Reappraisal of Phrasal Verbs

phrasal verbsby rob howard

Does hammering away at nailing down phrasal verbs hang up your students? You can count on it!

While phrasal verbs spring up often and are undoubtedly necessary to keep up with daily communication, the methods we use to dole them out in the classroom lag behind and remain archaic. Although we focus on “Communicative Learning” and “Inductive Learning” we keep on passing out lists bombarding them with labels such as phrasal verbs, conditionals, modals etc. This tends to scare away learners and brings about a mental block as they freeze up from muddling through rules that end up leaving the student crying out, “I give up on phrasal verbs”.

It’s funny that they tuck away the label but wrestle with the content or concept.

I have tried out several times with lower advanced students (CEFR B2 to C1) by showing up with a list of 400 “common English expressions” and on average, they already knew, understood and used almost half of them and could closely figure out the meaning when put in a contextualized sentence. They all turned out to be phrasal verbs.

If you give in and truly want to help out students to pick up on phrasal verbs, trust in and abide by the native learners’ method. Leave aside the term “phrasal verb”. For most, the majority were arrived at through daily repeated exposure and usage. Mix in more of these into daily conversation, model on and phase them in contextually so students get around the expression. Formation can be arrived at naturally with a simple corrective nudge, they go over them and latch on to meaning and the stigma of the fussed over phrasal verb fades away.

You can tool up with the vamped up Cambridge Phrasal Verb Dictionary that offers up around 6000 sought out American, British and Australian phrasal verbs. And yes, they have come up with an app for it ushered in on Google Play that you can subscribe to.

(warning: this text contained 50 phrasal verbs)

by lee waddell

If you’re at an intermediate level or above in English, you can feel comfort and the confidence to say that you can communicate pretty well in English, right? Well, can you say that also for phrasal verbs? They can be so complicated to learn and understand sometimes, and can frustrate even the most advanced level of English students. The English language is full of them in everyday conversation, radio, TV and films.

In simplistic terms, a phrasal verb is the combination of a verb and a particle and/or a preposition, or both, to create a meaning different from those words used individually. Did I lose you yet?

Why is it that learning phrasal verbs can be difficult? It is because phrasal verbs normally do not have any rule or reason for their meaning. How crazy it is to think that different prepositions or adverbs with the same verb can have two or more completely different meanings when they are combined.

In order to improve on your own after you have finished studying English, here are some tips for self-study to help you.

  1. Make sure you understand the various meanings of the most common verbs in the English language. Study verbs in the dictionary that are the roots of many phrasal verbs such as: get, take, go, come, put, turn and look.
  2. Study or review online tips showing phrasal verbs to confirm that you understand them.
  3.  Immerse yourself in them. Watching American TV comedies are one of the best ways to hear, learn and practice phrasal verbs. This is a good reason to watch them with the subtitles; to help you visually find them when they are said.
  4.  And lastly, review them and memorize the definition of phrasal verbs and practice them in sentence samples that you might actually use. This can be one of the most successful out of all the tips to better understand and remember phrasal verbs and have you leaping to a whole new level of conquering the English language.

lee Lee Waddell is from New York but has spent the past 5 years visiting Rio de Janeiro and teaching with Online Language Center. Lee is a professional musician and business owner and specializes in his work with actors and musicians for delivery, accent reduction, intonation and stress, and the emotion behind the words as well as film translation, script correction and subtitling. He is an avid language learner and teacher as well.


Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

You may e-mail him at


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