Phrasal Verbs

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What are phrasal verbs?

A phrasal verb has two parts: a verb and a particle (a preposition and/or an adverb).

The term phrasal verb is sometimes used to describe all kinds of multi-word verbs (i.e. phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs and phrasal-prepositional verbs).

These are the most common particles used to make phrasal verbs:

about, across, aroundat, away, back, down, in, offon, out, over, round, through, to, up


  • look + up = look up
  • fill + in = fill in
  • run + out + of = run out of
  • get + along + with = get along with

Phrasal verbs are often less formal than the one-word verbs that have the same meaning.

A phrasal verb functions as a verb whose meaning is, in most cases, different from the meaning of the individual words.

One verb may be used with different particles to give different meanings. 

  • turn on (start; switch on)
  • turn off (switch off)
  • turn up (increase)
  • turn down (decrease)

In addition, a phrasal verb may have more than one meaning. So checking the dictionary or any other reliable source is essential in learning phrasal verbs.

Sometimes, it’s easy to guess the meaning of the phrasal verb because the verb and the particle are used literally.

For example, the meaning of the phrasal verb take away (eliminate; remove) can be guessed from the meaning of the verb take and the meaning of the adverb away.

However, the meaning of many phrasal verbs is difficult to guess because the verb and particle are used idiomatically in these phrasal verbs.

For example, when you first learn the phrasal verb let down (disappoint) or put up with (accept), it is unlikely that you can guess the meaning by adding up the meaning of the the individual words. You need to look up the meaning in a dictionary or ask a native speaker.

Example sentences 

Here are some examples of phrasal verbs used in sentences. Synonyms of phrasal verbs are given in brackets after each sentence.

  • His latest book came out last year. (become available)
  • I couldn’t make out what the child was  saying. (hear; understand)
  • The plane took off two hours ago. (fly into the air)
  • She took off her hat as soon as she entered the room. (remove clothes)
  • The speech went on for three hours. (continue)

(At the end of the page, you will find a list of popular phrasal verbs with their meaning.)

Let’s now explore the different types of phrasal verbs in terms of their structure.

Type 1: verb + particle (no object)

The phrasal verbs in the first group are intransitive (i.e. do not take an object).

  • Stand up, please! (rise to one’s feet)
  • The fire alarm will go off if it detects smoke. (start ringing)
  • Their plan didn’t work out. (succeed)

Type 2: verb + particle + object (separable)

The phrasal verbs in the second group are transitive (i.e. take an object). The object can come after the particle or between the verb and the particle. That’s why this type is called separable phrasal verbs.

Look at these examples. Each sentence is written in two ways: once with the object after the particle and once with the object separating the verb from the particle.

  • Make sure to put out the fire before you sleep! (stop)
  • Make sure to put the fire out before you sleep!
  • He had to call off the meeting. (cancel)
  • He had to call the meeting off.

If the object is relatively long, it’s more common to place it after the particle. In the following example, the object is underlined.

  • Do I need to hand out all the copies that we made yesterday?

However, if the object is a pronoun (me, her, him etc.), it has to come between the verb and the particle.

  • Let’s clean up the mess before they arrive!
  • Let’s clean the mess up before they arrive!
  • Let’s clean it up before they arrive!
  • Incorrect: Let’s clean up it before they arrive!

Type 3: verb + particle + object (inseparable)

These phrasal verbs are also transitive (i.e. take an object). But the object in this group cannot come between the verb and the particle. That’s why this type is called inseparable phrasal verbs.

Here are a few examples. The object must always be placed after the particle.

  • I came across an old friend in the national park. (meet accidentally)
  • His family counts on him. (depend on)
  • Please, go over the report before the meeting! (review; examine)

Type 4: verb + particle + particle + object

The verb is followed by two particles.

The object always comes after the second particle. In other words, these phrasal verbs are inseparable phrasal verbs.

Almost always, the meaning is idiomatic: It’s difficult to guess their meaning from their individual parts.

  • I look forward to the next chapter. (anticipate with pleasure)
  • She cannot easily get along with people. (have friendly relationships)
  • I cannot put up with noise. (tolerate; accept)

  Take a quiz on phrasal verbs (Quiz 1)

  Take a quiz on phrasal verbs (Quiz 2)

  Take a quiz on separable and inseparable phrasal verbs

List of phrasal verbs

This is a list of common phrasal verbs with simplified explanation.

