Phrasal Verbs

  • Which phrasal verb does this picture show?

Phrasal Verbs

Look at the picture.  What phrasal verb(s) does it show?  Ideas are at the end of this blog!


Phrasal verbs.  Do you love them or do you hate them?

Love them or hate them, phrasal verbs are an extremely important part of the English language.  Many coursebook writers seem to think they become more important the higher your English language competency gets, but in fact there is no reason why you shouldn’t be aware of phrasal verb grammar at beginner level.

So why are phrasal verbs so difficult for learners of English?

Firstly, phrasal verbs are extremely confusing.  They are either two words or three, made up of a verb and one or two particles.  The particles (often short and easily forgettable) are either prepositions or adverbs.

There are many combinations of verb + particle and some have multiple meanings!

Phrasal verbs with ‘get’

get up/ get in / get out / get over / get on with / get up to / get across / get rid of / get into


Two word phrasal verbs

Check in (someone)

This phrasal verb has an object, someone.  We can this a ‘transitive’ phrasal verb.   It is also ‘separable’, which means we can pull the verb and the particle apart and place our object in the middle!

✅ I checked in Mr Anderson.

✅ I checked Mr Anderson in.

If we don’t want to repeat our object, Mr Anderson or if the listener or reader knows that the sentence is about Mr Anderson, we can replace it with a pronoun.  In this example, Mr Anderson is a man so we would use the pronoun ‘him’.

✅ I checked him in.

I checked in him.

Note, when using a pronoun as the object, we must always put it in the middle of the phrasal verb and not at the end!



So, when learning a phrasal verb, it is important to discover if it is transitive (has an object after it) or intransitive (no object after it.)

If it has an object, is it separable (we can pull it apart) or inseparable (it is stuck together).


Transitive Separable

Clean up (make clean)

✅ The housekeeping team cleaned up the room after the party.

✅ The housekeeping team cleaned the room up after the party.

✅ The housekeeping team cleaned it up after the party.


Transitive Inseparable

Come across (find)

✅ The security guard came across a mobile phone outside the restaurant.



Show up (arrive)

✅ The guests showed up early.

✅ He showed up alone.

✅ They showed up late.


Three word phrasal verbs

The three parts of these phrasal verbs (one verb and two particles) always stick together.  So, three word phrasal verbs are always inseparable.  Three word phrasal verbs are usually transitive, which means they have an object after them.

If we want to use a pronoun to replace the object, we can put it at the end of three word phrasal verbs.  Because we cannot separate them, there is nowhere else it put it!

Run out of (to not have enough of something).


✅ The kitchen have run out of fish.

✅ The kitchen have run out of it.


How do you remember them?

Many students prefer rote learning when it comes to remembering vocabulary.  But this often loses a context in which we can place and remember the phrasal verb.

For every phrasal verb you learn, always do two things.

  1. Write an example sentence using the phrasal verb.  Try to make your sentence funny or memorable.  Don’t be boring!
  2. Draw a quick picture to show what the meaning of the phrasal verb is.

Pictures are a very useful way to remember phrasal verbs.  Why not draw a sketch to show the meaning of each phrasal verb you learn?

Look at the picture at the top of the page.  Which phrasal verb does it show?

Possible answers:

bring up

✅ The father is bringing up his son.

look after

✅ The father is looking after his son.

grow up

✅ The boy is growing up.

watch over

✅ The father is watching over his son.

take care of

✅ The father is taking care of his son


Did you have any other ideas?  Let me know!