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What are phrasal verbs?

A phrasal verb is the combination of a verb + a preposition/adverb resulting in a new verb with a different meaning. The result is usually a metaphor, not the literal meaning of each individual word.

go

verb

out

preposition or adverb

go out

new verb - different meaning

He came out to talk to us.

Not a phrasal verb. Just came out.

Lies always come out in the end.

Phrasal verb. They are no longer a secret.

She came in and closed the door.

Not a phrasal verb. Just came in.

I was in shock when the result came in.

Phrasal verb. It was announced.

She came up to say hello.

Not a phrasal verb. Just came.

His name came up in the conversation.

Phrasal verb. It was mentioned.

It's not literally coming or going anywhere. Something is known, published, revealed or talked about.

She looked back and said good-bye.

Not a phrasal verb. Just looking.

That's what I regret, looking back on it.

Phrasal verb. It means remember.

He looked up and saw the plane.

Not a phrasal verb. Just looking.

He looked up the word in the dictionary.

Phrasal verb. It means search.

She looked into the box and found it.

Not a phrasal verb. Just looking.

The police are looking into it.

Phrasal verb. It means investigate.

In phrasals with look, you're not literally looking at anything. You're doing something else, remembering, searching, and so on.

Let's run down to the beach.

Not a phrasal verb. Just running.

The health service has been run down.

Phrasal verb. It's gradually deteriorating.

They ran out of the house.

Not a phrasal verb. Just running.

He ran out of money.

Phrasal verb. He spent all his money.

She ran up the stairs.

Not a phrasal verb. Just running.

She ran up a huge bill.

Phrasal verb. She spent quite a lot.

In phrasal verbs with run, you're not literally running. You're doing something else, like spending time or money.

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Grammar and word order

Separable

Most phrasal verbs can be separated.

Turn on the light.

Verb + preposition + object
Better with a long object

Turn the light on.

Verb + object + preposition

Turn it on.

Verb + object + preposition
When the object is a pronoun

Don't say turn on it.

Inseparable

Some phrasal verbs always stay together.

Look after the children.

Verb + preposition + object

Look after them.

Verb + preposition + object

Don't say look them after or look the children after.

Inseparable, no object

(Intransitive) Some phrasal verbs can't be separated and don't take an object.

He went away.

Verb + preposition

Let's eat out tonight.

Verb + preposition

Hurry up! It's late.

Verb + preposition

So remember that when we have an object (it, him her, the bus, etc) we need to know the word order. This information is shown in most dictionaries. But even if it isn't you should study the example to try to learn how the verb is used.