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Phrasal verbs are short expressions consisting of two or three words. They are very common in English, and can express many different concepts. But while they look simple, their meaning can be deceiving. This module will help you master them.

Introduction to phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs consist of common verbs and prepositions, but you can't always guess their meaning.

Phrasal verbs are expressions that consist of a verb followed by one or more prepositions. The words are typically short, common words that you see everyday.

verb preposition(s) phrasal verb
look after look after
get to get to
throw up throw up
look forward to look forward to
Same words, different meaning

Although you probably recognize these words, you can't always guess their meaning when they combine to form phrasal verbs. Let's take the example of look after. If you don't know this expression, you might want to guess based on what you do know:

  • look is a verb which mean to "stare at or observe with your eyes,"
  • after is a preposition that means "following or posterior to."

So you might think that

  • look after is "look behind" or "look in second place" or "look after somebody else has looked."

But no!! Here is the meaning...

  • "When I was sick, my mother always looked after me" look after to care, take responsibility or ensure the well-being of someone or something
    phrase

The meaning of look after is completely different from the words look and after! Different combinations of verbs and prepositions can make very different meanings.

phrasal verb meaning
look after care for
get to arrive
throw up vomit
look forward to anticipate

In this module we will learn some of the most common phrasal verbs. But first, let's check out the grammar.

Conjugate the verb

Phrasal verbs must be conjugated just like any other verb, changing according to the tense and subject. For example, the verb could be in the infinitive form...

  • What a mess. You need to look after your possessions better.

...present continuous...

  • We are looking after my sister's kids tonight.

...present perfect...

  • Jane has looked after the pets of many movie stars.

...present simple...

  • He looks after the accounts at his local bowling club.

....or any other verb form. Just remember, you conjugate the verb, not the preposition!

don't conjugate the preposition!



  • We are looking aftering his dogs.
  • My grandmother looked aftered me when I was a child.
Types of phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs can be divided into two categories depending on whether or not they take an object

  • transitive take an object
  • intransitive don't take an object

The transitive phrasal verbs can be further divided into two sub-categories, depending on where the object is placed.

  • separable object can be placed between the verb and preposition
  • inseparable object must be placed after the preposition

Transitive phrasal verbs

Transitive phrasal verbs take an object.

Transitive phrasal verbs need an object, something that receives the action. Without the object, the phrasal verb is not complete. Let's take the example of pick up.

  • "Their aunt picks them up from school every afternoon." pick up to go somewhere to retrieve a consignment, or give transporation to somebody.
    phrase

You must indicate the object, what you are picking up. Here are some examples. See if you can guess what the objects are.

  • I drove to the post office to pick up my mail my mail.
  • My mother picks up me and my brother me and my brother from school every afternoon.
  • The driver picks up the meal the meals from the restaurant then delivers them to the customers.
Separable

In those examples, the object came after the preposition. With some transitive phrasal verbs, you can also put the object between the verb and the preposition. These are called separable, because you can separate the verb from the preposition. pick up is separable.

  • I drove to the post office to pick my mail up my mail.
  • My mother picks me and my brother up me and my brother from school every afternoon.
  • The driver picks the meals up the meals from the restaurant then delivers them to the customers.

You can also substitute the object with a pronoun...

  • I drove to the post office to pick it the mail up.
  • My mother picks us me and my brother up from school every afternoon.
  • The driver picks them the meals up from the restaurant then delivers them to the customers.

...but, if you use a pronoun with a separable phrasal verb, it must go between the verb and preposition. You can’t put an object pronoun after the preposition of a separable phrasal verb.

don't put pronouns after the preposition!



  • I drove to the post office to pick it up it.
  • My mother picks us up us from school every afternoon.
  • The driver picks them up them from the restaurant then delivers them to the customers.

