Have you ever heard of phrasal verbs? Even if you haven’t figured out what they are, you come across them all the time in written and spoken English. In fact, we’ve just used three phrasal verbs in this paragraph!
In today’s post, we’ll explain what phrasal verbs are and how to use them in your writing.
What is a Phrasal Verb?
A phrasal verb is a short phrase that functions as a verb. It consists of a verb and another word (or words) – an adverb, a preposition, or both. The meaning of a phrasal verb is different than the literal meaning of the words it’s made up of. Let’s look at the examples we used above:
Have you heard of phrasal verbs?
The verb hear means to perceive sound. But when it’s combined with the preposition of, the resulting phrasal verb hear of means to know about the existence of something.
It’s easy to figure out what they are.
To figure means to think or believe, while figure out means to gain understanding.
I came across them in a blog post.
Come means to move toward, but when linked with across, the resulting phrasal verb means to find something (or someone) by chance.
How to Use Phrasal Verbs
When you use a phrasal verb, you should treat the verb part of it just as you would if you were using it as a simple verb. In other words, you should use the form that matches the tense and the subject of the sentence. However, the other words that make up the phrasal verb always stay the same:
John often points out mistakes in my grammar.
I pointed out John’s spelling errors.
Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs can be either separable or inseparable. The words in an inseparable phrasal verb must always stay together, but in a separable phrasal verb, you can place the object of the sentence between them. Point out is an example of a separable phrasal verb, so our above examples could be written as follows, and they would still be correct:
John often points mistakes out in my grammar.
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I pointed John’s spelling errors out.
However, when the object of the sentence is a pronoun, it must be placed directly after the verb in the phrasal verb:
There was one mistake, and John pointed it out to me. ✓
There was one mistake, and John pointed out it to me. ✗
Here are a few examples of inseparable phrasal verbs:
● Look forward to
● Do away with
● Hold on to
● Look after
● Turn into
Unfortunately, there aren’t any rules about which phrasal verbs are separable and which ones aren’t. You will usually be able to guess by simply saying your sentence both ways and deciding what sounds right.
Don’t Forget to Proofread
English grammar can be confusing, so it’s easy to make mistakes, especially when there aren’t straightforward rules to follow.
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