectMy brother borrowed my car. I have a feeling he’s not about to give it back.
Give upcease making an effortThe boxer gave up the fight in the middle of round 3
Give up (2)stop doing somethingTom gave up smoking last year
Have overCome to visit or stay withWe’re having the Simpsons over for supper on Tuesday evening.
hand insubmit something (assignment)The students handed in their papers and left the room.
hang upput something on-hook or receiverShe hung up the phone before she hung up her clothes.
hold updelayI hate to hold up the meeting, but I have to go to the bathroom.
hold up (2)robThree masked gunmen held up the Security Bank this afternoon.
Kick outto force someone to leave a place or organizationSonia’s been kicked out of her house.
Look forsearch for someone or somethingI’m looking for Jim. Have you seen him?
leave outomitYou left out the part about the police chase down Asylum Avenue.
look overexamine, checkThe lawyers looked over the papers carefully before questioning the witness. (They looked them over carefully.)
look upsearch in a listYou’ve misspelled this word again. You’d better look it up.
make upinvent a story or lieShe knew she was in trouble, so she made up a story about going to the movies with her friends.
save, or storehear, understandHe was so far away, that we really couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Make out (2)to write all the necessary information on a documentShe made out a cheque and handed it to me.
pick outchooseThere were three men in the lineup. She picked out the guy she thought had stolen her purse.
pick uplift something off something elseThe crane picked up the entire house. (Watch them pick it up.)
point outcall attention toAs we drove through Paris, Francoise pointed out the major historical sites.
put awayread over the homework but couldn’t make any sense of it.We put away money for our retirement / She put away the cereal boxes.
put offpostpone/delay We asked the boss to put off the meeting until tomorrow. (Please put it off for another day.)
put onput clothing on the bodyput on a sweater and a jacket. (I put them on quickly.)
put outextinguishThe firefighters put out the house fire before it could spread. (They put it out quickly.)
Read outSpeak loudlyHe reads the list of names out.
read overperuseread over the homework, but couldn’t make any sense of it.
Sit upto go to bed later than usualWe sat up very late yesterday talking
set upto arrange, beginMy wife set up the living room exactly the way she wanted it.
take downmake a written noteThese are your instructions. Write them down before you forget.
take offremove clothingIt was so hot that I had to take off my shirt.
Take off (2)copy someone for funBeth can take off Mr. Bean brilliantly.
Take upto start doing something as a habit or jobChris has taken up jogging.
talk overdiscussWe have serious problems here. Let’s talk them over like adults.
throw awaydiscardThat’s a lot of money! Don’t just throw it away.
try onto put on a piece of clothing to see how it looksWhat a lovely dress! Why don’t you try it on?
try outtesttried out four cars before I could find one that pleased me.
turn downlower volumeYour radio is driving me crazy! Please turn it down.
turn down (2)rejectIt was an awful movie. It really turned me off.
turn upraise the volumeGrandpa couldn’t hear, so he turned up his hearing aid.
turn offswitch off electricityWe turned off the lights so that the baby could sleep.
turn off (2)repulseIt was an awful movie. It turned me off.
turn onswitch on the electricityTurn on that TV set, please.
use upexhaust, use completelyThe gang members used up all the money and went out to rob some more banks.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs (Transitive)

With the following phrasal verbs, the lexical part of the verb (the part of the phrasal verb that carries the “‎verb-meaning”) cannot be separated from the prepositions (or other parts) that accompany it: “Who will look after my estate when I’m gone?”‎
Phrasal verbMeaningExample
call onask to recite in classThe teacher called on students in the back row.
call on (2)visitThe old minister continued to call on his sick parishioners.
get overrecover from sickness or disappointmentI got over the flu but don’t know if I’ll ever get over my broken heart.
go overreviewThe students went over the material before the exam. They should have gone over it twice.
go throughuse up; consumeThe country went through most of its coal reserves in one year. Did it go through all his money already?
look aftertake care ofMy mother promised to look after my cat while I was gone.
look intoinvestigateThe police will look into the possibilities of embezzlement.
run acrossfind by chanceran across my old roommate at the college reunion.
run intomeetCarlos ran into his English professor in the hallway.
take afterresembleMy second son seems to take after his mother.
wait onserveIt seemed strange to see my old boss wait on tables.

