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Athabasca University

Phrasal Verbs

Many English verbs consist of two parts: a base verb and a preposition or an adverb particle. When the verb is used with the adverb particle, the combination is called a phrasal verb. There are a very large number of these in English, and the particle that follows the verb changes the meaning of the phrasal verb in idiomatic ways.

The meaning of the phrasal verbs is often very different from the meanings of the two words taken separately. In order to understand the meaning of a phrasal verb, you may have to refer to the dictionary.

At the same time, some particles can be separated from the verb so that a noun and pronoun can be inserted, whereas other particles cannot be separated from the verb; in addition, still others can be used in a separated form or as a unit. Moreover, phrasal verbs can be intransitive -- not followed by a direct object – or transitive – followed by a direct object. Therefore, phrasal verbs can be separable, inseparable, transitive (add object) or intransitive (no object).

Here is an alphabetical list of frequently used phrasal verbs with definitions and examples. In cases where the phrasal verb can be either separated or used as a single unit, examples are given of both forms.



add on
(separable) — to increase
We added on another floor to our house. (We added it on to our house.)
add up
(intransitive – no object) – to result in
Your story just doesn’t add up. I think you are not telling the truth.
add up to
(inseparable) – to total
The bills often add up to more money than she earns.
ask for
(inseparable) – to deserve a negative consequence
Why are you asking for trouble?
ask out
(separable) – to ask for a date
Joe asked Mary out last night, and they went to see a movie.

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back away
(intransitive – no object) – to retreat
When Jim saw the dog, he backed away because he got scared.
back off
(intransitive - no object) – to abandon
The bank robber backed off when he noticed two police cars parked in front of the bank.
back up (1)
(separable) – to reverse
When he backed the car up in the driveway, he almost struck the cat.
back up (2)
(separable) – to support
My sister always backs me up when I have problems.
back up (3)
(separable) – to confirm
My brother will back me up if you don’t believe what I told you.
back up (4)
(separable) – to make copies of computer files
You should back your data up at least once a week if you don’t want to risk losing any information.
bail out (1)
(intransitive -- no object) – to quit
John bailed out of the competition when he found out that Sam was also competing.
bail out (2)
(separable) – to rescue
When you lent me some money last month, you bailed me out of a difficult situation.
bash in
(separable) – to break
Someone bashed in the side window of my car. (Someone bashed it in.)
beat up
(separable) – to hurt someone
He has a black eye; someone must have beaten him up last night.
black out
(intransitive - no object) – to lose consciousness
Jack hasn’t eaten anything for three days, so he finally blacked out.
blend in
(intransitive - no object) – to match
When you move to a new neighborhood, you’ll blend in after awhile.
blow up (1)
(separable) – to inflate
Please blow up only the red balloons for Sally’s birthday party. (Can you blow them up?)
blow up (2)
(separable) – to explode
The contractors will blow up the old hotel tomorrow so they can build a new townhouse complex. (They will blow it up.)
blow up (3)
(intransitive - no object) – to become angry
He blew up when the opposing team won the game in the last minute of overtime.
boss around
(separable) – to order people what to do
The new supervisor likes to boss around the employees. (He likes to boss them around.)
break down (1)
(separable) – to separate into parts
He did not understand the sentence, so Mary broke it down into separate words, translating each separately.
break down (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to stop functioning
When his computer breaks down, Peter can always fix it.
break down (3)
(intransitive - no object) – to lose control
Chrissie broke down in tears when she failed the exam.
break in (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to enter by using force
The thief broke in the apartment while the family was away on holidays.
break in (2)
(separable) – to wear something until it is comfortable
When I buy new shoes, first, I need to break them in, in order not to hurt myself.
break up
(inseparable) – to scatter
Last night, the gathering broke up around midnight.
break up (with)
(inseparable) – to end a relationship
Lisa broke up with Jack when she met Joe.
bring down
(separable) – to cause to fail
Julia is very jealous of Jill’s success, so Julia would do anything to bring Jill down.
bring forth
(inseparable) – to produce
Your thoughtful remark will bring forth lots of discussion during the meeting later today.
bring in
(separable) – to earn money
Claudia has a very stressful job, but she brings more money in than her brother.
bring on
(separable) – to cause to start
When you bring the music on, the show will start.
bring up (1)
(separable) – to mention
Sara never brings Eric’s past up when they visit her grandparents.
bring up (2)
(separable) – to raise to maturity
Sandra’s husband brought the children up alone after his wife died in a car accident.
brush up on
(intransitive - no object) – to practice
I’ll need to brush up on my Spanish when I move to Mexico.
burn down
(inseparable) – to destroy by fire
Sasha’s hometown in Central Europe burned down several times during the Middle Ages.
burn up
(separable) – to cause anger
The insurance agent burned Sam up when the agent did not want to discuss Sam’s options.
Sam got burned up when the insurance agent didn’t want to discuss options for car insurance.
butt in
(intransitive - no object) – to interrupt
You should not butt in unless you are invited to join the group.
butter up
(separable) – to flatter
Billy has been buttering Jenny up all week hoping to get a pay raise at the end of the month.