  • act on = take action
  • act out = perform with actions and gestures
  • add in = include something as part of something else
  • add up  = (mathematics) add
  • agree with = think that something is right
  • aim at = target
  • allow for = include (in a plan or calculation)
  • allow of = permit; show that something is possible
  • answer back = reply rudely
  • ask after = ask about someone’s health
  • back away = go backward; retreat
  • back off = retreat
  • back out of = desert; fail to keep a promise
  • back up = cause to move backwards; support; make a digital cop
  • bear down on = lean on; browbeat
  • bear on = have to do with
  • bear up under = endure
  • bear with = be patient
  • blow up = cause to explode; destroy by explosives; enlarge a photograph
  • break down = analyze; list the parts of something separately; (car) stop working
  • break in on = interrupt
  • break into = interrupt; enter a place by force
  • break out = (war, fire, fight) begin suddenly
  • break up = (school) stop for a holiday
  • bring about = cause something to happen
  • bring off = accomplish something
  • bring on = cause something to happen
  • bring out = publish; emphasize
  • bring over = bring (something/somebody here)
  • bring to = revive somebody
  • bring up = raise; care for a child during childhood; start to talk about a subject
  • burn down = destroy by burning
  • bear on = have to do with
  • burn up = consume by fire
  • buy out = by the other person’s share of a business
  • buy up = buy the whole supply of something
  • call for = come to get; require
  • call off = cancel (an event or meeting)
  • call on = visit; ask someone to do something
  • call up = telephone; summon for military service
  • calm down = become calm
  • care for = like; guard; supervise; maintain
  • carry off = cause the death of; perform successfully
  • carry on (with) = continue doing something
  • carry out = fulfill; complete; accomplish; perform (usually orders or instructions)
  • carry over = carry; financial/numerical – move a value from one period to another
  • catch on = understand
  • catch up on = do something you haven’t been able to do recently 
  • catch up with = cover the distance between oneself and
  • check in = arrive (at a hotel, a hospital, etc.)
  • check out = leave (a hotel, a hospital, etc.) after paying the bill
  • check up on = examine; verify
  • cheer up = cause somebody to become cheerful
  • chew up = chew thoroughly; to destroy or tear something with the teeth of machinery
  • chop up = chop into small pieces
  • clean off = clear the surface of
  • clean out = clean the inside of
  • clean up = tidy
  • clear out = clear the inside of; remove people from a place
  • clear up = clarify; clear the inside of
  • close down = shut or close permanently
  • close up = close temporarily
  • come across = find/meet accidentally
  • come along with = accompany; make progress
  • come around = visit
  • come back = return
  • come by = find accidentally
  • come down with = become ill with
  • come into = inherit
  • come out = appear; become known
  • come out with = say or produce suddenly
  • come round = visit
  • come up with = utter; produce
  • count in = include somebody in something (usually a list of participants)
  • count on = rely on
  • count out = exclude something or somebody
  • count up = calculate; count; add to a total
  • cross out = eliminate; delete text manually
  • cut back (on) = spend/do/use less
  • cut down = reduce in quantity; cut a tree near its bottom
  • cut in on = interrupt
  • cut off = interrupt; sever; amputate
  • cut out = eliminate; delete; stop doing something (as an imperative)
  • decide upon = choose
  • die away = disappear; become less strong
  • disagree with = cause illness or discomfort to
  • do away with = abolish
  • do without = deprive oneself of
  • draw up = write; compose (a formal document)
  • dress up = put clothes on; adorn; dress for a special occasion
  • dress down  = dress casually
  • drop by = visit
  • drop in at/on= visit casually without planning
  • drop off = begin to sleep; become less; leave something somewhere
  • drop out of = leave; quit
  • eat out = eat in a restaurant
  • eat up = eat completely
  • face up to = acknowledge
  • fall behind in = lag; not progress at required pace
  • fall back on = use for emergency purpose
  • fall out with = quarrel with
  • figure out = interpret; understand
  • fill in = complete; compile (a printed form)
  • fill in for = substitute for
  • fill out = complete; compile (a printed form)
  • fill up = fill completely (a container)
  • find out = discover
  • fix up = repair; arrange in a suitable manner
  • get across  –  cause to be understood
  • get ahead of = surpass; beat
  • get along (with) = be friendly 
  • get around = evade; avoid
  • get away with = do without being caught or punished
  • get back = return
  • get back to = talk to somebody again
  • get by with = manage with a minimum of effort
  • get down to = become serious about; consider
  • get in = enter (a vehicle)
  • get off = descend from; leave
  • get on = enter (a vehicle); mount
  • get on with = proceed with
  • get over = recover
  • get through with = terminate, finish
  • give back = return something
  • give out = distribute; announce
  • give up = surrender something
  • go back on = desert; fail to keep (a promise)
  • go for = like a great deal
  • go in for = be interested in; participate in
  • go off = start ringing
  • go on with = continue with
  • go over = review
  • go with = harmonize with; look pleasing together
  • go without = manage without
  • go off = (light) stop working; (alarm) start ringing; (bomb) explode
  • hand down = deliver; pronounce formally; leave as an inheritance
  • hand out = give to each member
  • hand over = surrender control of something
  • hang around = remain idly in the vicinity of
  • hang on = wait for a short time
  • hang up = end a phone call; put clothes on a hanger for storage
  • have on = be dressed in (clothes)
  • have over = entertain someone informally at your home
  • hear from = receive a communication from
