A complete phrasal verb list in English would include over 2,000 phrasal verbs. We have tons of them, and we use them all the time without realizing it. Phrasal verbs are, in fact, one of the most difficult things to learn in English because there are so many of them, and because they can’t be translated literally. However, here, you can at least learn what phrasal verbs are, how to recognize them, and where to go to find their meanings.
What Is a Phrasal Verb?
A phrasal verb is different from a verb phrase. A verb phrase, sometimes called a predicate, is made up of a main verb along with any complements, objects or adverbial phrases that follow it. It is a verb plus a lot of other things if they exist in a sentence.
A phrasal verb is simply a verb made up of more than one word. It is two or three words that make up one main verb. A phrasal verb is only a verb, not anything else in the sentence.
Usually, the words that constitute a phrasal verb are a verb and a preposition, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the first word in a phrasal verb is not a verb at all, but when paired with the preposition, the whole phrase becomes a verb. For example, the phrasal verb “clam up” is made of a noun (clam) and a preposition (up). When you combine them, however, they become one verb meaning “to become quiet or refuse to speak.”
To give another example, the verb “give” means to turn over the possession of something. However, when combined with various prepositions, the phrases take on their own meanings, which are quite different from the meanings of the two individual words.
- give away - to reveal some information or tell a secret; to give something to someone for free
- give back - to return a borrowed item; to repay a charitable action with another charitable action
- give in - to reluctantly stop fighting or arguing
- give out - to give something to a lot of people for free; to stop working from over-exertion
- give up - to quit a habit; to stop trying to succeed at something
How to Recognize Phrasal Verbs
So how do you know when you’re dealing with a phrasal verb and not just a verb and a preposition? Well, you have to look at the whole sentence. If the two words can be understood literally, it’s a verb and a preposition. If they have to be taken together with a meaning that has little or nothing to do with the meaning of the verb alone, then it’s a phrasal verb. Consider these examples:
- I went out of the room for a moment. – Here, the words in the phrase “went out” literally mean “went” and “out.” This is a verb (went) and a preposition (out).
- I went out with him a few times. – Here, the phrase “went out” is a phrasal verb meaning “spent time romantically.” It doesn’t necessarily indicate that you went anywhere, in or out.
Phrasal Verb List
The following is a short phrasal verb list to give you some examples.
- Ask out - to ask someone to go on a date
- Back up - to move backwards; to make a copy of something in case the original is destroyed or lost
- Come off - to appear or seem to another person
- Doze off - to fall asleep, usually accidentally
- Eat up - to eat all of something; to consume; to greatly disturb emotionally
- Fart around - to waste or spend time doing pointless or unnecessary things
- Get along with - to have a good relationship with; to progress or handle
- Hold up - to cause a delay; to rob someone, usually threatening violence
- Iron out - to remove small problems or irregularities from
- Jazz up - to make something more interesting or exciting
- Kick in - to take effect (as in a drug); to break something by kicking it; to contribute money
- Laugh off - to pretend something serious isn’t important; to pretend you are not bothered by something that really does bother you
- Make out - to make a check payable to; to pretend, to kiss heavily; to be able to see or hear something (a small detail or something in the distance)
- Name after - to give someone the same name as another person so as to honor or remember that person
- Own up - to confess
- Pack up - to finish or stop doing something; to collect things and put them into a container for transporting
- Quiet down - to become silent
- Rattle off - to quote information quickly off the top of one’s head
- Scrape by - to just barely manage to accomplish something
- Tag along - to go with someone, especially when you weren’t invited
- Use up - to finish or consume all of something
- Veg out - to relax, doing nothing
- Water down - to make something weaker or less offensive
- Yammer on - to talk continuously, especially in an annoying way
- Zone out - to not pay attention, allowing your mind to go blank
For more examples of phrasal verbs, the following websites might be of use: