To ask around, to write up, to call back, to look somebody up, to get together………

all of the above are PHRASAL verbs .

Phrasal verbs are multi-word verbs. They are made up of two or three words; the combination of words takes on a completely different meaning to the verb part.

For example:

TO GET= to obtain

To get together= to meet someone

To get by=to manage financially


More often than not a non-native speaker can make sense of the individual parts but cannot grasp the meaning of the whole phrase.

Phrasal verbs are used mainly in informal situations such as spoken English and emails to friends or colleagues. If you want to understand native English speakers and sound more natural when you speak English, you should master phrasal verbs.

The meaning of some (a few) Phrasal (or phrasal) verbs such as FALL DOWN is obvious ; however, others (the majority) are almost like idioms, since their meaning is not literal, such as PUT OFF, which can mean to make someone dislike someone / something or to postpone to a later date.


What are Phrasal Verbs?

The Oxford dictionary, defines phrasal verbs as a verb that is made up of a main verb together with an adverb or a preposition or both. Typically, their meaning is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves.




The adverb or preposition is called a particle.

Before we go any further let’s make sure we are all clear on what a verb, a preposition and an adverb are.

  • verb is a word that describes an action (i.e. to swim, to read), or a state of being (i.e. to live, to understand). Every sentence has to have a verb.
  • preposition is a small word that describes the relationship between two words. For example, the cat is ON the chair or IN the drawer or UNDER the table or INSIDE the bag. Prepositions usually deal with time (i.e. SINCE, BY a certain time), location/place, (IN, BELOW, OPPOSITE) or direction/movement (i.e. ACROSS, DOWN).
  • An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective or other adverbs.


Now that you know what verbs, adverbs, prepositions and particles are, you’re ready to start putting them together into phrasal verbs.


There are different kinds of Phrasal verbs.

Transitive vs. Intransitive

Transitive Phrasal Verbs

A sentence with a transitive phrasal verb has an object.

An object is a word or part of a sentence that is affected by the verb.


Alex GAVE UP smoking two years ago. smoking_not_allowed
Give up= to finish, to stop something
‘gave up’= transitive phrasal verbs; ‘smoking’=object


You need to FILL OUT the online registration form before your course
Fill out =to complete
‘fill out’=transitive phrasal verb; ‘form’=object

Klaus agreed to LOOK AFTER my dog while I was away.
Look after= to take care of
‘look after’=transitive phrasal verb; ‘dog’=object

Could you please SWITCH the lights OFF when you leave the office?
Switch off= to turn off
‘switch off’= transitive phrasal verb; ‘lights’=object




Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

A sentence with an intransitive phrasal verb does not have an object.

broke-upJohn and I BROKE UP two years ago
Break up=to end a relationship


Pat swore he would never GO BACK to that restaurant.
Go back= to return

It was so warm in the department shop, I thought I was going to PASS OUT.
Pass out=to faint, to lose consciousness

We CALLED AROUND but we could not find the car part we needed.
Call around=to phone up many places/people

We RAN OUT of ink cartridges so I couldn’t print the report.
Run out=to have none left



Intransitive Phrasal verbs

The word parts that make up an intransitive phrasal verb cannot be separated.


Look at this example using the intransitive phrasal verb BREAK UP:
Break up= to end a relationship

We BROKE UP two years ago. CORRECT
We broke two years ago up.    INCORRECT


Other examples:
She might TURN UP any time.CORRECT
She might turn any time up.INCORRECT


The negotiations BROKE DOWN quickly. CORRECT
The negotiations broke quickly down       INCORRECT


Transitive Phrasal Verb

The word parts of transitive phrasal verbs either can be separated, that is the particle can be separated from the verb by the direct object, or cannot be separated.


Example sentences using the transitive phrasal verb TURN DOWN:


thumbsdown-1Turn down=to refuse
They TURNED DOWN my offer
They TURNED my offer DOWN.
Turned down=transitive verb. Offer = object


If the object is a PRONOUN (such as you, him, her, it, us and them), then the object ALWAYS comes between the verb and the particle.





Well it wouldn’t be the English Language if there weren’t one or two exceptions to the rule



Transitive and Intransitive

Some phrasal verbs can be both transitive and intransitive as we can see from the verb LOOK UP .


Look up=find out information, usually used in relation to finding a word in a dictionary.
Celine asked her students to LOOK UP the words in their English dictionaries.
In the above example look up has a direct object, the words, so it is a Transitive Phrasal verb.


Look up=improve, to get better
After a terrible month, Sue health seems to be improving. Things are LOOKING UP.
In this example Look up does not have an object so it is Intransitive.


Unfortunately, there’s no “rule” for knowing whether a phrasal verb is transitive or intransitive! The best way is to study each phrasal verb in context with lots of examples. NOTE TO PIERRE- In the Future This could link to short blog pieces- Phrasal verbs using get, come, set etc. Eventually I would like to write an ebook with 100 phrasal verbs



Some Phrasal verbs have more than one particle. These verbs are usually transitive and cannot be separated.

LOOK UP TO=to admire

Mario LOOKED UP TO his uncle Lorenzo.


GET AWAY WITH=to avoid doing something

Fiona thought she could GET AWAY WITH not finishing the report on time.


CATCH UP WITH=to get up-to-date with

After our long Christmas break it was time to CATCH UP WITH my work emails.



Some Phrasal verbs might have more than one meaning. The only way to learn these is to memorise the different meanings. Always use a good English dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary or the Cambridge English dictionary . Once you are familiar with the different meanings, you will be able to work out the meaning from the context the phrasal verb is used in.


Here are a few examples:


To WORK OUT=to exercise
I WORK OUT at the gym at least three times a week.


To WORK OUT=to understand
Ferdinand can never WORK OUT how to use the photocopier.


To WORK OUT=to be successful
Our plan WORKED OUT fine.

Here is another example:


TAKE OFF=to increase very sharply
Sales TOOK OFF after the marketing promotion.

TAKE OFF =to remove something
As soon as he got back from his hike, Sam TOOK OFF his wet clothes.

TAKE OFF=to not work for a period of time
Pat has TAKEN a month OFF work.



10 Common Phrasal Verbs

Below are 10 of the most common phrasal verbs in the English language.

Call back is a Separable Transitive Phrasal verb

Call back=to return a phone call to someone
Could I CALL you BACK in 5 minutes?

Call back=to ask someone to return
We will be CALLING BACK our sales representative in Paris

Deal with is an Inseparable Transitive Phrasal verb.

Deal with= to take action about something or someone
How do you DEAL WITH aggressive bosses?
Don’t worry, I will DEAL WITH the broken down photocopier.

Fill in is a Separable Transitive Phrasal verb

Fill in=to add something or to complete something
I can only deal with your request once you have FILLED IN this P3 form.

Fill in = to act as a replacement for someone.
Suzy sent Jack to FILL IN for her at the marketing meeting.

Fill in= to supply information to someone
I’ll FILL you IN on the meeting as soon as I get back to the office.

Find out is a Transitive Phrasal verb

Find out= to discover ( something)
The teacher was very angry when she FOUND OUT that her students had been cheating.
Could you please help me? I am trying to FIND OUT which bus to take for the airport?

Go out is an Intransitive Phrasal Verb

Go out= to leave
Please close the door when you GO OUT.

Go out= to have a romantic relationship with someone
How long have you been GOING OUT with Julie?

Look up is a Separable Transitive Verb

Look up= to direct one’s eyes upwards
Sam LOOKED UP from his computer to see Mark standing over him.

Look up= to search for
Could you please LOOK UP his address please?

Look up=to improve
Sales are LOOKING UP now that we have secured the new contract.

Sort out is a Separable Transitive verb

Sort out= to make arrangements for something to happen
I will SORT OUT the restaurant for Saturday night.

Sort out= to put things in order
Could you please SORT OUT your bedroom? There are clothes all over the floor

Sort out=to divide someone or something into groups
I have SORTED OUT the students into their correct language level groups.

Speak up is an Intransitive Phrasal verb.

Speak up= to speak loudly
Could you please SPEAK UP, we cannot hear you.

Speak up = to express one’s opinion
If you thought that was unfair, why didn’t you SPEAK UP at the meeting?




Turn on is an Separable Transitive verb

Turn on= to make a machine, tool or piece of equipment work
Could you please TURN ON your computer?
Please TURN ON the lights, it is getting dark.

Turn on someone= to suddenly attack or start shouting at someone
Tom suddenly TURNED ON Mario and asked him to be quiet.

Turn off can be both a Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal verb

Turn off- to stop a machine, tool or piece of equipment from work.
Please TURN OFF the oven.

Turn off= to take a turning or a different road when driving.
TURN OFF at Junction 16 on the M25.

Turn off (someone) = to lose the attention or interest of someone
Both Transitive and Intransitive
That sort of rude behaviour could TURN customers OFF.
When people lose interest they just TURN OFF.

A Quick Revision of Phrasal Verbs

Print this Infographic as a quick visual revision. For a Pdf copy click here.