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What are Phrasal Verbs?


Question: What are Phrasal Verbs?
Answer: There are four types of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable and they can take an object or not. Here is a guide to the basics of phrasal verbs.

Phrasal Verbs which Take Objects

Phrasal verbs which take objects can be separable or inseparable:

Separable phrasal verbs can remain together when using an object that is a noun or noun phrase.

  • I picked Tom up. OR I picked up Tom.
  • They put their friends up. OR They put up their friends.
Separable phrasal verbs MUST be separated when a pronoun is used:
  • We picked him up at the station. NOT We picked up him at the station.
  • They put them up. NOT They put up them.

Inseparable phrasal verbs always remain together. It makes no difference if a noun or pronoun is used.

  • We set off for the beach. / We set off for it.
  • They are looking after the children. / They are looking after them.

Phrasal Verbs which Don't Take Objects

Some phrasal verbs do not take objects. These phrasal verbs are ALWAYS inseparable.

  • The thieves got away.
  • The bus broke down on the way to work.
  • She got up early.


If you are not sure whether a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable, ALWAYS use a noun or nouns phrase and DO NOT separate. In this manner, you will always be correct!

Separable Phrasal Verbs: bring up, take off

  • They brought up their children to respect others.
  • She took off her jacket before she began the lesson.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs: look for, set off

  • She was looking for her books when he arrived.
  • They set off for a wonderful holiday in Hawaii.

Three-word Phrasal Verbs

Some verbs are followed by two prepositions (or adverbs). These phrasal verbs are ALWAYS inseparable.

  • I'm looking forward to meeting John. OR I'm looking forward to meeting him.
  • They didn't get on with their mother. OR They didn't get on with her.

Continue Learning Phrasal Verbs

This phrasal verbs reference list will get you started with short definitions of approximately 100 of the most common phrasal verbs. Teachers can use this introducing phrasal verbs lesson plan to help students become more familiar with phrasal verbs and start building phrasal verb vocabulary. Finally, there are a wide variety of phrasal verb resources on the site to help you learn new phrasal verbs and test your understanding with quizzes.

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