  • hear of = learn about (sometimes accidentally)
  • hit on = discover accidentally
  • hold on to = grasp tightly
  • hold off = delay; restrain
  • hold out against = resist
  • hold up = delay; rob; threaten with a weapon
  • join in = become involved in
  • keep at = persevere at
  • keep to = persist in; continue
  • keep up (with) = maintain the pace of
  • kick out = dismiss
  • knock off = stop doing something
  • let in = allow to participate; involve
  • lie down on = evade; fail to do
  • line up = arrange
  • live on = support or sustain oneself by means of
  • live up to = maintain the standard demanded of
  • look after = take care of
  • look back on = remember nostalgically
  • look down on= feel superior to
  • look for = try to find; search for
  • look forward to = anticipate
  • look up = try to find a word, etc. in a dictionary, book
  • look up to = respect; admire
  • leave out = omit somebody or something
  • let down = disappoint somebody
  • let out = release from confinement; make larger (in sewing)
  • light up = light; illuminate thoroughly
  • live down = live in such a way as to cause something to be forgotten
  • make for = make possible
  • make off = leave quickly (to escape)
  • make out = hear; understand; pretend
  • make up for = compensate for
  • mix up = confuse
  • move in = go to a different place to live or work there
  • move out = stop living in a particular home
  • nail down = achieve; finalize
  • name after = give someone or something the same name as another
  • note down = write something so that you don’t forget it
  • opt out = choose not to be part of something
  • pass away = die
  • pass out = become unconscious; distribute
  • pass up = not take advantage of (as an opportunity)
  • pass on = transmit
  • pay back = repay
  • pay off = be successful; give someone his final pay
  • pick on = tease; bully
  • pick up = collect somebody from a place; lift with hands or fingers; learn a skill by practicing
  • play up to = flatter for personal advantage
  • play down = minimize the importance of something
  • play up = emphasize the importance of something
  • point out = indicate something
  • polish off = finish quickly and easily
  • pop in/into = visit briefly
  • pop off = say something quickly (because of anger); die
  • pull down = pull in a downward direction; demolish something
  • pull out = (vehicle) start moving onto a road
  • put off = postpone an event or meeting
  • put on = dress in
  • put out = stop a fire 
  • put up = erect; construct; (somebody) provide with a place to live
  • put up with = tolerate
  • read up on = search out information on
  • ring up = call somebody on the telephone
  • rule out = eliminate something from consideration
  • run after = chase
  • run against= compete against in an election
  • run away = leave secretly or suddenly
  • run away with = leave; escape from
  • run down = trace; disparage somebody; hit with a vehicle
  • run for = campaign for
  • run off = reproduce something mechanically (often in printed media or manufacturing)
  • run out = finish
  • run out of = have no more of
  • run over = hit with a vehicle
  • save up = accumulate money
  • see about = consider; arrange
  • see off = accompany someone to the beginning of a trip
  • see through  –  continue with a task until completion (often in spite of difficulties)
  • see to = arrange; supervise
  • send back = send to a place where formerly located
  • send over = send something or somebody to the place where someone else is
  • set off = start on a trip; cause a signal to start
  • set up = arrange something; cause the police to incorrectly believe somebody is guilty of a crime
  • settle down = become familiar with a place
  • settle on = decide on; choose
  • show off = behave in a way to attract attention
  • shut down = stop operating; turn off (a computer)
  • shut off = cause to cease functioning
  • sleep in = sleep more than usual in the morning
  • slow up  –  cause to move more slowly
  • sort out = solve; resolve
  • spell out = state something in detail or simple terms
  • stand for = represent; permit
  • stand up = (idea) prove to be true
  • stand up for = support; demand
  • stand up to = resist
  • stick around = stay somewhere for a period of time
  • stick at = continue trying to do something hard
  • stick up for = support; defend
  • sweep out = sweep the inside of
  • take after = look like
  • take back = return; retract a statement
  • take down= remove from a high position; write from dictation
  • take in = understood; fool; deceive; make smaller (in sewing
  • take off = (plane) fly; (clothes) remove
  • take over = take control
  • take up = begin something new (a hobby, a sport, etc.)
  • talk back to = answer impolitely
  • talk over = discuss
  • tear down = destroy something
  • tear up = tear into small pieces
  • tell off = scold; reprimand
  • tell on = report misbehavior to authority
  • think over = consider something
  • think through = consider something from beginning to end
  • think up= create; invent
  • throw away = discard
  • tie up = tie securely or tight
  • tire out = cause somebody to be exhausted
  • touch on = mention briefly
  • touch up = repair something (usually a minor repair)
  • try on = put on a garment to see if it is the correct size and appearance
  • try out = test something
  • turn down = refuse an offer; lower the volume of something (TV, radio, music)
  • turn into = change; become
  • turn off = switch off
  • turn on = switch on
  • turn out = produce; extinguish (a light)
  • turn up = arrive; increase, happen unexpectedly
  • wait on = serve
  • wait up for = not go to bed while waiting for
  • wake up = stop sleeping
  • watch out for = be careful for; be careful to notice
  • watch over = make sure someone is safe
  • wear out = use until no longer usable; become tired through an activity
  • wind up = finish, tighten a spring (of a watch), make a person angry (sometimes as a joke)
  • wipe out = eliminate completely
  • work out = solve a puzzle; succeed
  • write down = record something in writing
  • write up = compose; prepare (a formal document)