Phrasal Verbs

This was a new one to me, and I wondered why I’d never heard it before.  The smartest woman I know explained to me that this is a term helpful for those learning English as a second language. It’s not really what native speakers call these words.  On the off chance that maybe I am not the only person in America who never heard of phrasal verbs and yet is interested in what they are now that I have heard of them, here you go.


Phrasal verbs are typical two word phrases, sometimes 3, consisting of a verb and a preposition. When combined, they usually take on a different meaning than one would assume from the individual definitions of the verb and preposition. For native speakers, we say the preposition is an adverb modifying the verb.  Some examples:

hang up, turn on, turn out, put on, go over, do over, sweep up, bring up, watch out, look out, make up, make out, come down, take down, sleep in, and on, and on, and on.  Once I heard a few I coudln’t not notice them any more.  We use these *all* the time, we native speakers.  No wonder it’s confusing.

Some of them do have some logic behind them.  Turn up the radio/television makes some sense when you remember the volume used to be a button you literally turned to the right to make things louder.  Turn on the light can be figured out, although if you think about it and compare it to the way we say other things it can be a bit odd.

But it takes more than intuition and context to figure out for sure what is meant by a couple making out, and why you put make-up on your face, but also make up after a fight, or why we say a child just made up a story,  or why we talk about bringing up a child but also bringing up a topic of conversation, or why you turn on a light but can also turn on a person sexually or angrily. Put down the candy, put down a person, put down a sick puppy all mean three totally different things.    Mainly, you just have to listen and ask, and perk up your ears (there was another one), whenever you hear a verb and preposition together, which means you have to know those verbs and prepositions.

Sorry for running on.  If it’s interesting to you, you can check out more information here:

I have to take off now.  It’s time to do up the Cherub’s hair, and put on some clothes, and pack up lunches for work, because today I don’t have enough cash to do carry out lunches. I will catch up with y’all later.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Jan
    Posted December 10, 2017 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Two I really do not like and unfortunately they are becoming more used downunder. “Hate on,” “love on.” Just why?

  2. Jan
    Posted December 10, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I left the comment above and then read another USA blog. “Brag on.” No.

    • Headmistress
      Posted December 11, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Some of them are slangy. But quite a large number are normal, accepted, even proper, usages, and you probably use them multiple times a day and just don’t notice. They are invisible to native speakers, and when pointed out we think they aren’t that odd, they are obvious. But they just aren’t intuitive to non-native speakers. For instance, I spent several embarrassing moments in confused ignorance recently when a Filipina friend was taking me to a restaurant and she stopped the car and said I should ‘go down’ here and she would go ahead and park the car. I could not see any stairs, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or where I should go to meet her. After a confused couple of minutes where I asked about stairs and she said no, just go down here, I finally stepped out and while I was looking for stairs, she parked the car right in front of me. The issue was the space was so narrow, I couldn’t have opened the car door once she’d parked, so she was telling me to exit the car before she parked it. Nothing to do with stairs. But Americans don’t go down from the car, we get out of the car. Seems obvious now, but in the moment, my brain could not interpret ‘go down’ as ‘exit’ because I’d never used it that way, and if I’d heard it used that way, I don’t remember it.

      • Jan
        Posted December 11, 2017 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Yes, some are common, “wipe up”. But hate or love on someone or something sounds very clumsy and quite unnecessary. And brag on? I wonder how such things ever started. I could understand brag about something, but brag on?

  3. Frances
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    That was new to me, too. Very interesting! I’m watching for them all over the place now.

    OT but I was taken aback in my early days in the US when my sister told me in her hot aparrment that she’d “managed to crack the bedroom window”. Not a usage with which I was familiar – it seemed a drastic measure!

  4. Amy
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Phrasal verbs cause problems for native English speakers, too, who are taught to never end a sentence with a preposition. It leads to infamous errors like “up with which we shall not put.”

    • Headmistress
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      True, that.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon

    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends:

  • Search: