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What is a Phrasal Verb?

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and preposition, a verb and an adverb, or a verb with both an adverb and a preposition.

A phrasal verb has a meaning which is different from the original verb. That's what makes them fun, but confusing. You may need to try to guess the meaning from the context, or, failing that, look it up in a dictionary.

The adverb or preposition that follows the verb are sometimes called a particle. The particle changes the meaning of the phrasal verb in idiomatic ways.

They are also known as compound verbs, verb-adverb combinations, verb-particle constructions", two-part words/verbs and three-part words/verbs (depending on the number of words).

Phrasal verbs are usually used informally in everyday speech as opposed to the more formal Latinate verbs, such as to get together rather than to congregate, to put off rather than to postpone, or to get out rather than to exit. They should be avoided in academic writing.

!Note- Some linguists differentiate between phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs, while others assume them to be part of one and the same construction, as both types are phrasal in nature. So, unless you want to become a linguist, don't worry about it.

Literal usage

Many verbs in English can be combined with an adverb or a preposition, a phrasal verb used in a literal sense with a preposition is easy to understand.

  • "Hewalked acrossthe square.

Verb and adverb constructions are also easy to understand when used literally.

  • "She opened the shutters andlooked outside."
  • "When he heard the crash, helooked up."

An adverb in a literal phrasal verb modifies the verb it is attached to, and a preposition links the subject to the verb.

Idiomatic usage

It is, however, the figurative or idiomatic application in everyday speech which makes phrasal verbs so important:

  • "I hope you willget overyour operation quickly."

The literal meaning of to get over, in the sense of to climb over something to get to the other side, is not relevant here. Here "get over" means "recover from" or "feel better".

Transitive and intransitive phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs also differ in their transitivity or intransitivity in the same way as normal verbs do. A transitive verb always has an object.

For example:-

  • Many people walked across the bridge.

"Across" in this sentence is the preposition to "the bridge".

An intransitive verb does not have an object.

For example:-

  • When I entered the room he looked up.

"Up" here is an adverb, and does not have an object.

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