Glossary: phrasal verb


A complex transitive or intransitive verb that consists of two parts: a verb and a preposition, e.g. look up (transitive; e.g. He looked up the word / He looked the word up), give up (intransitive; e.g. She gave up.).

Phrasal verbs

What is a phrasal verb? Phrasal verbs consist of a combination of a verb and another word, which we’ll call a preposition. Some examples are come over, look (something) up. The first word in a verb-preposition combination can be just about any verb. The verbs that most commonly appear in such combinations are listed below:

Phrasal verbs: New phrasal verbs

There are many phrasal verbs that you won’t find in any dictionary. This is because we commonly create new phrasal verbs based on the meanings of existing phrasal verbs. Usually, new phrasal verbs are either transparent or aspectual – new idiomatic phrasal verbs would usually be too difficult for listeners to decode. Perhaps you’ve heard examples like the following:

Phrasal verbs: Three categories

Non-native speakers are often told that their only option is to memorise each phrasal verb individually. Is it really necessary to do all that work? No. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s inefficient. And it’s inefficient for three reasons:


We all use different forms of language in different situations. At the most extreme, you’ll probably know that in casual conversation with friends you will use very different language from that which you’d use at a job interview.

The kinds of differences will relate to vocabulary (the word choices you make) but also to grammar (the structures, the complexity, the patterns of words).


Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-15 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Cookies