5 Ways to Learn Phrasal Verbs
Updated: Dec 11, 2017
Phrasal verbs are extremely common, especially in informal conversations and texts. So, if you want to understand what native English speakers are saying and you’d like to sound like a native English speaker yourself, you can’t run away from (escape) phrasal verbs. They are an important part of learning English.
Here’s the bad news:
a) There are over 3000 phrasal verbs in English!
b) Looking up each part of the phrasal verb in a dictionary will not help you figure out its meaning. For example:
• ‘Can you look after my rabbit while I’m away’ means ‘Can you take care of my rabbit’?
• ‘We stayed up until 4 am to watch the election results’ means ‘We didn’t go to bed until 4 am’.
Here's the good news: there are lots of ways to learn phrasal verbs, and they don't have to be painful! Phrasal verbs can be learnt much like any other verb.
Here are 5 ways to learn phrasal verbs:
1) Learn Phrasal Verbs by Topic or Situation
Trying to memorise all 3000 phrasal verbs is a bit like trying to remember the name of every single river in the world or the population of each capital city…it's almost impossible, isn't it?One of the best ways to learn and remember new vocabulary and grammar is to learn them by topic or situation rather than as one huge list. The same applies to learning and recalling phrasal verbs.
For example: for the topic "around the house", you might learn:
get ready for work, tidy up the kitchen, clear up the children’s toys, wash up after lunch, put on clean trousers, turn on the washing machine, switch off the TV etc.
In upcoming blog posts, we'll discuss phrasal verbs for the office, travelling, and sports and fitness.
Keep a notebook (or a document or flashcard app on your phone - see method 5) to write down new phrasal verbs. Make a section for each topic and add every phrasal verb you come across (meet or find by chance).
2) Create Sentences with the Phrasal Verb AND its Meaning
As you know, looking up the words find and out in the dictionary will probably not help you to learn that find out means to discover. So, when you learn a new phrasal verb, make a sentence with the phrasal verb and an alternative sentence with its meaning.
I wanted to find out what the capital of Uzbekistan is. I discovered that Tashkent is the capital.
Musa could always count on Carla to help him with IT problems. Musa could always rely on Carla to help him.
3) Personalise Them
A key to learning and memorising phrasal verbs is to use them in a sentence about you.
I get on well with my brother, but I don’t get on so well with my sister.
I take after my father, but my sister takes after my mother.
The more emotional this connection is (or the funnier it is!), the more likely you are to remember the phrasal verb.
4) Become a Phrasal Verb Spotter
Phrasal verbs are as common in English as books in a library or buses on a London street – they are absolutely everywhere. You can have some fun spotting them.
For example, listen out for them in songs. Here are some titles of Beatles' songs with phrasal verbs: Let it be, We can work it out, Don’t let me down.
Watch out for them in TV programmes or films. If you watch with a friend or relative who is also learning English, challenge each other to a phrasal verb "bingo" or a "who spotted the most" game.
Look for them in social media, newspapers, magazines, fliers, street signs. You’ll be amazed at how many you find. How many can you spot in this article?
To help with this, our self-study workbooks include phrasal verbs in the vocabulary sections and give you plenty of opportunities to put the into practice! Each workbook includes a real-world English article, audio file, or video you can use for a bit of phrasal verb spotting.
5) Learning the Old School Way
Some students prefer to learn English grammar in a more traditional way - memorising them. The advantage of this is that you'll be able to learn the phrasal verbs more quickly than waiting to see them "in the wild", so to speak. If that's your style, you could follow this weekly phrasal verb schedule:
Day 1: Write and say one sentence with a phrasal verb. Let’s call this sentence A
Day 2: Write and say sentence A. Then write a sentence with another phrasal verb. Let’s call this sentence B
Day 3: Write and say sentence A and B. Then write a sentence with another phrasal verb. Let’s call this sentence C
Continue this until Day 7 and then start again with 7 new phrasal verb sentences.
You can also memorise by using flash card apps or web-based software, such as:
These flashcard applications use Spaced Repetition, which is vital for long term retention of what you have learnt.
Cambridge University English have even made a brilliant app (free of charge) to help you memorise some of the most common phrasal verbs. It uses humorous animations to illustrate the meaning of the phrasal verbs, which is great for helping you to remember.
One last tip...
I’m sure you know this already, but the very best way to learn and remember anything is to practise, practise, practise. Practice makes perfect!
The same goes for phrasal verbs. When you’ve learned a new phrasal verb, use it whenever and wherever you can. Don’t just leave phrasal verbs in your notebook. Use them when you are speaking to people or in your writing.
The more you practise, the more confident you will become at using phrasal verbs correctly.