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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Clarke

Micro Lesson: Phrasal Verbs

What are phrasal verbs anyway?

Short answer: the most frustrating part of the English language.

Long answer: two or more words that function together as a single verb, very often meaning something completely different from the words that comprise it.

There are over 700 phrasal verbs in the English language, most of which are used in everyday speech, so if your goal is fluency or you often chat with native speakers, there’s no way around it. You have to learn them.

I’m so sorry.

It is a game of memorisation and practice practice practice. However, there is one major grammar point worth mentioning, and it’s a rule that works 99% of the time, which is pretty good considering phrasal verbs are basically nonsense.

Transitive Separable Phrasal Verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs that need an object (ex. “need”. “I need” is not a full sentence, we need something.) When a phrasal verb is transitive, we’ll either be using a noun or a pronoun as its object. When a phrasal verb is separable, this means the two words do not have to be directly beside each other in a sentence.

Can you take out the trash tonight?

When we use a noun object (“the trash”), it almost always goes after the entire phrasal verb. This is not true when we use a pronoun.

I took out the trash last night, can you take it out tonight?

“It” refers to “the trash,” and it goes in the middle of the phrasal verb. This is a standard construction. Sometimes you can put the full noun in the middle of the phrasal verb, but only sometimes, and there’s no easy way to remember when, so it’s always safest to keep it at the end.

Rule: Noun objects go after the phrasal verb, pronoun objects go in the middle.

What about 3-word phrasal verbs?

Good question!

Put all objects at the end, all the time, noun or pronoun. (At least this one is easy to remember.)

Good luck with the other 699 phrasal verbs! :)

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