What is a phrasal verb anyway?
Phrasal Verb (noun) a verb that joins with another word or words to make a verb with a new meaning.
Phrasal verbs are one of the best and (for some of my students) the worst parts of the English language. They add colour and variety to conversations, and show that an overseas student has really understood every day colloquial phrases.
When you hear these phrasal verbs for the first time, they can often be confusing. Why should a verb which means one thing, mean something completely different when you add another word?
However, there are some grammar rules to phrasal verbs:
- They are made up of a main verb and an adverb or preposition.
- They can be transitive (have an object) or intransitive (have no object).
but there are no rules at all when we think about meaning.
Let’s look at the verb ‘turn’ for example.
The most common meaning is to move round or to move something round.
If we add to it an adverb or a preposition then the meaning is changed. Let’s look at an example using the tv.
So, you can turn on the tv, turn over the channel, turn up the volume, turn down the volume, and finally turn off the tv.
Each of the phrasal verbs above has a different meaning when you are talking about watching television.
In addition, some individual phrasal verbs can also have many different meanings – think about ‘turn up‘ from our last example. Here are some alternative meanings…
to arrive – he turned up (arrived) early to the meeting
to find something – she turned up (found) something interesting in her research
‘turn up’ can also be found in common phrases, for example;
‘that was a turn up for the books’ which means that something was a surprise to somebody.
Over to you
While phrasal verbs can be difficult to understand, they are worth learning. So here’s an exercise for you to do.
When you are at work or having a conversation with a friend, write down any phrasal verbs you hear. See if you can work out the meaning from the conversation. If you don’t understand the meaning, ask your friend or work colleague to explain. Then try and use those phrasal verbs in the next few weeks.
Tell us how you get on, and we’ll pick our favourite email and the winner will get a free Skype lesson. The competition will end on Monday 9 March 2020!