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,
- stand up
- wake up
- save up
- hurry up
- sit down
- lie down
- send off (e.g. a letter).
On other occasions, the adverb adds the idea of completing the action of the verb
- 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
- 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.
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.