Using Phrasal Verbs: Rules
There are no fast and hard rules for phrasal verbs, but here are some essential tips.
- Remember that phrasal verbs, similar to idioms, take the original meaning of a word or words and create new meanings from them.
- Intransitive phrasal verbs don’t need an object. For example, they always come back.
- Transitive phrasal verbs sometimes take on an object. For example, he gave away his toys (object), or he gave his toys away (no object.)
- If a phrasal verb contains more than 3 words, it’s inseparable. In other words, it has to be placed in the sentence together. They came away with lots of candies.
- Phrasal verbs usually follow grammatical verb tenses. If you’re talking in the past, use the past participle of the verb; if you’re talking in the continuous, use -ing. For example, I'm aiming to ace this test!
Now, look at some commonly used phrasal verbs you may have seen before!
Common Phrasal Verbs
Here’s a word list of commonly used phrasal phrases. See if you can spot any you know!
Phrasal Verbs With B
To leave, lower, to be less intense.
- Could you back off the light, please?
- Please back off. I don’t feel comfortable.
Break Up / Break Down
To finish a relationship. The breakdown of any relationship.
- We broke up last night.
- The relationship broke down, and so I can’t work there anymore.
- Are we breaking up?
To reveal something, launch, emphasize something.
- We’re bringing out our new free school lunch scheme.
- They’re bringing out a menu.
- Why don’t you bring out your baby photos?
To take something, introduce.
- Bring in your homework by Tuesday.
- We’re bringing in the head of marketing.
- I’m bringing in cakes on my birthday.
Phrasal Verbs With Come
Leaving a place with an object, thing, or feeling.
- She came away with a good feeling.
- He has to come away from the edge; it’s dangerous!
To follow, move along.
- Come along now; we’re going to be late!
- It’s coming along!
- Come along. It will be fun.
- Can you come back, please?
- What time are you coming back?
- Why don’t you come back to mine and we can watch a movie?
Pass by, visit someone.
- What time are you coming by?
- Why don’t you come by and pick up some cake?
- She’ll come by later to walk the dog.
Phrasal Verbs With Get
To recover from a specific experience, to communicate an idea (come across as)
- We want to get over to the customer that we’re a small business.
- Get over it!
- It took him a week to get over his ear infection.
To move, send something, escape discipline.
- Please get off the couch!
- I got off my punishment.
To cope with a difficult experience, survive, manage, phone, or contact someone.
- I don’t know how I’m going to get through these exams.
- Why don’t you try and get through to them again?
- I need to get through my schoolwork.
- Get in the car.
- I couldn’t get in; the line was too big.
- Why don’t you get in, and we’ll drive to Wendy’s?
Phrasal Verbs With Put
To place something in its original place.
- Could you put it back? We’re going home.
- I’m putting it back.
- Put back the candy.
To submit, to declare, to place.
- Please put it in the box.
- I’m putting in my notice next week.
- What box am I putting it in?
To make, construct, display, and get on with someone.
- Put up that poster.
- They’re putting up the call-back sheet now.
- I don’t want to put up with him; he’s annoying!
To place something in its original place.
- Put it away.
- Could you put the table away, please?
To place an item of clothing, etc., on your body. Operate a device.
- Can I put the T.V on?
- I’m putting on my new dress.
- Why don’t you put on the new series?
Phrasal Verbs With Pick
To get, obtain.
- Could you pick up takeout?
- Stop picking up things from the floor!
Repeatedly criticize someone, bully. To obsess over something.
- My sister always picks on me.
- The kids at school are picking on me.
- I’m obsessed with picking on small details.
To dissect small details, to brainstorm ideas.
- Please stop picking apart my ideas.
- Let’s pick apart that plan.
- Today we’re going to pick apart our ideas.
To single out something or someone.
- Pick out a dress you like.
- Pick out the ideas you like, and we can brainstorm them.
Phrasal Verbs With Set
To construct, to organize.
- Let’s set up a meeting for next month.
- Could you set up the equipment?
To start something with enthusiasm.
- He was up bright and early, setting about the room.
- They set about the cleaning.
- We set about creating a new plan.
To leave, to begin a journey.
- The sun was rising when they set off to the airport.
- What time are we setting off this afternoon?
Phrasal Verbs With Turn
To return, to go back.
- Turn around at the next block.
- If you turn around, you’ll see it.
To give in, to submit something.
- Turn in your work on Monday.
- If you turn in your manuscript, we will take a look.
To switch off.
- Could you turn off the light, please?
- Could you turn off the music; it’s way too loud.
Phrasal Verbs With Work
To exercise, to figure out.
- I’m gonna go work out today.
- How often do you work out?
- We have to work out how you're getting there.
To take time doing a task.
- It’s gonna take me some time to work on this.
- I’ll work on your proposal.
To focus on a task or goal.
- She’s working towards buying a house.
- I’m saving all my money to work towards getting a new bag.
To focus on steps to achieve a goal, emotions building.
- He got worked up about nothing!
- Let's work up to that.
Less Common Phrasal Verb Examples
Here’s a list of uncommon phrasal verbs that you can use. Though native speakers use these phrasal verbs, they’re not common when learning English.
Aim To / Aim At
To strive for, to have a goal, to hit.
- I’m aiming to complete 2,000 words today.
- She thought he was aiming at her.
To put off, failing to keep an appointment with someone.
- They never turned up. They blew me off!
- I don’t want to blow her off.
Get Around To
To eventually finish something, to encourage something that doesn’t want to be done.
- I’ll get around to that project when I’ve finished my work.
- Isn’t it time that you got around to cleaning your bedroom?
To think about.
- Think over our proposal and get back to us.
- Why don’t you think it over and see what you think?
Games To Practice Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs can be tricky, but learning with games is a great idea, so they stick in your head.
Act out the phrasal verbs. Write the ones you find more difficult to understand on a piece of paper and practice mimicking them. This is a great way to activate your physical and mental mind.
Phrasal Verb Hunt
Get a group of people and write down as many phrasal verbs on slips of paper as you want. Have the definitions on separate pieces of paper. Find the definitions dotted around the room and match them with the phrasal verbs.
Word Finder Tool
Use our learning tool to help you learn new phrasal verbs. Find a word and see if you can construct a phrasal verb sentence with it!
And there we have it! Plenty of phrasal verbs to get you started. There are tons of phrasal verbs in the English language, so every time you learn a new one, write it down and check its definition.