Separable phrasal verbs

Click card to zoom.
"If you don't know the meaning of a word, look it up in a dictionary." look up research or find information in a list, directory or database
phrase
"It took me three hours to figure out a solution to this problem." figure out to find a solution to a problem by thinking about it
phrase
"Their aunt picks them up from school every afternoon." pick up to go somewhere to retrieve a consignment, or give transporation to somebody.
phrase
"Petey is always breaking things and then making up ridiculous excuses." make up invent a story, excuse. lie or something to say
phrase
"Why do I always have to set up the tent when we go camping?" set up prepare, configure, install
phrase
"Poor bosses put down their employees, the best lead by example." put down insult, criticize
phrase
"It is important to put on a mask before you go into public." put on to dress in an article of clothing
phrase
"After a long walk, Mr. Harper took off his shoes and rubbed his feet." take off to remove an article of clothing
phrase
"Everywhere she went, Wanda showed off her new engagement ring." show off to display with pride or arrogance
phrase
"I just found out Jim and Sheryll are going to have a baby!" find out to be informed about a fact by someone else, or learn it yourself
phrase
  • "If you don't know the meaning of a word, look it up in a dictionary." look up research or find information in a list, directory or database
    phrase
  • "It took me three hours to figure out a solution to this problem." figure out to find a solution to a problem by thinking about it
    phrase
  • "Their aunt picks them up from school every afternoon." pick up to go somewhere to retrieve a consignment, or give transporation to somebody.
    phrase
  • "Petey is always breaking things and then making up ridiculous excuses." make up invent a story, excuse. lie or something to say
    phrase
  • "Why do I always have to set up the tent when we go camping?" set up prepare, configure, install
    phrase
  • "Poor bosses put down their employees, the best lead by example." put down insult, criticize
    phrase
  • "It is important to put on a mask before you go into public." put on to dress in an article of clothing
    phrase
  • "After a long walk, Mr. Harper took off his shoes and rubbed his feet." take off to remove an article of clothing
    phrase
  • "Everywhere she went, Wanda showed off her new engagement ring." show off to display with pride or arrogance
    phrase
  • "I just found out Jim and Sheryll are going to have a baby!" find out to be informed about a fact by someone else, or learn it yourself
    phrase

review - separable

Choose the correct phrasal verb for each sentence

  • 1.   I finally ____ my work desk just the way I like it.

  • 2.   No shoes please! ____ them ___ before you come in.

  • 3.   Surveys are a great way to ____ what customers want?

  • 4.   I haven't prepared a presentation. I'm just going to ___ it ____ as I go.

  • 5.   I love this video game but I can't _____ how to beat the final boss

Inseparable

With other transitive phrasal verbs, the object always goes after the preposition. These are called inseparable because you can't separate the verb from the preposition. look after is inseparable.

  • I asked my neighbours to look after our pets while we were on vacation.
  • You can borrow my car, but please look after it.
  • Your grandmother will look after you and your brother this evening.

With an inseparable phrasal verb, you can't put the object or an object pronoun between the verb and preposition.

don't separate inseparable phrasal verbs!



  • I asked my neighbours to look our pets after our pets...
  • ...please look it after it.
  • Your grandmother will look you after you.

And unlike with separable phrasal verbs, you can put an object pronoun after the preposition.

  • I asked my neighbours to look after our pets them...
  • ...please look after my car it.
  • Your grandmother will look after you and your brother you...

Inseparable phrasal verbs

Click card to zoom.
"I couldn’t have cereal this morning because we ran out of milk." run out of to exhaust supplies of something
phrase
"He was going out with his wife for five years before they got married." go out with to be in a romantic relationship; to go on a romantic date
phrase
"Our son is really looking forward to our trip to the beach this weekend." look forward to to be excited about an upcoming event
phrase
"It is a great school. All the children seem to get along with each other." get along with to be friendly with, not have any social conflicts with
phrase
"I come up with my best ideas when I'm walking or watching TV." come up with to have an idea
phrase
"Guess who I ran into at the mall? My old friend Herbert!" run into to meet unexpectedly
phrase
"When I was sick, my mother always looked after me" look after to care for someone or something, ensure their well-being
phrase
"We spent all weekend getting rid of the leaves that covered our garden and patio." get rid of discard, remove
phrase
"I've had to learn to put up with noise while working ever since the lockdown began." put up with endure an irritating or frustrating situation
phrase
"After five days of arduous hiking, the climber was able to get to the summit." get to arrive at, reach
phrase
  • "I couldn’t have cereal this morning because we ran out of milk." run out of to exhaust supplies of something
    phrase
  • "He was going out with his wife for five years before they got married." go out with to be in a romantic relationship; to go on a romantic date
    phrase
  • "Our son is really looking forward to our trip to the beach this weekend." look forward to to be excited about an upcoming event
    phrase
  • "It is a great school. All the children seem to get along with each other." get along with to be friendly with, not have any social conflicts with
    phrase
  • "I come up with my best ideas when I'm walking or watching TV." come up with to have an idea
    phrase
  • "Guess who I ran into at the mall? My old friend Herbert!" run into to meet unexpectedly
    phrase
  • "When I was sick, my mother always looked after me" look after to care for someone or something, ensure their well-being
    phrase
  • "We spent all weekend getting rid of the leaves that covered our garden and patio." get rid of discard, remove
    phrase
  • "I've had to learn to put up with noise while working ever since the lockdown began." put up with endure an irritating or frustrating situation
    phrase
  • "After five days of arduous hiking, the climber was able to get to the summit." get to arrive at, reach
    phrase

