Phrasal Verbs: 3 Easy Rules

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal Verbs: come back, run off with, go around, wear out, ……….

There are just 3 things to know if you want to understand and remember Phrasal Verbs:

1. Phrasal Verbs are Vocabulary.

2. There are two types: a)Separable and

3. When they are Separable, the pronoun must always go in the middle.

Phrasal Verb: get up .....................

Phrasal Verb: get up .………………..

Phrasal Verb: give up …………………..


1. Phrasal Verbs are Vocabulary.

Phrasal Verbs are verbs plus one or more words which change the meaning of the verb. Think of them as one vocabulary unit with one meaning

You know the meaning of the verb give.

1. Please give me that football.

 You also know the meaning of give up.

2. I’m not a great football player but I’m never going to give up!

Sentences 1. and 2. both use the word give, but the meaning is different.

It’s important to learn and remember that the Phrasal Verb give up means *to stop an activity or effort : to admit that you cannot do something and stop trying It has no connection with the word give or the word up. No-one is giving anything. No-one is looking up.

*This is a link to the definition of give up in the online dictionary You will need to scroll down, down, down to the phrasal verb section to find the definition that I’ve included above. You may have to click on give verb first.

How can you learn all these Phrasal Verbs? Well, how do you learn other vocabulary? Here are my suggestions. Check:


♦  Google – Images



Don’t worry if it takes you a long time to work out the meanings of the Phrasal Verbs. While you are trying to work out the meanings (using my suggestions), you are learning much more than you realise. You are learning how to use the new vocabulary in context.

When you look up Phrasal Verbs like give up, you will see how the word give has multiple meanings. You will see that give up is not the only Phrasal Verb that starts with the word give. The two minutes you spend looking up give up will be a mini lesson; you will learn so much more than just one phrasal verb.

For a list from of the 200 most common Phrasal Verbs, with explanations and example sentences, click here.

2. There are two types: a)Separable and

Sometimes you can separate the words that make up a Phrasal Verb:

I really need to give up smoking.

Everyone tells me that I need to give smoking up.

Everyone tells me that I need to give it up.

Sometimes, you cannot separate the words that make up a Phrasal Verb. (‘Non-separable’ means that you must not separate the words.)

You should stick to your exercise routine.

I can’t go around like this! (go around = to go here and there; move from place to place)

Charlie Brown looks after his dog Snoopy.

Non-separable Phrasal Verbs are not hard to remember and students don’t make the mistake of separating them. I have never heard a student separate a non-separable Phrasal Verb. I have never, ever, ever heard anything like:

You should stick your exercise routine to .

I can’t go like this  around.

I look my dog after.

There is a good reason why English learners don’t make the mistake of separating Non-separable Phrasal Verbs. They sound really bad if you separate them! This is an easy rule to remember. However, you need to know it because of rule #3.

3. When  Phrasal Verbs are Separable, the pronoun must always go in the middle.


I’ll wear out my sock!

I’ll wear my sock out!

I’ll wear it out.                                      

Buying records cheers up my friends.

Buying records cheers  my friends up.

Buying records cheers them up.

You should give up smoking.

You should give smoking up.

You should give it up.

Phrasal Verbs like wear out, cheer up, and give up can be separated. If you use a pronoun, you must, must, must, put it in the middle. You cannot put it after the Phrasal Verb. You cannot say:

I’ll wear out it .   

Buying records cheers up them.

You should give up it .

Have a look at the 200 examples of common Phrasal Verbs with explanations and example sentences at English Club. Take note of the Non-separable Phrasal Verbs. They are the ones  with pronouns after the Phrasal Verbs. For example:

We called on you last night but you weren’t home.

I am counting on you to make dinner while I am out.

Now, take note of the Separable Phrasal Verbs. They are the ones  with pronouns in the middle of the Phrasal Verbs.

For example:

My wife backed me up over my decision to quit my job.

This sad music is bringing me down.

His wife gave him away to the police.

So, there you have it. Remember the three rules and don’t worry. You already know a lot of phrasal verbs. They are just more vocabulary. Look at the list of 200 Phrasal Verbs. Read the explanations and examples. It won’t take long to learn the meanings. The main thing to remember is: do not put the pronoun after a separable Phrasal Verb! If you can put it in the middle, you must put it there!

Have fun and just think of how much you are improving your English knowledge every time you learn a new Phrasal Verb!


This entry was posted in Grammar, Intermediate (Level 4), Upper Intermediate (Level 5), Vocabulary, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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