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call on
(inseparable) – to ask
Cynthia always calls on you when she needs help; she trusts you.
call off
(separable) – to cancel
There is nothing worse than calling a wedding off in the last moment.
call up
(separable) – to telephone
Can I call you up later today and chat about your latest trip?
calm down
(inseparable) – to relax
Kendra was very nervous but calmed down once she passed the driving test.
care for (1)
(inseparable) – to want
Do you care for coffee or tea after lunch?
care for (2)
(inseparable) – to take care of
Maggie cared for her ill grandmother for more than three years before Maggie’s sister took over.
carry on
(intransitive - no object) – to continue
Carry on,” the teacher said when she entered the classroom, and the students continued checking their homework.
catch on (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to become popular
Being bald and wearing tattoos have caught on fairly quickly in many countries.
catch on (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to learn
Children catch on very quickly when they learn languages.
catch up (with)
(inseparable) – to follow/reach
“You can go ahead,” insisted Andrea. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
check in
(inseparable) – to register at a hotel or inn
I can check in later. The hotel desk is open until 9PM.
check out (of)
(inseparable) – to leave a hotel or inn
We will need to check out of the hotel before noon, so we will still have time to go for a swim.
cheer on
(separable) – to support
Hockey fans always cheer their teams on loudly on sports nights.
cheer up
(separable) – to help someone feel better
When Lily is depressed, her brother cheers her up with jokes and cartoons.
chicken out
(intransitive - no object) – to give up
Vivian chickened out in the last moment when Sam asked her to go bungee jumping.
chip in
(inseparabe) – to contribute
When we celebrate a birthday in the office, everyone chips in at least $5.
clean up
(separable) – to tidy up
Students should always clean up after themselves at the end of the class. (Can you clean it up?)
come across
(inseparable) – to find
I came across a very rare 16th century book while browsing the bookstores in old Berlin.
come along (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to progress
How is your new project coming along?
come along (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to appear
When Anna came along after class, Johnny became very quiet.
come around
(intransitive - no object) – to change one’s opinion
When will you come around and finally agree with me?
come by
(inseparable) – to obtain
I came by many second hand sweaters since my older sister got rid of them very fast.
come down (with)
(inseparable) – to become sick
Every winter, I came down with the flu.
come into
(inseparable) – to acquire
George came into a fortune when his parents suddenly died.
come on
(intransitive - no object) – to reflect
Stacey comes on as a tough person, but in fact, she is very sensitive.
come on
(intransitive - no object) – to become available
The hot water came on very late last night since the plumber was fixing the pipes all day.
come out
(intransitive - n object) – to become known
The beauty queen’s past came out during a routine reference check.
come over
(intransitive - no object) – to visit causally
Why don’t you come over after the game and have lunch with us?
come through
(intransitive - no object) – to do what is expected
William came through only after Wanda begged him for three days to get the tickets for the game.
come to
(inseparable) – to total
Our charges came to an even number after we added the taxes and the extra commission.
come up
(intransitive - no object) – to be mentioned
The topic of marriage never came up during the lovely couple’s conversations.
come up with
(inseparable) – to think of/invent
Mary always comes up with very creative ideas.
come upon
(inseparable) – to discover by accident
While cleaning the attic, I came upon a very rare and beautiful pearl necklace.
count on
(inseparable) – to depend on
I have always counted on my brother sine he helped me and kept his promise no matter what.
crank up
(separable) – to increase
Crank up the volume on the radio so that I can also hear the speech!” (Crank it up!)
cross out
(separable) – to eliminate
I crossed out all the typing mistakes in the document. (I crossed them out.)
cut down on
(inseparable) – to reduce
Since gas is so expensive, Sheila decided to cut down on driving and walk instead.