Intransitive phrasal verbs

Intransitive phrasal verbs don't take an object.

Intransitive phrasal verbs do not take an object, because nothing receives the action.

  • I grew up in Canada.
  • She ate too much and threw up.
  • My sister and her boyfriend broke up.

don't put an object after intransitive phrasal verbs!



  • I grew up me in Canada.
  • She ate too much and threw up it.
  • My sister and her boyfriend broke up them.

intransitive phrasal verbs

Click card to zoom.
"Edgar has been depressed ever since he and Sharon broke up." break up end a romantic relationship
phrase
"I grew up in the countryside. I didn't see a building taller than two storeys until I was a teenager." grow up to pass from childhood to adulthood
phrase
"The crowd was furious when the singer failed to show up." show up appear, arrive at an event
phrase
"There must be a stomach illness at the school. Three children threw up this morning." throw up vomit
phrase
"I should never have bought that car. It broke down the first day I drove it." break down have a mechanical malfunction
phrase
  • "Edgar has been depressed ever since he and Sharon broke up." break up end a romantic relationship
    phrase
  • "I grew up in the countryside. I didn't see a building taller than two storeys until I was a teenager." grow up to pass from childhood to adulthood
    phrase
  • "The crowd was furious when the singer failed to show up." show up appear, arrive at an event
    phrase
  • "There must be a stomach illness at the school. Three children threw up this morning." throw up vomit
    phrase
  • "I should never have bought that car. It broke down the first day I drove it." break down have a mechanical malfunction
    phrase

Practice

Review what you've learnt with these extended exercises

Separable Phrasal Verbs 1

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. If there is an object in brackets, put the object between the verb and the preposition. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

take off, put on, make up, find out, show off

Ex.   I (my dad) from the airport yesterday.
  • 1.   Dr. Farquar his gloves and handed them to his servant. took off
  • 2.   Here’s your new uniform, Joe. You can (it) in the staff room. put it on
  • 3.   Uh-oh. Here comes a security guard. We’d better an explanation for why we are here. make up
  • 4.   Jenkins. Can you call Mrs. Carruthers and how many people will be dining at her table tonight? find out
  • 5.   Ferguson is rich but modest. Although he has a lot of money he does not like to (it). show it off.

Separable Phrasal Verbs 2

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. If there is an object in brackets, put the object between the verb and the preposition. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

set up, figure out, pick up, look up, put down

Ex.   Dad (the pieces) while I read the game instructions.
  • 1.   I’ve bought the party decorations. Can you (them) in the living room while I finish decorating the cake? set them up
  • 2.   I’ve been staring at the pieces for hours, but I just can’t how to assemble this bookshelf. figure out
  • 3.   Honey. Could you (the children) from school this afternoon? I have a doctor’s appointment. pick the children up
  • 4.   Every time you (something) on Google, it adds that information to a database about your behavour and personality. look something up
  • 5.   The Wright Brothers are considered great inventors today, but in their time, many people (their ideas). put their ideas down.

