How to Teach Phrasal Verbs (With Examples)

Teaching phrasal verbs to students can be an engaging and enjoyable aspect of English language learning. Phrasal verbs are unique because they consist of a verb combined with a preposition or adverb, creating a meaning different from the individual words. It can be challenging to teach phrasal verbs to learners, but with the right techniques, they can be effectively learned.

In this resource, we’ll provide some practical methods for teaching phrasal verbs, complete with examples for better understanding. Whether you’re an educator or a learner, these strategies will simplify the learning process and make it more enjoyable. Keep reading to discover how to excel at these essential elements of English.

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What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are phrases in the English language that consist of a verb combined with one or more additional words, typically a preposition or an adverb. These additional words, often referred to as particles, change or enhance the meaning of the main verb. Phrasal verbs are very common in English and are used in both spoken and written communication.

The unique aspect of phrasal verbs is that the combination of the verb and the particle(s) often creates a meaning that is different from the original meanings of the individual words. For example:

teaching phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs make English interesting but can be hard to learn because their meanings are not always clear from the words they are made of. You often need to understand how they are used in different situations to know what they really mean.

Who can benefit in learning Phrasal Verbs?

Anyone learning English can really benefit from knowing phrasal verbs, as they are used a lot in the language. This is helpful for:

ESL/EFL Students

All students learning English, no matter if they’re just starting or already advanced, will come across phrasal verbs often. They are used a lot in everyday speaking and writing. It’s really important to understand phrasal verbs to speak and understand English well. This means knowing what these phrases mean and how to use them correctly. By learning phrasal verbs, students can get better at English, both in talking and understanding what others say or write.

ESL Teachers

To teach English as a second or foreign language effectively, teachers must have a good understanding of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are combinations of words that include a verb and a preposition or adverb, and they often have a meaning different from the individual words. Knowing these well helps teachers explain them better to their students.

Non-native English Speakers

People who are learning English as a second language often find it difficult to understand and use phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are expressions made up of a verb and another word like a preposition or an adverb.

They can have meanings that are not obvious from the individual words. Learning phrasal verbs can really help these learners speak more naturally, just like native English speakers, and understand what native speakers are saying more easily.

Professionals in International Business

In a world where business is often done in English, people who speak English as a second language can really help their careers by learning phrasal verbs. These are expressions that combine a verb with a preposition or adverb and have a special meaning.

Understanding and using phrasal verbs can make it easier for non-native English speakers to talk and understand others in more casual or conversational business situations. This can be very useful in meetings, networking events, or even just chatting with colleagues.

Travelers and Expats

When traveling to or living in countries where English is the main language, knowing phrasal verbs can be really helpful and make the experience more fun. These phrases are used a lot in everyday conversations so if you understand and can use them, it’s easier to communicate with locals, understand what’s being said around you, and feel more connected to the culture and daily life.

Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Teaching phrasal verbs is important for learning English well. Phrasal verbs are phrases that combine a verb with another small word, like “turn off” or “look up,” and they are used a lot in English. They can be tricky because they have special meanings and need to be put together in certain ways in sentences.

Good teaching includes explaining the different types of phrasal verbs, showing the right way to use them, and teaching the most common ones. This helps students use phrasal verbs correctly and improves their speaking and writing.

Types of Phrasal Verbs

There are four main types of phrasal verbs: transitive, intransitive, separable, and inseparable. Understanding these types helps you know how to use them correctly in sentences. Each type behaves differently, so it’s important to learn about them when you’re studying English.

Transitive phrasal verbs

These require an object. The action of the verb is transferred to the object. For example:

  • She turned off the light. (The object ‘the light’ is receiving the action of ‘turning off’.)
  • I looked up the word in the dictionary. (‘The word’ is the object receiving the action of ‘looking up’.)

Intransitive phrasal verbs

These do not take an object. The meaning is complete without needing something or someone to receive the action. For example:

  • The plane took off. (There is no object; ‘took off’ is complete on its own.)
  • He suddenly showed up. (No object is needed for ‘showed up’.)

Separable phrasal verbs

With these, the verb and the particle can be separated, and the object can be placed between them. For example:

  • She put on her jacket. / She put her jacket on. (The object ‘her jacket’ can go between ‘put’ and ‘on’.)
  • Can you fill out this form? / Can you fill this form out? (‘This form’ can be between ‘fill’ and ‘out’.)

Inseparable phrasal verbs

These cannot be separated, and the object must come after the particle. For example:

  • I ran into an old friend. (You cannot say ‘I ran an old friend into.’)
  • She looks after her younger brother. (‘Her younger brother’ cannot be placed between ‘looks’ and ‘after’.)

Note: Knowing the type of phrasal verb you are dealing with helps in using it correctly in sentences. For learners, it can be challenging at first to determine whether a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable, or transitive or intransitive, but with practice and exposure, it becomes easier to understand and use them correctly.

Using the correct order of words with phrasal verbs

Using phrasal verbs correctly in English is important to speak and write clearly. The order of words in a phrasal verb depends on its type. There are a few rules:

For Transitive and Separable Phrasal Verbs

The object can go between the verb and the particle or after the particle. Here are examples:

teaching phrasal verbs

For Transitive and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

The object must come after the particle; you cannot separate the verb and the particle. Here’s an example:

teaching phrasal verbs

For Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Since there’s no object, just use the verb and particle together. Here’s an example:

For Phrasal Verbs with Pronoun Objects (Separable)

If the object is a pronoun (like it, them, him, her), it must come between the verb and the particle. Here’s an example:

Note: Understanding these rules will help ensure that a learner uses phrasal verbs correctly in sentences. Practice and exposure to different contexts will also help a student become more comfortable with their usage.

Common phrasal verbs in the English language

Since some memorization is needed to fully understand how these verbs work, here’s a list of the most common phrasal verbs used in the English language together with their definition and sentence usage examples:

Phrasal Verb Definition Sentence Usage
Turn on/off To activate or deactivate something (like a light or machine). Can you turn on the light? Don’t forget to turn off the stove.
Look up To search for information, often in a book or online. I need to look up the recipe for this dish.
Bring up To mention or start to talk about a subject. She brought up a good point during the meeting.
Take off To remove something, or for an aircraft to begin flight. Please take off your shoes before entering. The plane took off on time.
Put on To dress oneself with an item of clothing. I put on my coat before leaving the house.
Run out of To exhaust a supply or quantity of something. We’ve run out of milk; could you buy some?
Go on To continue; to happen or occur. The show must go on. What’s going on here?
Come across To find or encounter something or someone by chance. I came across an old friend in the street.
Look forward to To anticipate something with pleasure. I’m looking forward to the weekend.
Get along with To have a harmonious or friendly relationship. She gets along with her colleagues very well.
Find out To discover information. I need to find out when the train leaves.
Give up To stop trying or to quit an activity. Never give up on your dreams.
Break down To stop functioning (machinery); to lose control emotionally. My car broke down on the way to work. She broke down in tears.
Pick up To lift something; to collect someone or something. Can you pick up the kids from school? He picked up the book from the table.
Call off To cancel an event or arrangement. The meeting was called off due to bad weather.

Note: These phrasal verbs are versatile and can be used in various contexts, making them essential to mastering conversational English. Remember, the meaning of a phrasal verb can sometimes change significantly based on its context, so it’s important to pay attention to how they are used in different situations.

Activities for Teaching Phrasal Verbs

To better understand how phrasal verbs function, here are activities for teaching them.

Phrasal Verbs Practice Exercise: Fill in the Blanks

Instructions: Fill in the blanks with the appropriate phrasal verb from the options given.
1.) I need to __________ my shoes before entering the house. (take off, take on, take after)
2.) It’s time to __________ the computer; we’re leaving now. (turn on, turn up, turn off)
3.) The students were asked to __________ the main points of the story. (bring out, bring up, bring down)
4.) The chef asked the assistant to __________ the ingredients for the recipe. (measure out, measure up, measure in)
5.) I was surprised to __________ my old friend at the airport. (come across, come up, come down)
6.) The students were told to __________ their homework by tomorrow. (hand in, hand out, hand over)
7.) Let’s __________ a movie tonight; I heard there’s a great one playing. (look at, look for, look up)
8.) He always __________ interesting ideas during our team meetings. (come up with, come across, come over)
9.) The manager asked everyone to __________ the new policy. (carry out, carry on, carry over)
10.) We had to __________ our vacation plans due to unforeseen circumstances. (put up with, put off, put on)
Answer key (for teachers):
1.) I need to take off my shoes before entering the house.
2.) It’s time to turn off the computer; we’re leaving now.
3.) The students were asked to bring up the main points of the story.
4.) The chef asked the assistant to measure out the ingredients for the recipe.
5.) I was surprised to come across my old friend at the airport.
6.) The students were told to hand in their homework by tomorrow.
7.) Let’s look for a movie tonight; I heard there’s a great one playing.
8.) He always comes up with interesting ideas during our team meetings.
9.) The manager asked everyone to carry out the new policy.
10.) We had to put off our vacation plans due to unforeseen circumstances.

Phrasal Verbs Practice Exercise: Sentence Construction

Instructions: Create sentences using the phrasal verbs given in each item.
“Get along” – Meaning: To have a good relationship with someone.
“Call off” – Meaning: To cancel something.
“Show up” – Meaning: To arrive or appear.
“Put off” – Meaning: To postpone or delay.
“Check out” – Meaning: To investigate or examine.

Phrasal Verbs Practice Exercise: Match and Use

Instructions: Match the phrasal verbs in Column A with their meanings in Column B. Once matched, create a sentence using each phrasal verb correctly.
Column A Column B
1. Run out of A. To delay or postpone.
2. Turn up B. To support or assist.
3. Back up C. To end a relationship.
4. Hold off D. To deplete the supply of something.
5. Break up E. To increase the volume or level.
Sentence 1:
Sentence 2:
Sentence 3:
Sentence 4:
Sentence 5:
Answer key (for teachers):
1. D
2. E
3. B
4. A
5. C

Final Thoughts on Teaching Phrasal Verbs to Your Students

Teaching phrasal verbs is important for learning English. It’s good to start with the most common ones and use examples to show how they are used in real life. Using pictures, stories, and real situations can make learning more interesting. Students should practice using phrasal verbs by speaking and writing. It helps to explain the different types of phrasal verbs with examples. Reviewing what they’ve learned often is important. Using movies, songs, and articles in teaching helps students see how phrasal verbs are used naturally. Being patient and encouraging students is important, as knowing phrasal verbs well helps them understand and speak English better.

Utilizing resources like EnglishLearningByPro, which offers accessible and flexible materials, enables teachers to customize their teaching strategies to suit the varied needs of their students. The ultimate aim is to enable students to confidently utilize helping verbs, thereby enhancing their communication skills in both spoken and written English.

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John Bart
Author: John Bart

I am the co-owner of, a community built specifically for English teachers around the world trying to make a living teaching English. I have lived in Brazil for four years and had previously taught private English classes for three years. I am passionate about helping others, and making English teaching and learning easier.

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