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die down
(intransitive - no object) – to decrease
After midnight, the music died down next door, and I finally fell asleep.
dig up
(separable) – to look for
The detective was unable to dig up any useful information on the suspect. (He couldn’t dig it up.)
do in
(separable) – to make tired
Two games yesterday and one more today did the soccer player in. He slept through the whole weekend.
do over
(separable) – to redo
The assignment was so poorly organized that I had to do the entire paper over.
doze off
(intransitive - no object) – to fall asleep
The speech was so boring that almost everyone in the audience dozed off.
drag on
(intransitive - no object) – to continue endlessly
After an interesting and dynamic start, the movie dragged on uneventfully for almost two hours.
draw up
(separable) – to prepare
Before you write a research paper, it is always a good idea to draw up an outline first. (Draw it up, first!)
dream up
(separable) – to plan
Johnny dreamed up the perfect game for Celia’s birthday party to keep all guests entertained. (Johnny dreamed it up.)
dress up
(inseparable) – to wear formal clothing
When going to the opera, Misty loved dressing up and wearing her newest clothes.
drink up
(separable) – to finish a drink
Drink up your milk and let’s go. We’ll be late for school.” (Drink it up!)
drop off
(separable) – to deliver
Mom drops the kids off for hockey practice, but dad picks them up and drives them home.
drop in
(inseparable) – to visit
“Why don’t you drop in on Sunday and we can go over your essay homework.”
drop out (of)
(inseparable) – to stop attending
He dropped out of college after the first semester since he wanted to get some work experience first.

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eat out
(intransitive - no object) – to eat in a restaurant
If you eat out every night, you won’t be able to save any money.
eat up
(separable) – to finish a meal
“You can’t have dessert unless you eat up all your broccoli” mom told Tommy during lunch. (Eat it up!)
end up
(intransitive - no object) – to arrive
After driving around for hours, we ended up exactly where we started.

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face up to
(inseparable) – to admit to
After failing the exam a few times, Jason had to face up to the fact that he would have to study more in order to pass.
fall apart (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to break down
My first computer fell apart after only two months of use so I had to get a laptop.
fall apart (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to suffer emotionally
After two deaths in the family, Mary fell apart and couldn’t work for awhile.
fall down
(intransitive - no object) – to fall to the ground
The toddler fell down many times while learning how to walk.
fall for
(inseparable) – to be attracted to something or someone
The deal was too good to refuse, so the buyer fell for the cheap offer only to find out it was a scam.
fall through
(intransitive - no object) – to not happen
Our plan fell through when Jody didn’t show up, and we couldn’t play the game with one member missing.
feel up to
(inseparable) – to feel string enough
Do you feel up to hiking that challenging trail now that it snowed all night?
fight off
(separable) – to keep something away
I’ve been trying to fight off the flu all week, but finally I got sick. (I’ve been trying to fight it off.)
figure out
(separable) – to solve a problem
I have finally figured out how my new cell-phone works even though it has too many functions. (I figured it out.)
fill in
(separable) – to complete
The easiest part of the test was filling in the blanks. (I could fill them in easily.)
fill in (on)
(separable) – to supply information
Can you fill me in on what happened in the meeting while I was away?
fill in for
(inseparable) – to substitute
Can you please fill in for me while I am away?
fill out
(separable) – to complete a form
First, you will need to fill out an application form, and then you can take the course. (You will need to fill it out.)
fill up
(separable) – to fill completely
Before the road trip, we will need to fill up the tank. (We will need to fill it up.)
find out
(inseparable) – to get information
I have just found out that we have a test tomorrow.
fit in
(intransitive - no object) – to get along
When Mary moved to the new neighbourhood, she fit in right away since everybody liked gardening.
free up
(separable) – to make something available
Can you free up some space in the closet so that I can store my winter clothes? (Can you free it up?)

