Phrasal Verbs and Their Importance in Spoken English

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Phrasal verbs are in very common use in spoken and colloquial English. However they are idiomatic and students need to give them special attention if they wish to speak the language fluently.

It is essential for students who are learning English as a foreign language to master phrasal verbs. They take the following forms:

• verb +adverb

• verb+preposition

• verb+adverb+preposition

Phrasal verbs have to be learned because many of them are idiomatic, in other words you cannot deduce their meaning. Take the common phrasal verb ‘put’ and its different meanings.

• I decided to put on my best clothes - I got dressed

• My mother put on a lot of weight over Christmas – she increased in weight

• I wanted to go out for a walk but the weather put me off. It discouraged me

• John put off going on holiday for another month. He postponed it.

• We have put aside some money for Christmas. We have saved it.

There are still other phrases such as put out, put through, put up, put up with meaning extinguish, connect, give accommodation and tolerate, respectively. All rather difficult to understand when the verb ‘to put’ means simply to ’to move or place something’ - I put my glass on the table.

A list of common phrasal verbs can be found on which is meant as a quick guide but serious students need a good dictionary or grammar book to get to grips with phrasal verbs. The Cambridge Phrasal Verb Dictionary would be a useful acquisition for someone learning English as a second language.

English is known for its use of many phrasal verbs which is why it is important to learn them thoroughly. They are very common in spoken and colloquial English although less so in formal or written form. For instance in conversation someone might say ‘I’ve gone through all the house but I cannot find my keys’ but in written or more formal conversation they would say ‘I have searched all the house.

Students who are learning English as a second language with the aim of gaining their First Certificate in English need to give a great deal of attention to the phrasal verbs. It is no easy task. Take this example of use of the phrasal verb ‘let’.

Maria escaped secretly from her bedroom by letting down a long ladder from the window. Tom was waiting at their appointed rendezvous and she did not want to let him down. He was waiting in a car and quickly let her in. Unfortunately she leaned against the horn and it let off such a noise that her parents were alerted. They were so relieved to stop the elopement that they let them off with a stern warning.

I am sure you get the point.

The term ‘phrasal verb’ is believed to have been coined in 1925 by an American Logan Pearsall Smith in his book ‘Words and Idioms’ but it is also known as a compound verb or verb-adverb combination. Phrasal verb is the term used in most modern textbooks however.

For more of my articles on English see the following :


Ron Siojo
Posted on Jan 12, 2011
lucia anna
Posted on Jan 11, 2011