Daily use of Phrasal Verbs and its use in English Grammar

On the TOEIC Grammar, you are likely to see questions in Part 5 that test your knowledge of Phrasal verbs which are commonly used.

You’ve probably seen or heard many every day expressions, such as Come in and sit down’ or ‘Hold on, I’ll put you through’.

These are called phrasal verbs (or 2-word verbs) which is a verb + a particle (either an adverb or preposition). Each phrasal verb has its own meaning and sometimes even multiple meanings.

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Examples of Phrasal Verbs

Take off:

  • The plane has just taken off. (the plane is leaving the ground)
  • Feel free to take off your jacket. (remove)

The meaning of the original verb is transformed by the preposition. Sometimes phrasal verbs are easy to understand because the particle has a literal meaning:

Stand up, go away, get in, get out, jump down, climb up

But many phrasal verbs have figurative or idiomatic meanings and may be synonymous with another one-word verb, very often with a Latin root:

Turn down = refuse     leave out = omit          go on = continue         set up = establish

Go off = explode          give up = abandon     work out = calculate   make up = invent

Some phrasal verbs can have an object which can go either before or after the particle – this is called a separable phrasal verb:

  • They put off the meeting.
  • They put the meeting off.

If the object is very long, then it’s better to keep the verb and particle together.

The assistant wrote down both the caller’s home and mobile phone numbers.

If you use a pronoun then it has to go between the verb and the particle:

They put it off.                        The assistant wrote them down.

Inseparable phrasal verbs are those that cannot be separated

  • Please hold on. (wait)
  • I’ll look into this matter. (investigate)
  • I ran into my old colleague at the cafeteria. (meet unexpectedly)
  • The packaging machine broke down last week. (be out of order)
  • She got over her illness very quickly. (recover)
  • My sister is staying home to look after the children today. (take care of)
  • Dave took up computer programming when he was out of work. (begin learning something)
  • I came across an interesting article in the paper. (discover by accident)

By looking at the prepositions and their most common meanings, you can often guess the meaning of the phrasal verb:

  • Down = become less or completely to the ground or stopping completely or on paper

Turn down the music, bring down prices, knock down a building, a factory closed down, write down the message, note down the information.

  • Off = away, departing or disconnected

Drove off into the sunset, see someone off at the airport, the plane took off, switch off the light, cut off the power.

  • On = connected or wearing or continuing

Turn on the computer, leave on the lights, try on the jacket, carry on working, drive on a bit further, hang on a second.

  • Out = away, disappearing or distributing or out loud or from start to finish

Blow out a flame, wash out some dirt, cross out a mistake, hand out flyers, give out presents, read out the names, shout out the answers, write out a list, work out the solution.

  • Up = increasing or completely

Speak up; we can’t hear, taxes are going up, fill up the car with gas, rip up the paper, catch up to them, eat up all the food.

Another way to learn and organize phrasal verbs is to take a verb and look at the different particles that are most frequently used with it:

  • Call in: for a radio program
  • Call on: seek help
  • Call out: shout
  • Drop off: leave out of a vehicle
  • Drop out: leave school before graduating
  • Draw up: Pull forward, plan, arrive
  • Fall behind: be slower than others
  • Fall out with: no longer speak with someone
  • Fall through: not happen
  • Fill in/out: complete a form/document
  • Get along/on with: have a good relationship with
  • Get around : travel, move about, circulate
  • Get into: enter
  • Get off: leave a transportation
  • Get on: walk on a transportation
  • Get rid of : eliminate
  • Get through : reach on the phone, survive
  • Get to : arrive at
  • Get up : rise
  • Give in: surrender
  • Give up: abandon
  • Go around: rotate
  • Go out: go outside
  • Go over: review in details
  • Go up: increase
  • Have somebody over: receive someone
  • Have under the belt: achieve
  • Keep up with: continue, carry on
  • Leave behind: to forget something when you leave
  • Leave out: to omit
  • Lock in: prevent from leaving
  • Lock out: stuck outside
  • Lock up: imprison Look after: take care of
  • Look at: watch
  • Look for: search, seek
  • Look forward to: wait for or anticipate something
  • Look in : to visit or check
  • Look into: investigate
  • Look out: be careful
  • Pass along: share
  • Pass by: miss the details
  • Pass over: not give consideration to
  • Pass through: quickly go through
  • Put off: postpone, set a later date, disgust
  • Settle down: become stable or calm
  • Sign off: end a letter
  • Sign on: agree to join
  • Sign out: indicate a departure by signing a register
  • Sign up: register
  • Slow up/down: move/go slower
  • Take in : understand, make clothing fit more tightly, to be fooled
  • Take off: leave, depart
  • Take out: bring outside
  • Take over: take control of
  • Take to: adapt to
  • Take up : learn something new
  • Turn down: refuse
  • Set off: leave
  • Write off: eliminate or enter a loss
  • Write out: write information explicitly and in detail

Sometimes the phrasal verb can be transformed into a noun (usually in the same order – verb + particle, but sometimes in reversed order):

  • They had a falling-out and no longer speak to each other.
  • The machine had a breakdown.
  • The economy has been in a downturn for the past year.

The phrasal verbs in the previous examples contained a verb and ONE particle. However, 3-word phrasal verbs also exist (one verb + 2 particles) and often have figurative meanings which we cannot always guess from looking at the individual words:

  • All the members of the team get along well with each other. (have a good relationship with)
  • It’s hard to keep up with him when he walks as he’s got long legs. (go as fast as)
  • Look out for pickpockets when you go to very touristy areas. (be careful about)
  • I’ve decided not to put up with all their angry arguments. (tolerate)
  • We’ve run out of paper in the photocopier. (have none left)
  • The finance department has asked us to cut down on extra expenses. (reduce)
  • They’ve decided to do away with paper files. (abolish)
  • Our manager can never face up to his responsibilities. (not avoid)
  • I’ll take you up on your offer. (accept)
  • The shop quickly sold out of the new line of mobile phones. (sell everything)
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