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Phrasal Verbs – Guide With Examples

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On August 24, 2023

We use phrasal verbs when there is a need to combine two or more words to describe a specific action. It is easy to make mistakes in phrasal verbs because they are unrelated to the component words they define.

Experts suggest that phrasal verbs should be treated as discrete pieces of vocabulary, which means that you will need to learn them as independent words with a single unit of meaning, similar to many other single-meaning words you memorize.

While we use phrasal verbs in routine in everyday speech, avoid using them in academic writing. Consider replacing them with single-word alternatives if possible to make your paper look more formal.

Phrasal Verbs Definition

A phrasal verb combines two or more words, including a verb (for example, “he walks”) and one preposition (for example, “he walks out”) or more (for example, “he walks out with her”). You will notice the addition of each preposition completely changes the sense of the phrase or sentence.

Phrasal Verb Meaning Example
Act on To take action because of something like information received. The police were ACTING ON a tip from an informer and caught the gang red-handed.
Act out Perform something with actions and gestures. They ACTED OUT the story on stage.
Act up Behave badly or strangely. My computer’s ACTING UP; I think I might have a virus.


Remember that a phrasal verb must be treated as a single unit with a distinct meaning. As you might notice in the above examples, the meaning of the phrasal verb “act up” is entirely different from the verb “act”. Similarly, the phrasal verb “act out” is different from the regular verb “act”.

How to Use Phrasal Verbs

As indicated previously, avoid using phrasal verbs in academic writing. However, because their use is so common in the English language, it is challenging to find their appropriate replacement. Try and substitute them where you can, but if you cannot rephrase or replace all of them, don’t panic. “Trust in” your abilities, “put in” your best effort, and “write down” your phrasal verbs diligently.

The use of phrasal verbs in academic writing is not strictly prohibited, though. They do have their uses, and when used correctly, they convey a very casual tone which may be desirable depending on the type of paper you are writing. For example, you can make effective use of phrasal verbs in reflective writing.

Note: You may want to use phrasal verbs for styling purposes only, even though it would be best if you had completely removed them from the text.

How to Separate Phrasal Verbs

You could separate some phrasal verbs by introducing intervening words. However, in most cases, you will see the phrasal verbs must stay together in a sentence to convey the correct meaning to the audience.

It is hard to figure out where a phrasal verb can be separated and where it should stay together because there is no clear rule around this – a good reason to avoid them altogether in academic writing.

One rule that you could apply when separating phrasal verbs is that they can be separated when their object is a pronoun such as “them”, “his”, and “their”.

Example of Phrasal Verbs that Can be Separated

  • Take the shirt
  • Take off the shirt.

Note that a phrasal verb can be separated only when its object is a pronoun, as mentioned above.

  • Takeit
  • Take off  it

Example of Phrasal Verbs that Cannot Be Separated

  • come across
  • come well

Frequently Asked Questions

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and one or more particles (adverbs or prepositions). It has a unique meaning different from its individual parts and often conveys idiomatic expressions in English. Example: “give up” means to quit or surrender, not just the sum of “give” and “up.”

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.