Teaching and Learning Since 2002

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are usually verbs with a preposition next to it. The preposition, when put next to the verb, changes its meaning a little bit or a lot. Here's an example:

pull - use your arms and hands to move something towards you.
pull into - drive your car towards a place off the road.
pull out - quit an event or group that you had joined.
pull off - make a difficult task a success.
pull away - get a bigger lead over your opponents in a game or a sporting match.

Prepositions are small words that are used to tell "where" or "how." Examples of prepositions are:

about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, in front of, inside, instead of, into, like, near, of, off, on, on top of, onto, out of, outside, over, past, since, through, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within, without

There are two kinds of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable. Separable phrasal verbs can have the verb and preposition separated. Whatever is between them would be emphasized (shown to be important) if separated. Otherwise, the phrasal verb itself would be emphasized not separated. Let's use the separable phrasal verb help out as an example.

My mother helps out my father. - not separated, helps out is emphasized.
My mother helps my father out. - separated, my father is emphasized.

Inseparable phrasal verbs cannot be separated in any way. There isn't really a hard and fast rule for knowing if a phrasal verb is separable - the key is to read a lot so you will see the same ones over and over again and know how they are used. Some phrasal verbs can't be separated because the preposition isn't suited for separation. Other times if there is a separation, the meaning would change!!!

Change in Meaning
Mike stood up from his chair to shake the veteran's hand. - Mike got to a standing position off the chair.
Chloe stood Billy up last night. - Chloe didn't show up for her date with Billy.

Unsuitable Preposition
Mac will run for class president. - Mac will try to be the class president.
No Mac will run class president for. - the for doesn't work well when separated.

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©opyright 2017 by Richard Knopf
Created January 15, 2015