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CHAPTER 27.  PHRASAL VERBS

A phrasal verb is an idiom which consists of a verb followed by a preposition, a verb followed by an adverb, or a verb followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition. The phrasal verbs in the following examples are printed in bold type.
e.g. I ran into an old friend.
      We put off washing the dishes.
      They all look up to him.

In these examples, the phrasal verb to run into consists of the verb to run followed by the preposition into, the phrasal verb to put off consists of the verb to put followed by the adverb off, and the phrasal verb to look up to consists of the verb to look followed by the adverb up, followed by the preposition to.

Many phrasal verbs are used more often in informal English than in formal English. In most cases, the ideas expressed by such phrasal verbs may also be expressed by other phrases which are more likely to be used in formal English.

For instance in the table below, the phrasal verbs used in the preceding examples are listed in the left-hand column and other phrases with the same meanings are listed in the right-hand column.

InformalFormal
  to run into  to meet unexpectedly
  to put off  to postpone
  to look up to  to admire

It should be noted that the use of many phrasal verbs varies among the different dialects of English. For instance, in order to express the idea of contacting someone by means of the telephone, the expression to ring someone up is frequently used in British English; whereas the expression to call someone is frequently used in American English.

Because of differences in dialect, the forms of the verbs and the meanings given may vary from one dictionary to another. In addition, some phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. The meanings provided in this chapter are samples of meanings which are used in North American English.

 

1. Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition


Some phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by a preposition. As has been seen in previous chapters, it is very common for English verbs to be followed by prepositions. However, in the case of a phrasal verb, the verb followed by the preposition forms an expression with an idiomatic meaning.

For instance, the phrasal verb to come across is an idiomatic expression with the meaning to find. Similarly, the phrasal verb to frown on is an idiomatic expression with the meaning to disapprove of.
e.g. We came across an old diary while we were cleaning out the attic.
      The workers frowned on the practice of smoking in the office.

It should be noted that some phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition can be used in the Passive Voice.
e.g. The practice of smoking in the office was frowned on by the workers.
      The children were looked after by their aunt.
In these examples, the phrasal verbs to frown on and to look after are used in the Passive Voice.

The following are examples of phrasal verbs which consist of a verb followed by a preposition. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use.

Verbs Followed by Prepositions


abide by:  adhere to  We abided by the rules.
account for:  explain  He accounted for the discrepancy.
ask for:  request  They asked for an extension.
bank on:  depend on  We are banking on good weather tomorrow.
bear with:  be patient with  Please bear with the delay.
border on:  be near, be next to  Their excitement bordered on hysteria.
break into:  enter by force  Thieves broke into the store.
build on:  develop from  We want to build on our success.
burst into:  suddenly enter  He burst into the room.
call for:  demand  This calls for an investigation.
call on:  ask, order  We will call on you to give a speech.
come across:  find accidentally  She came across some old papers.
come upon:  discover  We came upon a small lake.
confide in:  share a secret  The two friends confided in each other.
count on:  depend on  We are counting on you.
cut across:  use a short route  I cut across the parking lot.
dawn on:  realize  Finally the truth dawned on him.
deal in:  stock, sell  He deals in gold and jewels.
deal with:  handle successfully  She can deal with any situation.
decide on:  settle on  They decided on a course of action.
dispense with:  proceed without  The chairman dispensed with formalities.
dispose of:  get rid of  If he moves, he will have to dispose of his furniture.
dwell on:  emphasize  He dwelt on the risks involved.
enlarge on:  say more about  Please enlarge on your proposal.
enter into:  begin, commence  The brothers entered into an agreement.
expand on:  say more about  Please expand on what you said before.
frown on:  disapprove of  Absenteeism is frowned on.
get at:  reach  The store was so crowded, it was hard to get at the food.
get into:  become involved with  I don't want to get into an argument.
get over:  recover from  Have you got over the flu yet?
get through:  survive, finish  I don't know how I can get through all this work.
go against:  oppose  Don't go against the rules.
go over:  review  I would like to go over the report again.
go through:  examine in detail  Have you gone through the evidence?
go with:  look good with  Those shoes don't go with that outfit.
grow on:  become more attractive to  I'm sure the idea will grow on you.
guard against:  take precautions  We must guard against possible attack.
hinge on:  depend on  Everything hinges on her decision.
inquire into:  investigate  Please inquire into the alternatives.
keep to:  adhere to  The train will keep to the schedule.
laugh at:  mock, make fun of  Don't laugh at me!
launch into:  start  He launched into an explanation.
leaf through:  turn the pages  She leafed idly through the book.
live on:  survive using  What did you live on?
look after:  take care of  I will look after the children.
look into:  investigate  He will look into the situation.
look through:  examine quickly  We looked through the magazines while we were waiting.
part with:  give up reluctantly  She refused to part with her necklace.
pick on:  be unkind to  Because he was the youngest, the other boys picked on him.
prey on:  hunt and eat; disturb  Ospreys prey on fish; the idea preys on my mind.
provide for:  prepare for  We have provided for any emergency.
reason with:  try to persuade  It is hard to reason with an angry person.
reckon on:  calculate on  I hadn't reckoned on being the center of attention.
rise above:  be superior to  He rose above his circumstances and managed to succeed.
run across:  find accidentally  They ran across some interesting information.
run into:  meet accidentally  I ran into my cousin downtown.
run over:  injured by a vehicle  Children must be careful not to be run over by cars.
see through:  not be deceived by  I instantly saw through the disguise.
send for:  ask to be sent  You will have to send for your transcripts.
settle for:  reluctantly accept  Since there was no kale, we had to settle for cabbage.
side with:  support in a dispute  Why did you side with him?
sit through:  sit and endure  It was all I could do to sit through the lecture without falling asleep.
stand by:  support  I hope you will stand by me.
stand for:  represent  What does the abbreviation etc. stand for?
stick to:  adhere to  We shall stick to the original plan.
stumble across:  find accidentally  He stumbled across an interesting fossil.
survive on:  survive using  During the winter, we had to survive on turnips and parsnips.
take after:  resemble an ancestor  He takes after his grandfather.
tamper with:  interfere with  Someone has tampered with the lock.
touch on:  mention  She touched on many important subjects.
verge on:  approach  His behavior verges on rudeness.
wade through:  slowly peruse  We had to wade through a pile of documents.
watch over:  guard  The shepherd watched over the sheep.


See Exercise 1.

a. The position of the object of the preposition
The object of a preposition usually follows the preposition, whether the object is a noun or a pronoun. In the following examples, the objects are underlined.
e.g. We have launched into a new project.
      We have launched into it.

In these examples, the noun project and the pronoun it are the objects of the preposition into of the phrasal verb to launch into. Both the noun object and the pronoun object follow the preposition.

See Exercise 2.

b. The position of an adverb of manner modifying the verb
If a verb is followed by a preposition, an adverb of manner may be placed between the verb and the preposition. In the following examples, the adverbs of manner are underlined.
e.g. We reasoned patiently with the little girl.
      I leafed quickly through the book.

In the first example, the adverb of manner patiently is placed between the verb reasoned and the preposition with of the phrasal verb to reason with. In the second example, the adverb of manner quickly is placed between the verb leafed and the preposition through of the phrasal verb to leaf through.

See Exercise 3.

c. Stress in spoken English
When a verb followed by a preposition occurs at the end of a clause, it is usually the verb which is stressed in spoken English. In the following examples, the words which are stressed are printed in bold type.
e.g. No one likes to be laughed at.
      I need someone to confide in.

In the first example, the verb laughed followed by the preposition at occurs at the end of a clause, and the verb laughed is stressed. In the second example, the verb confide followed by the preposition in occurs at the end of a clause, and the verb confide is stressed.

It should be noted that, when used in a phrasal verb at the end of a clause, the prepositions after, into and over are often pronounced with somewhat greater emphasis than the verb. In this case, both the verb and the preposition are stressed. For example:
      The twins are easy to look after.
      The building would be difficult to break into.
      You'll never guess whom I ran into.
      I heard that someone was run over.

