Phrasal or multi-word verbs consist of a verb and one or two particles.

They may be TRANSITIVE (take an object):

To look for: She is looking for her right shoe. 


To fall through: Our plans fell through

Some can be TRANSITIVE and INTRANSITIVE, but the meaning changes

To stand up = Move from a sitting or lying down to a vertical position. ‘Everybody stood up when the judge entered the court’.

To stand somebody up = Fail to keep an appointment. ‘He agreed to meet me last night, but he stood me up.

Phrasal verbs that are TRANSITIVE, are divided into three categories:

1. The main verb and the particle must be separated, the object goes in the middle

talked my mother into letting me borrow the car.

2. They can be SEPARABLE

The object can go after the particle or between the verb and the particle

To take off:     took my gloves off.
  I took off my gloves. 

But if the object is a pronoun it has to go between the verb and the particle

To take off:     I took them off
  (not I took off them)

3. They can be INSEPARABLE

The object must go after the particle

To look for:    I’m looking for a house.
  (not I’m looking a house for)

Some phrasal verbs can either be SEPARABLE or INSEPARABLE but the meaning changes:

«She got in the car» is different from «She got the car in».

The prepositions of multi-word verbs have literal meanings but they also have figurative meanings which are very important to know in order to learn the phrasal verbs. For example in ‘Please put out the fire’, the preposition ‘out’ is not used with the literal meaning of ‘outside’ but with the figurative meaning of «ending».
The following units explain the meanings of the most common prepositions used with phrasal verbs.

Are often interchangeable


  1. A lack of purpose or aim, or the idea of «not doing anything in particular”. ‘I din’t have anything special to do yesterday, so I justlay aroundwatching TV’.

Lounge about, hang around, laze about, lie around, sit around, stand around

  1. When used with verbs of motion (go, run…),aroundor about also include a lack of physical direction, implying circular motion, so that the idea is of random movement, without a purpose. ‘Whenever we go shopping, the kids start running around the mall’.

Walk around, order about, fool around, get around, go around, look around, play around, run around, shop around.

  1. Other meanings: How do yougo aboutopening a bank account?

Bring about, come about, go about, go on about, see about, set about

These four adverbial particles are less commonly used in phrasal verbs than those dealt with so far in this workbook. For this reason, in this unit they are grouped together and described more briefly. As with other adverbial particles, there are exceptions to their main meanings (see below).

1. Across suggests transverse movement(from one side to the other) over a short distance. ‘Harry got out of his car and walked across the street. The movement can also be figurative. I finally managed to get the idea across to my students’.

Bring, carry, come, cut, get, put, run, walk across.

2. Along means to progress onward or in the same direction. ‘We drove along the freeway for hours before stopping for a bite. The idea of progression can also be figurative. ‘He gets along very well with his colleagues at work’.

Bring, come, drive, get (with), go (with), help, move, muddle, pass, run, struggle, walk along.

3. By indicates movement past or in front of a fixed reference point (someone or something). ‘Two buses passed by without stopping at the bus stop. By extension, the reference point” can be a set of rules, in which case by means according to or in adherence of. ‘You have to abide by the rules, otherwise you’ll be thrown out of residence’.

Abide, come, drive, drop, get, go, hurry, pass, ride, run, rush, stand, walk by.

4. Through suggests linear movement or progression from one end to the other of an enclosed space or a fixed time period. ‘She had to sit through the whole conference, which lasted nearly four hours. Through is also associated with an outcome or result at the end of the above-mentioned space or time period. ‘I was afraid of donating blood, but my wife persuaded me to go through with the experience’.

Be (with), break, carry, come, eat, fall, follow, get, get (to), go, go through with, live, look, put, read, run, rush, see, sift, sit, sleep, think through.


1. Indicates distance or separation. If something is away, it is usually far from us out of reach. ‘I’m afraid Ms Green is away this week. She’s attending a conference in Lima’.

Be away, keep away, stay away

2. Conveys the idea of leaving, departing or withdrawing. I watched the boat sailing away, until it was just a speck on the horizon’.

Back away, come away, draw away, drive away, fly away, get away, go away, move away, pull away, run away, sail away, sneak away, speed away, tear away, walk away

3. To cause something or somebody to leave; to detach them, or to cause them to remain at a distance. ‘The police handcuffed the man and led him away’.

Call away, carry away, drive away, hold away, keep away, kick away, lead away, push away, send away, take away, tear away, tow away.

