C.Phrasal verbs: grammar and style

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Grammar: intransitive verbs

Some phrasal verbs are intransitive and do not need a direct object.

  • The children are growing up. (= getting older and more mature)
  • The doctor told me to lie down on the bed.
  • Don’t wait out there. Please come in. (= enter)
  • I’m going to stay in (= stay at home) this evening.

With these verbs, you cannot put another word between the verb and adverb.

Grammar: transitive verbs

But many phrasal verbs are transitive and do need a direct object.

With some of these, you can put the object between the verb and adverb:

Put on your shoes / Turn on the TV / Put your shoes on /        Turn the TV on /

If the object is a pronoun, it must go between verb and adverb.

Put them on / [not Put on them]   Turn it on / [not Turn on it]

Note: A dictionary will show you if you can put a word between the verb and adverb:

Style: formal or informal

Some phrasal verbs can be used equally in written or spoken English. Sometimes this is because there is no other easy way to express the meaning of the phrasal verb.

  • I always wake up early, even at weekends.
  • The car broke down (= went wrong; stopped working) on the motorway.
  • The plane couldn’t take off because of bad weather.
  • Thieves broke into (= entered by force and illegally) the house and took money, credit cards and all my jewellery.

Informal phrasal verbs

But most phrasal verbs are informal and are more common in spoken English.

In written English there is often a more formal word with the same meaning.

  • We had to make up a story. (= invent/create from our imagination)
  • I can usually get by on about £200 a week. (= manage)
  • You can leave out question 7. (= omit, i.e. you don’t need to do question 7)
  • They’ve got a problem and they asked me to sort it out. (= resolve (it) / find a solution / do something about it)

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