Many times, speakers of English as a second language get really stressed when they hear the words ‘phrasal verbs’. And with all the hype around these verbs, who can blame them? But actually, it’s not as important as people say it is. If you find yourself obsessing about phrasal verbs and feeling that your English is not good or fluent enough without them, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
What are phrasal verbs?
Phrasal verbs are verbs that are formed in one of the following combinations:
- Verb + Adverb – for example: break up
- Verb + Preposition – for example: see to
- Verb + Adverb + Preposition – for example: look forward to
Once they are formed, phrasal verbs usually get an unpredictable new meaning. For example, to take something is to catch or get possession of something. But to take off is to remove something, like to undress. And to take up is to become interested in something and do it on a regular basis.
But it’s not just that. More often than not, these verbs have several new meanings. For example, to take off is not just to undress but also to depart or leave a place.
That makes them really confusing for learners who don’t have this type of verb in their first language, as well as for learners who do have it in their first language but a bit differently.
Phrasal verbs are used frequently in spoken English but it doesn’t mean that you have to use them to become a fluent speaker. You can be a clear and engaging speaker of English and hardly ever use them. However, since they are quite frequent, you should be familiar with the more common among them so you understand other speakers better.
The important thing to remember here is that unlike the general assumption out there, nothing will happen if you don’t use phrasal verbs and you’ll definitely not sound less natural or fluent. Remember that there are usually other ways to say the things we want to say. For example, instead of to look after you can say to take care of. So there’s no need to become obsessed about phrasal verbs or even let them guide the way you feel about your fluency in English.
What's the best way to learn phrasal verbs
Now, I’m not going to deny that phrasal verbs can be helpful and fun to use. So now, the question is how to learn them in a constructive way!
From my experience, learning lists upon lists of verbs is not helpful and may cause frustration. This is why you want to treat each phrasal verb you’d like to add to your active vocabulary as you treat any new word you encounter and would like to learn.
I also recommend using my pronunciation confidence method for growing your vocabulary:
- understand how to pronounce the phrasal verb and practice saying it about 20 times
- look for real-life examples of how to use it and understand the meaning from the context(s)
- make sentences of your own and drill them
- use the phrasal verb intentionally. Find a way to weave it into a conversation with someone, or even when you’re thinking to yourself.
For more information, watch the video below:
And you can also see how we put it into practice in this video.
What are your favorite phrasal verbs in English? How do you approach learning phrasal verbs? Is it easy or hard? Let us know in the comments below.