Phrasal Verbs

Intensive General English

One of the trickiest parts of English grammar are the phrasal verbs! We will attempt to give a short explanation and demonstration of them.

Intensive General English

Definition of phrasal verbs

English is a language that has absorbed a lot of other languages, accounting for much of its variety and richness, but also for its occasionally confusing quality. We have many situations in which a one-part verb is used in a more neutral or formal context, for example, the verbs to enter and to exit. The roots of these verbs are mostly in either Latin or French, and can be used in more academic or formal situations, whereas phrasal verbs (also known as two or three part verbs), are used in more colloquial or informal situations. A phrasal verb may be defined as the more conversational use of a verb. Phrasal grammar comes from German – trennbare Verben. See for instance, the German for Take out – herausnehmen, or for  Go into – hineingehen

A simple definition of a phrasal verb would be: a combination of a verb + one/two prepositions – in which the resulting meaning is different from the meaning of the verb taken on its own, in isolation. It is not to be confused with a verb and dependent preposition, e.g. to rely on.

Some examples of phrasal verbs

The verb ‘To take‘ (N.B. ‘to take to’ is not a phrasal verb)

  • to take on – i.e. ‘I took him on as an employee.’
  • to take away – i.e. ‘What did you take away from this course?’
  • to take over – i.e. ‘Some people just take over the entire conversation…’
  • to take up – i.e. ‘I’m taking up tennis as a hobby.’
  • to take off – i.e. ‘Please take off your shoes, my floor has just been cleaned.’
  • to take back – i.e. ‘Brexiteers believe they are taking back control of their country.’

The verb ‘To get‘ (this is the opposite of ‘to take’, and after ‘to be’, it is one of the most flexible verbs in the English language!)

  • to get on – i.e. ‘We’re getting on like a house on fire!’ (This is a more UK-based expression)
  • to get along – i.e. ‘We’ve been getting along really well.’ (This expression is more common in the USA)
  • to get into – i.e. ‘I found that book very difficult to really get into.’
  • to get over – i.e. ‘It took me a long time to get over that illness.’
  • to get by – i.e. ‘We have been struggling to get by financially.’
  • to get off – i.e. ‘He got off lightly, considering the severity of the charges.’
  • to get away with – i.e. ‘It looks like we got away with cheating on that test.’
  • to get out of – i.e. ‘I need to get out of this room, it’s too stuffy for me.’
  • to get around – i.e. ‘This was an obstacle it was hard to get around.’

The verb ‘To go

  • to go on – i.e. ‘I found it difficult to go on with that challenge.’
  • to go into – i.e. ‘This is a matter we need to go into more deeply.’
  • to go off – i.e. ‘You’ve gone off the map and gotten us lost!’
  • to go away – i.e. ‘I need to go away for a while to relax.’
  • to go along – i.e. ‘I’m not sure I can go along with this plan.’
  • to go by – i.e. ‘These are the rules we go by.’
  • to go for – i.e. ‘I think I will go for the Green party at the next election.’
  • to go out – i.e. ‘I’m going out for a walk.’
  • to go over – i.e. ‘We need to go over these lines again, it’s a hard speech to remember.’
  • to go through – i.e. ‘I found it difficult to go through with the job, but I managed in the end.’

The verb ‘To come

  • to come by – i.e. ‘Come by the house sometime, we’ll have a drink.’
  • to come on – i.e.  ‘Oh come on, it’s not that bad!’
  • to come in – i.e. ‘Come in, you’re perfectly welcome!’
  • to come off – i.e. ‘It took a long time for my bandages to come off.’
  • to come round to – i.e. ‘I took a long time to come round to his point of view.’
  • to come along – i.e. ‘Come along, we’re going to have a lot of fun at the party!’
  • to come through – i.e. ‘He came through the test with flying colours.’
  • to come into – i.e. ‘He came into a lot of wealth when his uncle died.’
  • to come out of – i.e. ‘I came out of that screening room feeling changed.’
  • to come back – i.e. ‘Please come back to us, as your parents we forgive you.’
  • to come in for – i.e. ‘He came in for a lot of criticism in his political career.’
  • to come up – i.e. ‘He has come up in the world a lot since I saw him last.’
  • to come up with – i.e. ‘He’s always coming up with these crazy ideas.’

These are just four verbs that were chosen because of their wide range of application. If you feel you want to fully pursue this, there are many books available that will go into this (by the way, there’s another phrasal verb!) more thoroughly. And don’t be afraid of phrasal verbs! Once you get into (and again!) the habit of using them, you’ll master them in no time.

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