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get across
(separable) – to communicate clearly
The girl was so stubborn that no one was able to get the message across and change her mind.
get ahead
(intransitive - no object) – to make progress
You need to work hard in this company if you wish to get ahead and get promoted.
get along
(intransitive) – to have a good relationship
Our team members have been getting along quite well before they lost the game.
get around (1)
(inseparable) – to avoid
Jimmy got around doing homework every day by offering to volunteer after classes.
get around (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to go from place to place
Since she leaves downtown, she gets around everywhere by walking.
get at
(intransitive - no object) – to hint
What are you trying to get at? Can you be more specific and give an example?
get away
(intransitive - no object) – to escape
Finally I caught a fish, but it got away because there was a hole in the net.
get back
(intransitive - no object) – to return
Sandy always gets back late from school. She helps her team win the competition.
get by
(intransitive - no object) – to survive financially
The family of four was able to get by on just $5 a day for a whole month.
get down (to)
(intransitive - no object) – to focus
After you finish sightseeing, I’ll meet you in the boardroom and we’ll get down to business.
get down (1)
(separable) – to discourage
When I told her I wanted to attend college, she really got me down telling me my scores were not high enough.
get down (2)
(separable) – to put in writing
Who will get the minutes down during the meeting?
get in
(intransitive - no object) – to arrive
The flight got in 2 hours late last night because of the storm.
get off (1)
(separable) – to discourage
When I told her I wanted to attend college, she really got me down telling me my scores were not high enough.
get off (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to receive lesser punishment
After striking a pedestrian, the biker got off with only a fine instead of going to jail.
get off (3)
(separable) – to interrupt
Many schools in our city get the day off when it snows.
get out (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to spread
Word gets out very fast in our small town, so everyone knew Jack would propose to Jill.
get out (of) (2)
(inseparable) – to escape
Sam always has an excuse and gets out of having to wash the dishes.
get out (of) (3)
(inseparable) – to leave
When will we finally get out of here? I am hungry!
get over
(inseparable) – to recover
After that rigorous football practice, it took Jimmy a whole day to get over his sore muscles.
get rid of
(inseparable) – dispose of something or dismiss someone
I cannot get rid of the unpleasant burning smell from my clothes; I’ll have to dry clean them.
get through
(inseparable) – to finish
My new course is so challenging that I started doubting I’ll ever get through it.
get to (1)
(inseparable) – to annoy
The dripping faucet really got to me. I cannot sleep!
get to (2)
(inseparable) – to arrive at
What time do you usually get to work?
get together
(intransitive - no object) – to meet
We should get together for coffee during the holidays.
get up
(intransitive - no object) – to leave the bed
What time do you usually get up in the morning?
give back
(separable) – to return
Can you give me back the book I lent you a week ago?
give out
(inseparable) – to distribute
The Red Cross gives out food and various charitable donations to victims of an earthquake.
give up
(separable) – to stop
“Why can’t you give it up?” asked Cindy while watching Andy smoke.
go along
(intransitive - no object) – to cooperate
We need to go along with the most popular vote if we want to stay in business.
go around (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to satisfy
There is not enough bread left to go around for another day. We need to buy some more food.
go around (2)
(intransitive - no object) – to circulate
Word goes around that you are going to quit. Is it true?
go away
(intransitive - no object) – to leave
Will you go away during the spring break? I heard there are good deals for one-week trips.
go by (1)
(intransitive - no object) – to pass
Tina is a new driver, but as the days go by, she gets more and more confident.
go by (2)
(inseparable) – to act correctly
In order to avoid a fine, you need to go by the rules.
go down
(intransitive - no object) – to sink
Many people died when the Titanic went down.
go off
(intransitive - no object) – to explode
Firecrackers are both noisy and dangerous when they go off.
go over
(inseparable) – to check
We should go over the routine one more time before you start your performance.
go out with
(inseparable) – to have a date
When will you finally go out with Sara? She’s been asking about you for a month now.
go through
(inseparable) – to endure
When shipwrecked on a desert island, Jack had to go through lots of hardships in order to survive.
go with
(intransitive - no object) – to match
That blue shirt goes with both your eyes and your jeans.
go under
(intransitive - no object) – to fail
During the economic crisis, small businesses go under first.
goof off
(intransitive - no object) – to be inactive
Instead of doing his homework, Tommy goofed off all weekend.

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Written by Tunde Tuzes,
Writing Coach and Assistant Write Site Coordinator.

Updated September 10 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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