Phrasal Verbs

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Phrasal verbs are a group of multi-word verbs made from a verb plus another word or words. Many people refer to all multi-word verbs as phrasal verbs. On these pages we make a distinction between three types of multi-word verbs: prepositional verbs, phrasal verbs and phrasal-prepositional verbs. On this page we look at phrasal verbs proper.

Phrasal verbs are made of:

verb + adverb

Phrasal verbs can be:

  • intransitive (no direct object)
  • transitive (direct object)

Here are some examples of phrasal verbs:

phrasal verbsmeaningexamples

direct object
intransitive phrasal verbsget uprise from bedI don't like to get up.
break downcease to functionHe was late because his car broke down.
transitive phrasal verbsput offpostponeWe will have to put offthe meeting.
turn downrefuseThey turned downmy offer.

Separable Phrasal Verbs

When phrasal verbs are transitive (that is, they have a direct object), we can usually separate the two parts. For example, "turn down" is a separable phrasal verb. We can say: "turn downturn my offer down". Look at this table: my offer" or "

transitive phrasal verbs are
downmy offer.
Correct!Theyturnedmy offerdown.

However, if the direct object is a pronoun, we have no choice. We must separate the phrasal verb and insert the pronoun between the two parts. Look at this example with the separable phrasal verb "switch on":

direct object pronouns must go between the two parts of transitive phrasal verbsCorrect!Johnswitched
onthe radio.These are all possible.
Correct!Johnswitchedthe radioon.
Not correct!Johnswitched
onit.This is not possible.


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