3 Reasons You Don’t Understand Phrasal Verbs


Hey learners! It’s time to get passionate about phrasal verbs! One key part of achieving the fluency that you want is to understand phrasal verbs. These tricky pieces of English grammar can be frustrating and challenging to learn, but are sure to help you speak like a native.

What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase consisting of a main verb and another element, typically either an adverb, a preposition, or a combination of both. Typically, their meaning is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves.

Here are some examples:

  • Verb + Adverb: “broke up”
  • Verb + Preposition: “spelled out”
  • Verb + Adverb + Preposition: “look down on”

What do phrasal verbs do?

In English, a phrasal verb is a phrase that indicates an action. Phrasal verbs can be intransitive (i.e. they have no object), or they can be transitive (i.e. they can have an object). The verb and adverb elements which make up intransitive phrasal verbs are never separated. Alternately, the situation is different with transitive verbs. If the object is a pronoun  (such as it, him, her, them), then the object always comes between the verb and the adverb.

Why are phrasal verbs important?

Phrasal verbs are a huge part of being able to understand and speak English like a native speaker. Many learners have trouble with them though, so don’t give up!

Why are phrasal verbs so hard to learn?

  1. The main reason is because they’re hard! Unfortunately, hating phrasal verbs won’t make them go away (as much as we’d like them to, haha)! They are used more often than academic vocabulary in every day conversation, and are therefore super common. The first step is making the effort to understand them!
  2. The second reason why is because, when you hear a phrasal verb, you are probably not considering the context and deducing (or guessing) what the meaning might be. For example: “I’m going to pick up my friend at the gym at 6:00 pm.” You can probably take a moment and guess, based on the rest of the information in that sentence, that I’m talking about an action regarding my friend, the gym, and a certain time of the day. To pick up in this example means to give a ride, meaning that I’m going to go pick up my friend in my car and give them a ride from the gym. Deductive reasoning here is your friend!
  3. Third, don’t assume that you know the meaning of a phrasal verb! It is so important to double (and even triple) check the meaning of phrasal verbs, so that you are absolutely sure of their meaning. Pretending to know the meaning of a phrasal verb, and not actually knowing the correct meaning, will only do you a disservice. When in doubt, look up the meaning – or ask!! Asking takes courage but is a guaranteed way to make sure the correct meaning is engraved in your mind.

How can I make sure I learn phrasal verbs correctly?

Don’t be embarrassed to stop and ask! You’re an English learner and most people will want to help you. If you’re shy or don’t want to slow things down, make a note to check the phrasal verb when you have time. If you convince yourself that you’re passionate about phrasal verbs, you will convince yourself that you like them! This will help you focus and learn the correct definitions and usage of phrasal verbs.

When you’re listening to conversations, make sure you pay attention and pick out (see what I did there?) the phrasal verbs! Try first to guess what they mean, put them into the context of the sentence and what you think the speaker is trying ton say. After that, double check the meaning and see if you were right (or close enough)!

Another awesome tip is to keep a journal of the phrasal verbs you learn. This way you will feel confident enough to start using them on your own. You will remember them more, you will notice them when you listen to conversations, and repeating and reviewing them continuously will help you be able to use them in your own sentences.

Click below to follow more of Gabby’s tips on how to use phrasal verbs!

For more videos: Go Natural English YT

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Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

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