Learn about the daily use of phrasal verbs and their use in sentences

Grammar is an important part to master in order to improve your TOEFL score. Remember, Preparation is the key to succeed !

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

Start training for free

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:

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 particle. 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 particles and their most common meanings, you can often guess at 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:

  • Look after: take care of
  • Look for: search
  • Look into: investigate
  • Look at: watch
  • Look forward to: wait for or anticipate something
  • Fall behind: be slower than others
  • Fall through: not happen
  • Fall out with: no longer speak with someone

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)

Our Study Sheets:

Start Training For Free