Phrasal verbs: essentials



Some verbs combine with a particle (e.g. adverb or preposition) to change the meaning of the verb.

The placement of the particle varies:

  • Unsplittable phrasal verbs - the particle must directly follow the verb, e.g. I get up at 7am.
  • Splittable verbs - an object can be placed e.g. Please fill in this form vs. Please fill this form in. The varying placement can change the emphasis of the phrase but often it has no effect.


Phrasal verbs are common in English, especially in the spoken language and informal written English. In formal or standard written English, an alternative verb will often be sought, e.g. to come up with some ideas vs. to generate some ideas.


  • Phrasal verbs are difficult because even if the verb stays the same, small changes to the participle can significantly change the meaning and very often, in a non-logical way, e.g. go on (continue) vs. go off (change from passive to active).
  • It can be tempting for learners to favour the formal equivalent of a phrasal verb because it might be more familiar or logical. However, relying on these equivalents can result in language that sounds strange for some situations. At the same time, it’s important for learners to be aware of the formal equivalent for formal situations.
  • Some phrasal verbs have more than one meaning, so it’s important to pay careful attention to the context.


  • The plane took off at 6pm.
  • I look forward to seeing you at the weekend.


This grammar section includes materials sourced from the following: Linguapress,