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Michigan TIPS, Issue #010 Phrasal Verbs
January 23, 2009

English Phrasal Verbs

English phrasal verbs are what you get when you combine a verb and a preposition or a verb and an adverb... they become known as phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are always the least favorite part of the English language for my students to learn... and for good reason.

First, they are difficult. Ok, I admit it. They can be difficult. But being difficult doesn't excuse you from learning and knowing them as I can assure you; you will run across (good phrasal verb meaning see, or face) them all the time when dealing with native speakers of the language and you will definitely see them in exam situations as well.

Next, you should know that they are often used in a literal sense. That is, the combination of the verb with the preposition leads to a logical understanding. There are also times when the meaning is completely idiomatic and that's where confusion can creep in (another good phrasal verb meaning begin, or start).

Below are a few examples to clear up (phrasal verb meaning clarify) any misunderstanding you may have concerning this particular grammar item.

Oh, by the way, I've started a new web site dedicated to English grammar and you'll be glad to know that the first part of the site is done and guess what it covers?

Yep, that's right... Phrasal Verbs!

By clicking on the previous link you can go to my new site and see the definitions, examples and exercises that are there for you to improve your phrasal verb knowledge. If you like my new site, do yourself and me a favor by bookmarking it and / or sharing it with a friend. Thank you in advance for the help... and now, back to the examples.

First, ask yourself if the meaning is literal, or is it idiomatic?

Example: The boy ran into the room.
Here, ran into literally means what it says ie., the boy entered the room running.
Example: The boy ran into his teacher at the mall.
ran into (almost literally) means what it says. This is bordering on idiomatic, but it is still somewhat literal because they didn't actually collide, but they did meet unexpectedly.
Idiomatic Usage

The problems begin when the phrasal verb 'ran into' has a completely idiomatic meaning.
Example: The boy ran into problems while doing the English test.
Here, ran into has a metaphorical, or idiomatic meaning. It means 'encounter difficulties or problems that need solving' (This is like other phrasal verbs or combinations that can have a similar meaning such as 'come across,' for example.)

Now, the above represents typical phrasal verb usage. 'Typical' in that these verbs often follow set patterns.

English Phrasal Verb Patterns

Phrasal verbs can be followed by an object, or not. That is, they are either intransitive or transitive. An intransitive verb does NOT have an object while a transitive verb does.

You may find it difficult to decide whether an English phrasal verb can be 'separated' from the preposition or adverb that completes the verb combination or not.

The following illustrates the problem...
Example: Turn off the computer.
Example: Turn the computer off.
As seen above, some phrasals can be separated with the object of the verb coming between the main verb and the preposition. It's important to remember that some English phrasal verbs can NOT be separated, and the verb and preposition must remain together.
Example: The rotten fruit gave off a horrible smell.
NOT: The rotten fruit gave a horrible smell off.
Also note that some verbs need the object to come before the adverb or preposition.

Example: The police allowed the car through the roadblock.
NOT: The police allowed through the car through the roadblock.

All transitive phrasal verbs whose object is a pronoun must have the pronoun before the adverb.

Example: Turn it off.
NOT: Turn off it.
You can see that the above is a good bit of information regarding this 'difficult' subject.

To find out more about them and to do exercises designed to help you learn and remember English phrasal verbs just click on the preceding link. It'll to you to my new site... I'm sure you'll find it useful.


Teaching + Inspiration + Practice = Success

Good learning everyone!

Till next time...



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