The prepositions above, across and through are also occasionally emphasized in this way. For example:
      The research papers were difficult to wade through.

 
d. Expressions in which the verb has an object
In the case of some phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition, the verb and the preposition may each have an object. In the following examples, the objects are underlined.
e.g. I can make nothing of the situation.
      We talked my sister into agreeing.

In the first example, the verb make of the phrasal verb to make of has the object nothing, and the preposition of has the object situation. In the second example, the verb talked of the phrasal verb to talk into has the object sister, and the preposition into has the object agreeing.

The following are examples of phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition, where the verb may have an object. The objects of the verbs are underlined. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use. The last example illustrates the use of the Passive Voice.

Verbs followed by Objects followed by Prepositions


drag into:  involve unwillingly  Don't drag me into this discussion!
draw into:  involve gradually  We managed to draw her into the conversation.
drum into:  teach by repetition  We drummed the safety rules into the children.
frighten into:  control by fear  The little girl frightened her brother into obeying her.
hold against:  blame for  Please don't hold my mistakes against me.
lay before:  present to  We will lay the evidence before the court.
let into:  allow to share  Shall we let her into the secret?
make of:  understand  Can you make anything of this message?
read into:  find other meanings  You are reading too much into her remarks.
set against:  make antagonistic  She likes to set people against one another.
set on:  order to attack  We will set our dogs on any intruders.
talk into:  persuade  Can you talk him into changing his mind?
thrust upon:  force upon  We thrust the responsibility upon the treasurer.
write into:  add to in writing  The terms were written into the lease.

 

2. Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by an adverb


Many phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by an adverb. Some of these phrasal verbs are intransitive and some are transitive.

For instance, the intransitive phrasal verb to show up is formed from the verb to show followed by the adverb up. In the following example, the phrasal verb does not have an object.
      At ten o'clock, her brother showed up.

The following are examples of intransitive phrasal verbs which consist of a verb followed by an adverb. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use.

Intransitive Verbs followed by Adverbs


blow over:  pass  I wonder when the trouble will blow over.
boil away:  disappear by boiling  If the water boils away, the stew will burn.
boil over:  overflow by boiling  The soup boiled over.
bounce back:  recover  He bounced back from his previous defeat.
buckle down:  work seriously  You may fail your courses if you don't buckle down to work.
catch on:  be widely accepted  Do you think the idea will catch on?
cloud over:  become overcast  Although it clouded over in the afternoon, the rain held off.
die down:  become less  After a few days, the excitement died down.
double up:  bend over  We were doubled up with laughter.
drop in:  visit  Please drop in any time.
fade away:  become less  The sound gradually faded away.
fall off:  become less  Attendance at the concerts has fallen off.
get away:  escape  I hooked a fish, but it got away.
get by:  barely succeed  She studied just hard enough to get by.
give in:  admit defeat  I will never give in!
go on:  continue  Please go on. Don't let me interrupt you.
grow up:  become an adult  What do you want to do when you grow up?
keep on:  persist in  He kept on changing the subject.
level off:  stop rising  Prices finally leveled off.
log on:  contact a computer  Do you know how to log on?
log off:  break contact with a computer system  The system was overloaded, so I had to log off.
move in:  take possession of living quarters  When are you moving in?
move out:  give up possession of living quarters  He moved out yesterday.
nod off:  go to sleep  Half the bus passengers nodded off.
pass out:  faint  It was so hot, I almost passed out.
pitch in:  help  If everyone pitches in, the work will be done in a few minutes.
play along:  pretend to agree  Let's play along until we find out what his plans are.
pull in:  arrive (of vehicles)  The bus pulled in next to the curb.
pull out:  leave (of vehicles)  The train pulled out at ten o'clock.
set off:  leave  They set off at six o'clock in the morning.
settle down:  become peaceful  After the excitement, the students found it difficult to settle down.
settle in:  become used to  How are you settling in to your new job?
show up:  arrive  She showed up at noon.
stay up:  not go to bed  We stayed up until midnight.
step down:  resign  He stepped down for health reasons.
step in:  intervene  The government had to step in to save the business.
take off:  leave the ground  The plane took off on time.
touch down:  land (of planes)  The plane touched down.
tune in:  find a station on the radio  We tuned in to listen to the hockey game.
watch out:  beware  Watch out! The roads are icy.
wear off:  gradually disappear  The feeling of excitement gradually wore off.