4. To express or to cause loss, waste, disappearance, removal, or destruction. ‘Those expenses are eating away at our savings’.

Clear away, die away, do away (with), eat away (at), explain away, fade away, fall away, file away, fritter away, gamble away, give away, idle away, laugh away, laze away, make away (with), melt away, pass away, put away, sign away, take away, throw away, waste away, while away.

5. In a different direction. ‘She looked away when she walked past the scene of the accident’.

Break away, move away, turn away.

6. Here, away indicates that an activity is sustained intently for a long period of time, or that it continues, instead o stopping. ‘We talked away until the early hours of the morning’.

Fire away, hammer away at, plug away at, work away.

7. Other meanings of away. ‘Right –  I’m ready to listen to your complaint. Fire away!.

File away, get away with, get carried away, give away, put away, stow away.


1. Back indicates returning to one’s point of origin, to the place one started out from. If you go back or walk back, for example, you stop and then go or walk in the opposite direction, to where you started from. It can also mean causing somebody or something to return to their/its place of origin (e.g. send back). ‘When Mike realized that he had left his umbrella at home, he turned around and walked back home’.

Be, bounce, bring, call, come, get, give, go, head, pass, take, turn, walk back.

2. To withdraw or retreat. Here, back means a backwdards or reverse movement. If somebody ou to  stand back for example, they want you to take a few steps backwards in order to keep an area clear, or to give someone , more breathing space. ‘The police asked the crowd to move back to allow the parade to proceed smoothly’.

Draw, drop, fall, get, go, keep, move, stand, tail back.

3. Reference to past times, as in «bring back memories»

4. Back also indicates returning something or reversing direction in a non-physical way. If you phone someone back, for example, you are returning a call received earlier from that person. ‘She looked back and saw the detective in the dark suit following her’.

5. Other meanings of back. ‘We no longer have any income. We’ll have to fall back on our savings until Bob finds another job’.

Bring, cut, fall (on), hold, keep (from), scale (on), set, sit back.


1. Down indicates movement from a higher position to a lower position and can be used after many verbs to express this movement. The movement expressed by down can be physical, e.g. ‘A huge rock rolled down the mountainside’, or figurative, e.g. ‘Interest rates came down 1% in the last quarter’.

Bend, climb, come, fall, get, go, hand, let, lie, look, pipe, pull, put, run, set, sit, step, take, throw down.

2. Down can literally mean «downstairs», e.g. ‘We asked the neighbors down for dinner last night’, ‘Mabel, honey would you go down and get me a glass of milk?’

Ask, bring, come, go, run, send, take down.

3. Down often means to reduce or diminish, in degree or intensity. ‘The party noise only died down at about four in the mornilng’. 

Beat, bring, close, cool, cut (on), die, feel, knock, mark, narrow, pipe, play, quiet, shut, simmer, slow, tone, turn, water down.

4. The meaning of down described in point 3 (agove) can be more negative, involving intimidation, humiliation, repression or even destruction. ‘The The authorities have cracked down on drunk drivers, who can even face a prison sentence’. ‘They pulled down the old building to make way for a new music megastore.’

Break, bring, burn, chop, clamp, crack, (on), cut, drag, dress, get, hold, hunt, knock, let, look (on), mow, pull, put, run, shoot, shout, shut, take, talk, talk (to), tear down.

5. Down is often used with verbs to mean «set or record in writing». ‘I couldn’t get his whole speech down, he was talking too fast.’. ‘Please write down the name of that restaurant for me’.

Jot, note, put, set, get, take, write down.


1. In refers to the physical movement of entering an enclosed space or interior (a room, house, office, vehicle, etc.). ‘She opened the door and walked in’.

When the interior is mentioned, the adverbial particle often changes from in to into. ‘She opened the door and walked into the room’.

Break, climb, come, creep, crowd, drive, get, go, hop, pour, run, rush, sail, see, show, sneak, step, walk in.

2. As an extension of Meaning 1 (above), in can also be causative. That is, somebody or something is “made to enter”, and the verb becomes transitive. ‘He brought in the briefcase and put it on the table.

Allow, ask, bring, call, carry, get, help, invite, let, put, send, take in.

3. Apart from indicating movement, in can also refer to a static or stable position in an interior. ‘I’m staying in tonight, I don’t feel like going to the movies. By extension, in can mean being physically confined or restricted in an interior. ‘My husband left the key in the door and I was locked in all morning.

