What is a phrasal verb?
A phrasal verb is made of a verb and either an adverb or preposition or sometimes both. It's not really important to know if the verb is followed by either an adverb or preposition, so, we simply refer to them as a particle. So, a phrasal verb is made of a verb and one or two different particles. See the below examples of the structure of two phrasal verbs:
Verb + Particle
Look forward to
Verb + Particle + Particle
The two or three parts of a phrasal verb (verb and particle(s)) act/behave like a single verb. The combination gives the phrasal verb a meaning. For example with the phrasal verb 'to go away', the combination of the verb and particle gives it the meaning of 'to leave your city or town for a short break or holiday', e.g. 'I'm going away on Friday'. With the phrasal verb 'to look forward to', the combination of the verb and two particles give it the meaning of 'to be excited or happy about doing something in the future', e.g. 'I'm looking forward to the party on Saturday'.
So basically a phrasal verb is used in exactly the same way as a verb which doesn't have any particles.
Phrasal verbs are not logical
One of the main problems with phrasal verbs is that the combination of the verb and particle(s) sometimes give them a meaning that it is impossible to guess if you see them out of context. With the previous example of 'to go away', it is possible to guess that the meaning is about leaving your city or town. It's logical.
But with other phrasal verbs the meaning can be completely different and impossible to guess even when you see it in its context. For example with the verb 'to slip'. This verb means to lose your balance. People often 'slip' when they step on oil or ice when walking. But some of the phrasal verbs that use 'slip' can have completely different meanings. See if you can guess the meaning of the below phrasal verbs:
'Peter, Sally knows about her surprise birthday party. It slipped out when I was talking to her this morning.'
'He left. He slipped out of the meeting about 20 minutes ago.'
As you can see, the meaning of both of these is completely different to the original verb. In the first example, 'to slip out' means to say something without wanting or intending to do (like a secret). While in the second example, 'to slip out of' means to leave a place or room very quietly.
So it's important to realise that the meaning of a phrasal verb may not have anything to do with the original meaning of the verb. So you need to check the meaning in a dictionary.
A phrasal verb can have different meanings
In the English-speaking world, there are over 30,000 different meanings of phrasal verbs, but fortunately only around a tenth of this number are commonly used.
One phrasal verb can have different meaning in different contexts. For example with the phrasal verb 'to take off'. Look at the below examples of this phrasal verb and try to guess the meaning:
'You have to take off your hat when you enter a church.'
'The plane will take off at 6.30pm.'
'He just took off without saying goodbye.'
In the first example, 'take off' means to remove clothes or shoes. In the second example, 'take off' means when a plane leaves an airport. While in the third example, 'take off' means when somebody leaves a place quickly or in a hurry. And this phrasal verb has other meanings as well.
The biggest mistake that learners of English make with phrasal verbs is that they translate the meaning of a phrasal verb to their own language and then use the phrasal verb with that meaning in different contexts.
It is important that when you use a phrasal verb that you only ever use it in the context that you have seen or heard it in. Although this may seem difficult, this is the way that native speakers of English use them.
So now do the below quiz to make sure you are using phrasal verbs correctly when you write or speak in English.