Phrasal Verbs in English --Understanding and Using Two Word Verbs

Phrasal Verbs in English-Understanding and Using Two Word Verbs


Phrasal verbs in English are verbs that consist of two or sometimes three words, such as check in or come up with.

These expressions always begin with a verb, but also include a preposition, an adverb, or both.  Although phrasal verbs have at least two words, their meanings are usually different from the meanings of each individual word in the expression.  Since English uses a lot of phrasal verbs, it is important to understand as many of them as possible.

Today I give you examples of three types of phrasal verbs: separable, inseparable, and common English phrasal verbs in families At the end there will be a sheet you can download to give you more practice with phrasal verbs.

Here is the video lesson I taught on phrasal verbs in English:

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You can download the practice sheet NOW!

Some phrasal verbs in English are separable.

In phrasal verbs that are separable, you can separate the verb and the the preposition or adverb (also called the particle), and it still makes sense. All separable phrasal verbs are transitive, which means they take a direct object. In a separable phrasal verb, the direct object may be placed between the verb and the preposition or adverb. However, you can also keep the entire expression together. Both ways are correct. Separable phrasal verbs can be used in any tense. Here are some examples.

To call off    –This means to cancel.

Everyone is sick, so we need to call off the committee meeting. In this case, call off is together.

Everyone was sick, so we  called the committee meeting off. Here, the committee meeting, the direct object, is between called and off.

To pick up  –This means to go somewhere and get someone.

I have to pick up my son from school. Pick up  is together.

I have to pick my son up from school. My son is a direct object. It is between pick and up.

Some phrasal verbs in English are inseparable. Verbs that don’t take a direct object are always inseparable. However, some phrasal verbs that do take a direct object are inseparable, as well.

When phrasal verbs are inseparable, it means that the verb and the preposition or adverb must stay together. If we separate them, the meaning doesn’t make sense. Inseparable phrasal verbs may or may not have a direct object. They can, like separable phrasal verbs, be in any tense.Here are some examples of inseparable phrasal verbs.

To go over  — to review.

The teacher went over the chapter to prepare us for the test. You cannot say,”The teacher went the chapter over.” If you said that, it would be incorrect and many people would not understand you.

To cut down on  — to use less of something.

I need to cut down on sugar because I have too many cavities in my teeth.

To chip in  –to help

Everyone needs to chip in so we can get this mess cleaned up. There is no direct object here.

Now that you know about separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, you may wonder,” How do I know if a phrasal verb with a direct object is separable or inseparable?” Unfortunately, there are no rules to guide you. Native speakers, of course, simply know.  Others, however, have to learn them, verb by verb. If you are not sure, look the phrasal verb up in a good online or paper dictionary, and then you will know.

Some phrasal verbs come in families. Even though they are in the same family, however, these verbs may have many different meaning from each other, and some may have more than one meaning. Below I talk about three common phrasal verb families. I give you the phrasal verb, the meaning or meanings, example sentences, and I tell you whether it is separable or inseparable.

The give family

  • To give away  (separable)– to give something to someone for free.
    • I gave my dog away to my cousin because I had to move to a small apartment. (or I gave away my dog.)
  • Another meaning of to give away is to reveal a secret to someone
    • I planned a surprise party for my brother’s birthday, but his friend gave it away. So my brother wasn’t surprised at all. (or His friend gave away the surprise.)
  • To give back (separable)–to return something.
    • He borrowed three books from the library, but he gave them all back. (or He gave back the books.)
  • To give in  (inseparable)–To stop arguing, even though you think you’re right.
    • She got tired of arguing with her husband, so she gave in and let him buy a new TV.
  • To give out  (separable)– to give things to many people for free.
    • I like to go to Costco on the weekends because they give out samples of many good foods. (or They give samples out.)
  • To give up (separable)– to quit doing something or trying to do something.
    • The doctor wants me to give up smoking. (or The doctor wants me to give smoking up.)

The go family

  • To go off (inseparable)–to explode or make a loud noise.
    • My alarm clock goes off every morning at 6:00 am.
  • To go on (inseparable)–to happen
    • What is going on in your life right now?
  • To go with  (inseparable)–to match or work well together.
    • My blue pants go with my white shirt.
  • To go out (inseparable)– (1) to stop working, or (2) to  be part of a social activity.
    • My washing machine finally went out, so I need to buy a new one.
    • I enjoy going out with my friends over the weekend.
  • To go along with (inseparable)– to agree to do something.
    • Even though I didn’t want so see that movie, I went along with  my friends wanted and agreed to see it.
  • To go by (inseparable)- Although I got to my doctor’s appointment on time, three hours went by before he saw me.

The put family

  • To put away (separable)–to return something to where it belongs.
    • Please put the dishes away.  (or Please put away the dishes.)
  • To put back (separable)–to return something back to the place you found it.
    • When you take a book off the shelf, you should put it back when you are finished with it. ( or You should put back the book.)
  • To put down (separable)–(1) to write something down on a piece paper, or (2) to criticize someone and make them feel bad about themselves, or (3) to end the suffering of a sick animal.
    • If you want me to buy milk, put it down on the shopping list.  (or Put down milk on the shopping list.)
    • My boss is hard to work for because he always puts people down. (or He always puts down people.)
    • My cat was very sick with cancer, so the vet had to put him down. (or The vet had to put down the cat.)
  • To put off (separable)–(1) to delay doing something, or (2) to have a bad impression of someone or something
    • I am putting off doing my homework. (or I am putting doing my homework off.)
    • His bad attitude put me off. (or I felt put off by his bad attitude).
  • To put on (separable)–(1) to wear, or (2) to produce a show,  (3) to trick someone
    • Put your boots on. (or Put on your boots.)
    • They are putting on a great concert at the Pepsi Center. (or They are putting a concert on.)
    • You didn’t win the lottery! You’re putting me onWhen we use put on to mean trick, we always separate the verb and the particle.
  • To put out (separable)–(1) to get rid of a fire, or (2) to publish something, or (3) to inconvenience someone.
    • The fire fighters put out the fire.  (or They put the fire out.)
    • The Denver Post puts out a newspaper every day (or They put a newspaper out.)
    • Would it put you out if I stayed for dinner? ( or Would you be put out if I stayed for dinner?)
  • To put up with (inseparable)–to tolerate something unpleasant.
    • I can’t put up with my nephew’s terrible behavior.

You now know the phrasal verbs are very important parts of English. You know know that these verbs consist of two or three words and may be separable or inseparable. The download contains a list of many common phrasal verbs, their meanings, and whether they are separable of inseparable.

You can download the practice sheet NOW!

Idioms of the Day

    1. To think twice  –to think very carefully before making a decision. I would think twice about driving too fast in this neighborhood. There are policemen everywhere.
    2. To roll with the punches  –to survive and do well, even though things have been hard for you. My friend’s father died when he was small, his mother was often sick, and last month he lost his job. But he always rolls with the punches and never gives up.

Now it’s your turn! I packaged all of this vocabulary into some flashcards for you to study. Test yourself on this phrasal verbs in English with the flashcards below:

2 thoughts on “Phrasal Verbs in English-Understanding and Using Two Word Verbs”

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