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Concourse 2

Some simple phrasal and prepositional verbs

switch off
turn off the light
switch the light off


What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a verb plus an adverb which makes a new meaning.  For example, the verb put in:
    She put the box on the table
means placed and we can say:
    She placed the box on the table
with the same meaning:
Here we have the verb and a preposition phrase (on the table).  The preposition does not change the meaning of the verb so we can also say:
    She dropped the box on the table
    She threw the box on the table
    She left the box on the table

and they all mean the box is on the table now.

But if we say:
    He put off the meeting
we are changing the meaning of put.  The verb now has two parts, put and off, and together they mean make later.  Like this:

meeting postponed
He put off the meeting until 14:30

We call the verb put off a phrasal verb because we need both parts of the verb to make the meaning.
The phrase until 14:30 is a preposition + time and does not change the meaning of the verb at all.  It just tells us what time the meeting now is.

Here's another example:

She turned the wheel to the left

Here, the verb turn means move in a circle and the phrase to the left just tells us which way she turned the wheel.
We can also say:
    She turned the bus to the right
    I turned the page in my book

and so on.
But, if we say:
    He turned off the light
then we change the meaning of the verb, like this:


He turned off the light


Now the verb is turn off and it means stop or close.  The verb turn off is a phrasal verb and we need both parts to understand the meaning.

One last example:

look up
He looked up to the sky

Here, we have the verb look and a phrase telling us where he looked (up to the sky).
We can also say:
    He looked over his shoulder
    He looked in the cupboard

    He looked at me
and so on and we do not change the meaning of look.
But, if we say:

She looked the word up on Google

we change the meaning of look by adding up to it and making it mean check the meaning.  So we can have:
    She looked up the word in the dictionary
    She looked up the date of Easter
    I looked up his name on the web

and so on.
In all these sentences, the verb look does not mean point your eyes.


Why is this important?

This is important because, in English, the grammar of the verb changes depending on whether it is a verb + a preposition or a phrasal verb.  This is how it works:

Verb plus a preposition Phrasal verb
He looked at the house Correct! tick He turned off the light Correct! tick
He looked at it Correct! tick He turned off it Wrong! x
He looked the house at Wrong! x He turned the light off Correct! tick
He looked it at Wrong! x He turned it off Correct! tick

write Now see if you can write some correct sentences using this table.
Use put to mean place and put off to mean make later (postpone).
Write three correct sentences for put off and two for put
Click here when you have done that.

Here are ten more common phrasal verbs.  They are not difficult to learn but remember that a pronoun MUST come between the verb and the adverb and the object noun can come in that place.

Verb Adverb Meaning Example
add up total I added the figures up.
bring up teach as a parent She brought them up not to be rude.
call off cancel She called her wedding off at the last minute
fill in complete Please fill in this form.
give up stop I gave up work when I was 65.
let down disappoint Keep your promise!  Don't let me down.
put on dress She put on her best dress.
switch on / off start / stop Switch the computer off and on again.
turn on / off open / close Turn the tap off.  Now turn it on again.
think over consider Thank you for the offer.  I'll think it over.

And here are ten common verbs + prepositions

Verb Preposition Meaning Example
look for search I am always looking for my car keys
wait for stay I will wait for you until six.
hear from be contacted by Have you heard from your daughter?
look after take care Can you look after my cat when I am on holiday?
call for come to someone's house I'll call for you at six and we can go together.
rely on trust Keep your promise!  I'm relying on you.
argue about disagree We argued about where to go on holiday.
plan on intend I plan on going to university next year.
vote for choose I voted for the president.
complain about say you don't like She complained about the food at school.

Now try a test.