How to learn phrasal verbs – Online English Lessons

I often hear and read that learners of English find learning English phrasal verbs very difficult, so I was surprised and happy to see that on a poll I recently conducted on this site asking Do you enjoy learning English phrasal verbs?, over 80% of the people who took part said “yes”!

So, whether you love or hate phrasal verbs, this post has a few ideas to help you learn them more easily

What are phrasal verbs?

Phrasal verbs are sometimes called multi-word verbs.

They are a combination of a verb and a particle that results in a new word or unit of meaning, e.g. look + up, ‘look up’, means to find a piece of information in a book such as a dictionary or encyclopedia.

It can be difficult or even impossible to guess the meanings of phrasal verbs from the meanings of their individual verbs and particles.

Here are some more examples:

♦ ‘sell off‘ – sell all or part of a business

♦ ‘sell up‘ – to sell your business or property and move onto something or somewhere else

♦ ‘sell out‘ – to sell all of something and have no more left for people to buy.

And of course many phrasal verbs have multiple meanings. There are eleven different meanings for the phrasal verb ‘pick up’ on this post!


Phrasal verbs are your friends

Think of phrasal verbs as friends and not enemies: using them makes your informal speech sound more natural and more accomplished, and they are also common in written and even some formal English; so they are very good things to learn and use.

Don’t be afraid of phrasal verbs – think of each phrasal verb as a single word with a specific meaning, and learn them like you learn any other English vocabulary.

Start with common phrasal verbs

Phrasal verb dictionaries and websites for learners of English have very useful definitions for many hundreds of phrasal verbs, but it’s best to start with the most common English phrasal verbs and pick just a small number to learn at a time.

Don’t try to memorize long lists of phrasal verbs from lists or dictionaries: use these to look up meanings when you see or hear unfamiliar phrasal verbs.

Choose a small number of phrasal verbs to learn each week. A good way to choose which ones to learn is to focus on phrasal verbs from the same topic e.g. food, travel, relationships, business English, or socialising.

Incorporate them into your daily life

And as with all new words it’s important to actually use the words in order to learn them effectively; so try and incorporate them into your daily life and vocabulary as often as you can.

  • Read news articles and short stories (and even novels) and see how many phrasal verbs you can find – look up any where you’re not sure of their meaning. News headlines often have phrasal verbs in them, so they’re a good way to see phrasal verbs being used in context. If you do an internet search for the phrasal verb you are learning and select ‘News’, you will see lots of headlines using that phrasal verb.
  • Practise speaking: choose one or two phrasal verbs and use them whenever you can in the conversations you have for one week.
  • Practise writing. Send a text or an informal email to a friend or someone in your family and use the phrasal verbs you are learning that week. Write your own sentences for my phrasal verb definitions on this blog; leave a comment and I’ll always reply and give you feedback and let you know how you’re doing.

And don’t forget you can download my free PDF with 50 of the most frequently used phrasal verbs in English. This PDF has 300 example sentences showing how these phrasal verbs are used in everyday conversation, plus gap-fill exercises for more practice.

Do you like learning phrasal verbs?

Leave a comment and tell me what you think of phrasal verbs and if you have a favourite way of learning them