Compare the use of “down” in the following sentences:

  • Please don’t tell me to calm down.
  • I was traveling down to the village.
  • But I fell down from my bike.
  • Since my car broke down last week!

While “down” appears in all of the sentences, it doesn’t carry the same meaning in all of the sentences.

  • In the first sentence, down means a person needs to become calm.
  • In the second, down means traveling or heading South.
  • In the third, down means falling while riding a bike.
  • And in the last sentence, down means the car stopped working.

So, how is it that “down” makes sense in all of the sentences? All of the bolded words are examples of phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is made by combining a verb with another particle that resembles a preposition.

Here are some examples:

  • Call off 
  • Wake up
  • Get out
  • Move in
  • Look for

Phrasal verbs are used all the time in English. Since the majority of phrasal verbs have a meaning different from the verb plus the particle, it is important to learn them as a unit. Like learning other vocabulary words, learn the meaning of phrasal verbs from context and group by group.


Separable Phrasal Verbs 

There are some elements that make phrasal verbs different from regular verbs. One of the main features to understand is that some (transitive, meaning they take a direct object) phrasal verbs are separable, while others are not.

The most important rule to remember is that if the direct object is a pronoun, then the phrasal verb MUST be separated.

  • Turn them off. → NOT turn off them
  • I can’t put it off any longer. → NOT put off it
  • You need to think it over. → NOT think over it 

Phrasal Verb + Preposition

Some phrasal verbs are always followed by a preposition. While these phrasal verbs + preposition require a direct object, the phrasal verb and the preposition can never be separated. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Put up with → (meaning tolerate) NOT Put him up with
  • Follow up on → (meaning ask again) NOT Follow the email up on
  • Run out of → (meaning not have any left) NOT Run it out of

Practice

  • Make a list of ten phrasal verbs.
  • Write a sentence for each item on your list.
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