Phrasal verbs

A phrasal verb is a verb that is made up of a main verb together with an adverb or a preposition, or both. Typically, their meaning is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves. For example:

She has always looked down on me.

Fighting broke out among a group of 40 men.

I’ll see to the animals.

Don’t put me off, I’m trying to concentrate.

The report spelled out the need for more staff.


For instance, in the first example, the phrasal verb ‘to look down on someone’ doesn’t mean that you are looking down from a higher place at someone who is below you; it means that you think that you are better than someone.



Phrasal verbs can be intransitive (i.e. they have no object):

We broke up two years ago.

They set off early to miss the traffic.

He pulled up outside the cottage.


or transitive (i.e. they can have an object):

The police were called to break up the fight.

When the door is opened, it sets off an alarm.

They pulled the house down and redeveloped the site.


Word order 

The verb and adverb elements which make up intransitive phrasal verbs are never separated:

 We broke up two years ago.

✗  We broke two years ago up.


The situation is different with transitive verbs, however. If the direct object  is a noun, you can say:

They pulled
the housedown.
 [direct object] 
They pulled down the house.


If the object is a pronoun  (such as it, him, her, them) , then the object always comes between the verb and the adverb:

They pulled
 [direct object] 
They pulled down it.

  Read more about:

Subjects and objects

Transitive and intransitive verbs



Back to Verbs.

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