Three-Word Phrasal Verbs (Transitive)

With the following phrasal verbs, you will find three parts: “My brother dropped out of school before he could graduate.”
Phrasal verbMeaningExample
break in oninterrupt (a conversation)I was talking to Mom on the phone when the operator broke in on our call.
catch up withkeep abreastAfter our month-long trip, it was time to catch up with the neighbors and the news around town.
check up onexamine, investigateThe boys promised to check up on the condition of the summer
come up withto contribute (suggestion, money)The old lady came up with a thousand-dollar donation
cut down oncurtail (expenses)We tried to cut down on the money we were spending on Entertainment.
drop out ofleave schoolI hope none of my students drop out of school this semester.
get along withhave a good relationship withFirst-graders look up to their teachers.
get away withescape blameJanis cheated on the exam and then tried to get away with it.
get rid ofeliminateThe citizens tried to get rid of their corrupt mayor in the recent election
get through withfinishWhen will you ever get through with that program?
keep up withmaintain pace withIt’s hard to keep up with the Joneses when you lose your job!
look forward toanticipate with pleasureI always look forward to the beginning of a new semester.
look down ondespiseThey looked down on him because of his shabby clothes
look in onvisit (somebody)We were going to look in on my brother-in-law, but he wasn’t home.
look out forbe careful, anticipateGood instructors will look out for early signs of failure in their students
look up torespectThe teacher had to put up with a lot of nonsense from the new students.
make sure ofverifyMake sure of the student’s identity before you let him into the classroom.
put up withtolerateThe teacher had to put up with a great deal of nonsense from the new students.
run out ofexhaust/supplyThe runners ran out of energy before the end of the race.
take care ofbe responsible forMy sister used to take care of me when my mother was out.
talk back toanswer impolitelyThe star player talked back to the coach and was thrown off the team.
think back onrecallI often think back on my childhood with great pleasure.
walk out onabandonHer husband walked out on her and their three children.

Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

The following phrasal verbs are not followed by an object: “Once you leave home, you can never really go back again.”
Phrasal verbMeaningExample
break downstop functioningThe children promised to come over, but they never did.
catch onbecome popularPopular songs seem to catch on in California first and then spread Eastward.
come backreturn to a placeFather promised that we would never come back to this horrible place.
come inenterThey tried to come in through the back door, but it was locked.
come toregain consciousnessHe was hit on the head very hard, but after several minutes, he started to come to again.
come overto visitWe used to drop by, but they were never home, so we stopped doing that.
drop byvisit without an appointmentGrandmother tried to get up, but the couch was too low, and she couldn’t make it alone.
eat outdine in a restaurantWhen we visited Paris, we loved eating out in the sidewalk cafes.
get bysurviveUncle Heine didn’t have much money, but he always seemed to get bywithout borrowing money from relatives
get upariseHe would finish one Dickens novel and then go on to the next.
go backreturn to a placeIt’s hard to imagine that we will never go back to visit this place.
go oncontinueHe would finish one Dickens novel and then just go on to the next.
go on (2)happenThe cops heard all the noise and stopped to see what was going on.
grow upget olderCharles grew up to be a lot like his father.
keep awayremain at a distanceThe judge warned the stalker to keep away from his victim’s home.
keep oncontinue with the sameHe tried to keep on singing long after his voice was ruined.
pass outlose consciousness, fainthe passed out for 15 minutes after his car hit the tree.
show offdemonstrate haughtily or arrogantlyafter he bought that car, he was always showing off.
show uparriveDay after day, The student showed up for class twenty minutes late.
wake uparouse from sleepwoke up when the rooster crowed.


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