Be, eat, remain, stay, box, close, fence, hem, keep, lock, push, put, see, send, show, shut in.

Allow, ask, bring, call, carry, get, help, invite, let, put, send, take in.

4. Another meaning of in is to penetrate, or to cause to penetrate, either in a physical or figurative sense. ‘Suddenly, the door opened and Matt burst in (to the room). ‘She’s explained the equation several times, but it just won’t sink in.

Barge, burst, butt, chime, drive, drum, hammer, knock, press, push, rub, screw, set, sink, stick, wedge in.

5. In is combined with certain verbs to mean visit. ‘Let’s meet in your office’, ‘I’ll call in after lunch.

Call, drop, look, pop in.

6. Can indicate also inclusion, perticipation. ‘I wanto to help so count me in’. can you fill me in on what happened?’

7. Other meanings of in… ‘The kids invited my brother to join in the game.

Be, cash (on), check, clock, color, confide, consist, fall, fill, fit, get, give, go, join, key, log, pitch, plug, pull, punch, push, rope, run, set, settle, sleep, stand (for), step, take, tie, tune, turn, usher in.

1. Off is used with many verbs to indicate that something becomes physically detached or separated from something else. (This usage is intransitive). ‘I fell off my bicycle and grazed my knee.

The action can also be causative; that is, someone causes something to become detached. (This usage is transitive). ‘He couldn’t unscrew the cap, so he pulled it off the bottle’.

Break, come, cordon, cross, cut, drop, fall, get, knock, pull, rip, scrape, seal, shake, take, tear off.

2. Off can also convey the idea of leaving, departing, withdrawing or moving away from something. In this respect, it is very similar to away (see pp. 11, Meaning 2). ‘Paul stopped talking and ran off when he saw his bus coming.

Be, blast, dash, drive, get, go, knock, make, move, ride, run, rush, see, send, set, shoot, start, take off.

3. Another meaning of off is to lose value or intensity (e.g. to fall off), to recede, or to disappear altogether. These meanings can also be causative (e.g. to cross off). ‘When summer came, my brother decided to shave his beard off’.

Beat, carry, cross, drain, ease, fall, finish, go, head, laugh, lay, pass, polish, round, sell, shave, shrug, tail, wash, wear, wipe off.

4. Off means to disconnect (a machine, an electrical appliance) or to disrupt the flow of (a process). In this sense, it is the opposite of on. ‘Please turn the heater off.

Be, break, call, close, cut, get, log, put, shut, switch, turn off.

5. Off means to alight or dismount from certain forms of transport. ‘She stepped off the bus and walked to the nearby restaurant.

Climb, fall, get, jump, slide, slip, step, walk off.

6. We use off when referring to removing garments or clothing. ‘Take off your coat and hang it up there.

Get, kick, tear, throw off.

7. Off is also used in phrasal verbs that mean «to protect from intrusion». ‘All the area of the crime was cordoned off».

8. It also means reduction. elimination, exclusion. ‘When we complained about the service, the waiter the waiter took off $40 from the bill’.

9. Other meanings of off

Be, bring, doze, give, go, let, nod, pay, pull, rip, run, set, show, take, tell, tip, turn off.

1. On means to go forward, or to do something involving forward movement. ‘We drove on through the storm until we reached the nearest town.

Carry, cheer, come, drive, egg, embark, fly, go, lead, move, pass, press, ramble, ride, sail, send, walk on.

2. Related to Meaning 1 (above) is the idea of increasing or further developing. ‘The teacher asked Beryl to enlarge on the basic idea of electrolysis.

Add, build, capitalize, cash (in), cheer, come, enlarge, expand, get, go, help, press, put, spur, take, wave on.

3. Another meaning of on, also similar to 1 & 2 (above), is that of continuing to do something. ‘Don’t worry about the noise; just carry on with your homework.

Carry, drag, draw, drone, go, keep, press, read, stay, talk, walk on.

4. Coinciding with its meaning as a preposition, on is also used in phrasal verbs to mean on top of. ‘I stepped on a banana peel and fell on my back.

Just as the adverbial particle in can become into (see Unit 5, pp. 41), on becomes onto when the direct object is mentioned, or when the emphasis is on movement. ‘The rock stars jumped onto the platform an started singing.

In this respect, on and onto are also used to mean to board (a vehicle). ‘We got onto the train just before it started to move out of the station’.