Separable Phrasal Verbs 3

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. If there is an object in brackets, put the object between the verb and the preposition. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

find out, put on, show off, pick up, put down, make up, set up, look up, figure out, take off

Ex.   I (my mother) from the airport yesterday.
  • 1.   It was only after we bought the car that we the engine needed replacing. found out
  • 2.   As soon as Harry his makeup and red nose, his personality changes. put on
  • 3.   Hello Jane. I’ve just come by to my new hair style. What do you think? show off
  • 4.   I’m going to the store. Do you want me to (anything) for you? pick anything up
  • 5.   The public loved the movie, but all the critics (it), saying it was predictable and poorly acted. put it down
  • 6.   When they were children, their father a new story to tell them every night before bed. made up
  • 7.   The photographer’s assistant the equipment while the photographer himself talks to the client. sets up
  • 8.   We should go to Best Buy, but I don’t know what time they are open. Can you their opening hours online? look up
  • 9.   Nobody taught the octopus to open bottles. She (it) by herself. figured it out
  • 10.   At the end of every Scooby-Doo episode, the gang the mask and reveals who the villain really is. takes off

Inseparable phrasal verb 1

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

get along with, get to, put up with, look after, get rid of

Ex.   Just when I was the beach, the rain started.
  • 1.   I can’t go out tonight. I’m my brothers kids. looking after
  • 2.   The countries of the Middle East do not always each other. get along with
  • 3.   Every spring, we clean our house and old possessions we aren’t using any more. get rid of
  • 4.   Because of poor weather, the climbers couldn’t the summit of the mountain get to
  • 5.   I don’t mind the cold, but I really can’t extreme heat. put up with

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs 2

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

go out with, come up with, run out of, run into, look forward to

Ex.   Just when I was the beach, the rain started.
  • 1.   While we were on vacation, we our next door neigbbours. ran into
  • 2.   I’m on call at work next weekend, and I’m not to it. looking forward to
  • 3.   Harold was with Linda last year, but they stopped the relationship after he got a job in Singapore. going out with
  • 4.   For many years, experts predicted the world would oil sometime this century run out of
  • 5.   Last week, my boss an ingenious idea to get our clients to pay on time. came up with

Intransitive phrasal verbs

Write the correct phrasal verb from the list. Don't forget to conjugate the verb correctly!

break up, break down, throw up, get to, show up

  • 1.   This traffic is so slow. We'll never the concert on time. get to
  • 2.   I'm glad they finally . That relationship was making them both sad. broke up
  • 3.   Jake drank so much he all over the living room carpet. threw up
  • 4.   It used to be that all Chinese equipment would all the time. The quality of some Chinese products has improved recently. broke down
  • 5.   Our guests an hour late. By then, all the food was cold. showed up

All verbs - Correct the errors

Indicate if the sentences are correct or not. Pay attention to the use and placement of objects.

  • 1.   We were so happy when Uncle Harry showed him up for Thanksgiving.

    " ...Uncle Harry showed up...", intransitive verbs don't take an object,

  • 2.   Your socks are completely wet. You'd better put a new pair of dry socks on.

    "put on" is separable, "a new pair of dry socks" is the object separating verb and preposition.

  • 3.   They've looked so happy ever since they started going out.

    "going out" is intransitive and takes no object.

  • 4.   We didn't buy enough toilet paper and ran out of by the weekend.

    "...ran out of IT..." inseparable transitive phrasal verbs require an object after the preposition

  • 5.   I couldn't drive after going to the dentist and my wife had to pick up me.

    :..pick me UP..." object pronouns go between verb and preposition of separable phrasal verbs

Stella and Peter play paintball

Listen to this story then fill in the blanks with the correct phrasal verbs from this module. Don't forget to conjugate the verb, and include any direct objects.

paintball2.jpeg
Ex.   "Don't ," said Peter. "It could be a lot of fun."
  • 1.   They even with each others’ friends. got along with
  • 2.   But they were in love and they happily their differences. put up with
  • 3.   He was not the drive. looking forward to
  • 4.   He didn’t tell Stella and if she asked him what the problem was, he an excuse. made up
  • 5.   The morning of the competition, he at the mall near her house and they headed down the highway. picked her up
  • 6.   He lifted up the hood and stared at the engine but couldn’t what the problem was. figure out
  • 7.   Peter wanted to how well he could play to Stella, but he unfortunately he was distracted. show off
  • 8.   He couldn’t his worries about the car. get rid of
  • 9.   He’d paint! run out of
  • 10.   “Who won?” she asked as she . took her mask off