Phrasal verbs: form and meaning


A phrasal verb is a verb combined with an adverb or preposition, and occasionally with an adverb and preposition.
The price of petrol may go up (= increase) again next week.
He fell over (= fell to the ground) when he was running for the bus.
She’s promised to find out (= learn/discover) the name of that new hotel.
Who is going to look after (= take care of) the children when she goes into hospital?
If you don’t understand the meaning, you can look it up (= find the meaning in a book – in this case a dictionary).
He doesn’t get on with (= have a good relationship with) his parents, (verb + adv + prep)


Sometimes the meaning of a phrasal verb is very similar to the base verb, and the adverb just emphasises the meaning of the base verb, e.g. stand up, wake up, save up, hurry up, sit down, lie down and send off (e.g. a letter). On other occasions, the adverb adds the idea of completing the action of the verb, e.g. drink up (= finish your drink), eat up (= finish eating), finish off.

But more often, the meaning of a phrasal verb is very different from the base verb, e.g. go up doesn’t mean the same as go; look after is different from look; and look after is also quite different from look up. An adverb or preposition can therefore change the meaning of a verb a great deal.
Here are some more examples of this type of phrasal verb.
It took her a long time to get over (= get better / recover from) her illness.
He told me to carry on (= continue) as far as the traffic lights.
I persuaded my wife to give up (= stop ) smoking.
I can’t make any sandwiches because we’ve run out of bread. (= the bread is finished / all used, so we have no bread)
In the end my next-door neighbour had to come and put out (= extinguish/stop) the fire.

Multiple meaning

Many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning, so you must be careful when you see a phrasal verb you think you know, or look up the meaning in a dictionary. In the examples marked *, the phrasal verb is much more natural than the explanation in brackets.

It was hot so I decided to ‘ take off (= remove) my jacket.
I am always nervous when the plane * takes off (= leaves the ground).
I don’t think I’ll get through (= finish) this report before five o’clock.
I think she’ll get through (= pass) the exam.
I “picked up the rubbish (= took it from the ground or a low place) and put it in the bin.
I had to go to the shop to pick up (= collect) my photos.
My alarm clock didn’t go off (= ring) this morning.
The bomb could go off (= explode) at any minute.
The fish will *go off (= go bad) if you don’t put it in the fridge.