Climb, drag, get, heap, help, jump, let, lift, pile, pull, push, step, tread on.

5. On means to connect (a machine, an electrical appliance…) or to establish the flow of (a process…). (n this sense, it is the opposite of off. ‘that’s the button you must press to turn on the cell phone.

Be, keep, leave, log, put, stay, switch, turn on.

6. On is also used to talk about getting dressed. ‘You’d better put on your thick overcoat a storm is brewing uo outside.

Get, have, keep, pull, put, slip, try on.

7. Other meanings of on

Bank, bring, call, carry, catch, count, draw, dwell, get, go, hang, hang (to), have, hit, hold, lay, let, live, look, pick, put, take, tell, touch, try, turn, work on.

1. Out refers to moving outwards; that is, from an interior to an exterior. It usually indicates physical movement (e.g. walk out, go out..), but can sometimes indicate implied movement or direction (e.g. ask out, gaze out…). ‘He rushed out of the house to see what the noise was all aboutOut is often used to mean not at home, or away from home. ‘Marge is out shoplping. She’ll be back in half an hour’.

Ask, bail, be, break, call, contrac, dine, drive, eat, get (of), go out, invite, look, nip, move, pour, pull, punch, put, ride, run, rush, see, send, set, shoot, show, shut, slip, start, stay, storm, strike, take, tear, turn, walk out.

2. Another meaning of out is to happen, subside, expire, withdraw or disappear. ‘We had back out of the project for lack of funds. It is also used in a causative sense to mean exclude, eliminate or obliterate. ‘Somebody has torn several pages out of this book’.

Back, black, blot, blow, bow, burn, cop, count, cross, cut, die, draw, drop, deown, fall, filter, flood, get, get (of), give, go, grow (of), keep, dick, cnock, leave, lock, mark, miss, pass, phase, pick, put, root, rule, run, shake, shut, sit, sort, squeeze, stamp, take, tear, throw, turn, wash, wear, weed, wipe out.

3. Out is used to indicate that something is physically prominent or conspicuous. ‘Harriet’s red hat stands out in the crowd’. Similarly, the prominence can be a movement; that is, something projects in an outward direction. ’I reached out and grasped her hand’.

Branch, bring, give, hold, lash, leak, look, point, put, reach, stand, stick, strike out.

4. Another meaning of out relates to producing or publishing something. ‘They’ll be bringing out his new book early next month’. As an extension of this idea, it also means to distribute or circulate. ‘She’s giving out publicity fliers at store entrances’. ‘They served out a sumptuous, four-course meal to the royal guests.

Be, bring, churn, come, dish, dole, get, give, hend, leak, let, pay, put, roll, send, serve, turn  out.

5. It can indicate progress of an activity, often until it finishes. ‘Let’s see how things play out’. It can also mean (thorough) completion of an action. ‘I wrote out my notes in full to help me remember them’. ‘Please fill out this form’

6. Out can indicate an action that takes place suddenly or unexpectedly. ‘”Stop tapping your spoon on the table”, she blurted out’. Out is often added to verbs to indicate that a process or an action is done fully, or to completion. ‘I’m going to clean out the spare room on the weekend’. The idea of completion or fulfillment becomes clear when comparing a phrasal verb of this kind with the verbon its own. To think, for instance, involves deliberating or considering different aspects of an issue, but to think out means that a specific solution or result emerges as the end product of such deliberation. ‘I’m thinking out a way of getting the goods to our client first thing tomorrow morning’.

Bark, belt, blurt, burn, burst, buy, call, carry, check, clean, clock, cry, dig, dry, figure, fill, fit, flesh, hammer, hear, help, hold, hollow, iron, last, pay, puzzle, read, rinse, seek, sell, shell, speak, spell, spy, stick, think, thrash, work, write  out.

7. Other meanings of out… ‘There’s something moving behind that hill over there, but I can’t make out what it is’. ‘She’s always been pretty skinny, but now tha she’s reached puberty, she’s starting to fill out’.

Bail, be, be (of), bear, break (in), burn, buy, carve, check, come (in), crowd, cry (for), cut, do, draw, eke, fill, find, go (with), have (it), launch (on), lay, log, look, look (for), make, print, punch, put, ride, rough, see, send (for), set, single, sit, sort, sound, space, spin, spread, step, straighten, stride, take, talk (of), try, turn, walk, walk (on), watch, work out.

