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What are phrasal verbs? Why are they difficult to learn?

A phrasal verb is a verb with two parts; the verb and a preposition. The preposition changes the meaning of the verb - to turn on a light is different from to turn a corner.

Why are phrasal verbs difficult?

Phrasal verbs can cause problems for English language learners because there are no universal rules. They can also seem illogical: you arrive at school but in a town etc. 

Another problem is that English has more phrasal verbs than other languages - simply because it has more words. Many verbs have multiple phrasal variations. Set, for example, has 464 entries in the Oxford English dictionary.

What is the best way to learn phrasal verbs?

Try learn two or three key phrasal verbs a day and then commit them to long term-memory by repeated practice. 

Where do I start?

Memorising phrasal verbs is most effective when it naturally arises from your reading or study. With look up for example you could do the following:

  1. Try and guess the meaning from the context. 
  2. Look up the meaning in the dictionary. 
  3. Practise using look up in your speech and writing so that you don't have to look up the meaning again!

These resources will also help teach and/or learn phrasal verbs:


  1. Unfortunately there's no easy way of learning them but There are a number of ways of learning phrasal verbs.

  2. You can find more on phrasal verbs, and the difference between phrasal and prepositional verbs, here:

  3. Think of Phrasal verbs as you would any other English vocabulary. Study them as you come across them, rather than trying to memorize many at once.

    Phrasal Verbs Exercise


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