What are Phrasal Verbs?

Types of Verbs
Verb Types. Kenneth Beare

There are four types of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable and they can take an object or not. Here is a guide to the basics of phrasal verbs.

Phrasal Verbs which Take Objects

Phrasal verbs which take objects are known as transitive phrasal verbs. These verbs can be separable or inseparable:

Separable phrasal verbs can remain together when using an object that is a noun or noun phrase.

I picked Tom up. OR I picked up Tom.
They put their friends up. OR They put up their friends.
My friends gave bowling up. OR My friends gave up bowling. 

Separable phrasal verbs: pick up, put up, give up

Separable phrasal verbs MUST be separated when a pronoun is used:

We picked him up at the station. NOT We picked up him at the station.
They put them up. NOT They put up them.
She thought it up the other day. NOT She thought up it the other day. 

Separable phrasal verbs: pick up, put up, think up

Inseparable phrasal verbs always remain together. It makes no difference if a noun or pronoun is used.

We set off for the beach. / We set off for it.
They are looking after the children. / They are looking after them.
The teacher called for the answer in class. / The teacher called for it in class.

Inseparable phrasal verbs: set off, look after, call for

Phrasal Verbs which Don't Take Objects

Some phrasal verbs do not take objects. Verbs that do not take objects are also known as intransitive verbs. These phrasal verbs are ALWAYS inseparable.

The thieves got away.
The bus broke down on the way to work.
She got up early.

Intransitive phrasal verbs: get away, break down, get up

If you are not sure whether a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable, ALWAYS use a noun or nouns phrase and DO NOT separate. In this manner, you will always be correct!

Separable Phrasal Verbs: bring up, take off

They brought up their children to respect others.
She took off her jacket before she began the lesson.
The boss put off the meeting until next week.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs: look for, set off, keep at

She was looking for her books when he arrived.
They set off for a wonderful holiday in Hawaii.
You should keep at your homework for at least an hour. 

Three-word Phrasal Verbs

Some verbs are followed by two prepositions (or adverbs). These phrasal verbs are ALWAYS inseparable.

I'm looking forward to meeting John. OR I'm looking forward to meeting him.
They didn't get on with their mother. OR They didn't get on with her.
Peter came up with a great idea. OR Peter came up with it. 

Three-word phrasal verbs: look forward to, get on with, come up with

Phrasal Verb Type Quiz

Check your understanding by identifying each phrasal verb as transitive or intransitive and separable or inseparable.

For example: 

My friend picked me up at the airport. -> pick up: transitive, separable

  1. We set off at six o'clock in the morning. 
  2. Tom looks forward to meeting you next week.
  3. Unfortunately, the thieves got away.
  4. He told me that he had given cigarettes up last year.
  5. I got up and went to work.
  6. Jennifer thought it up during the meeting. 
  7. I was so tired after the race I broke down.
  8. He brought the subject up during class yesterday.
  9. I'll look after your dogs while you're away on vacation.
  10. She came up with a great idea.

Quiz Answers

  1. set off: intransitive / inseparable
  2. look forward to: transitive / inseparable
  3. get away: intransitive / inseparable
  4. give up: transitive / separable
  5. get up: intransitive / inseparable
  6. think up: transitive / separable
  7. break down: intransitive / inseparable
  8. bring up: transitive / separable
  9. look after: transitive / inseparable
  10. come up with: transitive / inseparable

Continue Learning Phrasal Verbs

This phrasal verbs reference list will get you started with short definitions of approximately 100 of the most common phrasal verbs. Teachers can use this introducing phrasal verbs lesson plan to help students become more familiar with phrasal verbs and start building phrasal verb vocabulary. Finally, there are a wide variety of phrasal verb resources on the site to help you learn new phrasal verbs.

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Beare, Kenneth. "What are Phrasal Verbs?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-are-phrasal-verbs-1209006. Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). What are Phrasal Verbs? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-phrasal-verbs-1209006 Beare, Kenneth. "What are Phrasal Verbs?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-phrasal-verbs-1209006 (accessed June 7, 2023).