In many cases, over refers to a curved movement (either literal or figurative), rather like the shape of an arch (e.g. to walk over a bridge), or the movement described by an airplane relative to somebody observing it on the ground. This is particularly true of Meanings 1 and 2 (see below).

1. Over refers to any movement from one side to the other. This can be a physical movement (e.g. walk over) or a figurative one, as when transferring control of something from one person to another (e.g. to take over). ‘He tried to jump over the stream, but he slipped and fell into the water.

Bring, carry, climb, come, come (to), cross, fly, get, go, hand, help, jump, make, nove, reach, roll, run, take, throw, trip, turn, walk, win over.

2. To fall or lose an upright position. To cause to fall or to be overwhelmed. ‘She knocked over and broke a priceless vase’.

Bend, bowl, fall, knock, push, roll, run, stumble, tip, trip, turn over.

3. To revise, consider or inspect. ‘I’d like to look over that letter before you send it off’.

Chew, go, look, read, run, talk over.

4. Over can mean to exceed a maximum high point. Here, it usually refers to the flow of liquids, but it can also refer to such things as emotions. ‘Switch off the gas – the water has started to boil over!’.

Chew, go, look, read, run, talk over.

5. Over can mean to be finished or completed. However, in this sense it is usually used with the verb “to be”. ‘The show is over. Let’s go out and get a drink’.

Be, blow, get, pass over.

6. Other meanings of over… ‘The machine is still ticking over, but it won’t last much longer’.

Come, do, hold , pass, pull, stop, tick, tide, watch over.

1. Up indicates movement to a higher place or position. ‘I looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow arching across the sky. By extension, up means upstairs, or to go upstairs. Run up and tell Mabel her boyfriend’s her to see her. It can also refer to something already set in an erect or upright position. “On Sundays I have my breakfast sitting up in bed’.

Ask, be, bring, come, get, go, hang, hold, jack, jump, keep, look, paste, pick, pile, pin, pop, post, put, run, set, shoot, sit, stand, stay, stick, take, throw up.

2. Up is also used to mean an increase in size, number or intensity. ‘Just when we thought the fire was going out, it flared up again. ‘If you turn up the volume, we can’t hear ourselves speaking’.

Add, add (to), brush (on), build, bump, come (to),  flare, gear (for), go, grow, jack, key, kick, mount, muster, pile, pluck, point, polish, put, ramp, screw, shoot, sit, speak, aped, split, step, stir, summon, tense, turn, warm, wind up.

3. A common meaning of up is the idea of approaching and coming level with (somebody or something). It can be used in both a physical and figurative sense. ‘He came up and asked us the time’. ‘I’m not taking any more calls today. I have to catch up with my work’. Similarly, up refers to the act of interfacing; that is, meeting or facing something halfway. ‘You’d better face up to the problem. Do something about it before it becomes too big for you to handle.

Bring, catch up (on, with), chase, close, come, come up against, come up with, cough, crop, cuddle, drive, face up (to), feel up to, go up (to), keep up (with), live up to, make, pick, pull, ride, roll, run up against, show, stand up for, stand up to, take, think, turn, walk up.

4. Up lends emphasis to a verb. To eat up, for instance, means to eat all—to finish one’s food. ‘Come on—drink up! We have to be back in the office before the Boss comes’. ‘I had a hard time sweeping up after the office party, because the floor was full o papers, food and other debris’. The idea of completion—of finality—is central to this meaning. ‘The river dried up (up makes the verb reflexive?) three years ago. Now we have to draw water from wells’. That store has been boarded up ever since the owner died’. The sense of finality can refer to complete destruction. ‘The small fishing boat was swallowed up by the raging seas’. ‘Whenever she opens her letterbox, the first thing she does is rip up all of the junk mail she’s received’.

Add, be, beat, blow, board, break, burn, buy, carve, chop, clam, clean, clear, close, cloud, clutter, count, cover, fill, finish, fold, follow, give, hang, hurry, join, lead (to), light, line, lock, make, oplen, pack, pay, read, rip, screw, shut, smash, swallow, tear, tidy, tie, use, wash, wind, write up.

6. Up makes the verbs more informal. ‘Why don’t you cook up something’. ‘Clean up after you finish playing’

7. Other meanings of up… ‘He didn’t want to pay so much for a suit but, in the end, he coughed up’. ‘Do up your shoe lace—it’s trailing on the ground’. ‘The oppressed people rose up against the tyrannical leader’.