Phrasal verbs! The Cambridge Dictionary defines a phrasal verb as a phrase that consists of a verb with a preposition or adverb or both, the meaning of which is different from the meaning of its separate parts. Most native English speakers don’t know they are even using them; most students of English avoid using them where possible, because they think that they are just too difficult.
Well, the good news is that you know a lot already, and have been using them since your first year of learning English.
There are often other ways to express yourself without using phrasal verbs, and when the alternative is similar to a Latinate word it is easier for many learners of English. For example, you can say “to escape” instead of “break out”, and “to investigate” in place of “to look into”.
But… have you tried talking about your morning routine without using “to wake up” and “to get up”? And what do you say to your children when you are waiting to go out and they are taking a long time? “Hurry up!”
So, maybe the best advice is to take things slowly, and learn phrasal verbs one-by-one, in the context of what you are learning.
OK, now the bad news…
Many phrasal verbs are formed by taking a noun and a preposition, and a noun can be formed by simply adding them together, often (but not always) with a hyphen in the middle:
She wears a lot of make-up.
It was a very difficult break-up.
The researchers made an important breakthrough.
But sometimes the noun is formed by putting the preposition before the verb:
There have been a lot of cutbacks in the health service.
And other times, a ‘preposition+verb’ noun has no phrasal verb.
Please give me an update when you receive the documents.
(The verb “to date up” does not exist.)
|phrasal verb||noun (verb+preposition)||noun (preposition+verb)|
|to break out|| the breakout||the outbreak|
|to take in|| ||the intake|
|to pour down (rain heavily)|| ||the downpour|
|to cut back||the cutback|| |
|to make up||the make-up|| |
|to break up||the break-up|| |
|to break through||the breakthrough|| |
|to kick off||the kick-off|| |
|–|| ||the update|
Very often, it is not possible to guess the opposite meaning of a phrasal verb simply by using the opposite preposition.
The opposite of to get up is not to get down!
The opposite of to take off is not to take on.
Both of these phrases exist, but they mean something completely different!
Another thing to remember is that many phrasal verbs have a literal, physical meaning, and an abstract, idiomatic meaning.
If you’re too hot, take your jacket off.
She only started her business last year and it has really taken off!
The prisoners broke out of jail.
War broke out so we had to come home.
A lot of English comedians use these double meanings for comedic effect. Click on this link (to perfectenglish.pl) and see how many of the jokes you can understand. If you understand them without looking up both meanings of the phrasal verbs, you are at a very advanced stage of English comprehension!