See Exercise 4.

The transitive phrasal verb to sort out is formed from the verb to sort followed by the adverb out. For example:
      We sorted out the papers.
In this example, the phrasal verb sorted out has the object papers.

The following are examples of transitive phrasal verbs which consist of a verb followed by an adverb. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use.

Transitive Verbs followed by Adverbs


back up:  support  I will back up your story.
bail out:  rescue  If you run into difficulties, who will bail you out?
break in:  make something new fit for use  I broke in my new hiking boots.
breathe in:  inhale  We breathed in the fresh air.
breathe out:  exhale  I breathed out a sigh of relief.
bring back:  return  She brought back her library books.
bring around:  persuade  We gradually brought her around to our point of view.
bring up:  raise  Bringing up children is never easy.
butter up:  flatter  We buttered him up, hoping that he would agree to our proposal.
call in:  ask to assist  I think it is time we called in an expert.
call off:  cancel  We called off the meeting.
call up:  telephone  Why don't you call him up?
cheer on:  cheer, encourage  I will be there to cheer you on.
chop down:  fell  They chopped down the dead tree.
clean up:  tidy  The mayor asked everyone to help clean up the city streets.
fend off:  repel  The goalie fended off every attack.
ferret out:  find with difficulty  We managed to ferret out the information.
figure out:  solve, understand  I can't figure out what happened.
fill in:  complete  Please fill in this form.
fill out:  complete  I filled out the form.
fill up:  make full  We filled up the glasses with water.
give back:  return  I gave back the bicycle I had borrowed.
give off:  send out  Skunk cabbage gives off an unpleasant odor.
hand down:  give to someone younger  The tradition was handed down from father to son.
hand in:  give to person in authority  The students handed their assignments in to the teacher.
hand on:  give to another person  I am not sorry to hand the responsibility on to you.
hand over:  transfer  We had to hand the evidence over to the police.
hang up:  break a telephone connection  After receiving a busy signal, I hung up the phone.
hold back:  restrain, delay  He is so enthusiastic, it is hard to hold him back.
iron out:  remove  I am sure we can iron out every difficulty.
knock out:  make unconscious   Boxers are often knocked out.
lap up:  accept eagerly  The public lapped up the story.
lay off:  put out of work  The company laid off seventy workers.
leave behind:  leave, not bring  I accidentally left my umbrella behind.
leave out:  omit  Tell me what happened. Don't leave anything out!
let down:  disappoint  We will let him down if we don't arrive on time.
live down:  live so that past faults are forgotten  This will be hard to live down!
look up:  find (information)  We looked up the word in a dictionary.
make up:  invent  She likes to make up stories.
pass up:  not take advantage  I couldn't pass up such an opportunity.
pension off:  dismiss with a pension  He was pensioned off at the age of sixty.
phase in:  introduce gradually  The new program will be phased in over the next six months.
phase out:  cease gradually  The practice will gradually be phased out.
pick up:  collect  You may pick up the papers at the office.
pin down:  get a commitment  When the guest speaker is pinned down, we can set a date for the conference.
play down:  de-emphasize  He played down the importance of the news.
point out:  draw attention to  She pointed out the advantages of the proposal.
polish off:  finish  We polished off the rest of the apple pie.
pull down:  demolish  Many old buildings are pulled down to make way for new ones.
pull off:  succeed  Do you think she can pull off her plan?
put away:  put in proper place  It is time to put the toys away.
put back:  return to original location  Please put the book back on the shelf.
put off:  postpone  We cannot put off the meeting again.
reel off:  recite a long list  She reeled off a long list of names.
rope in:  persuade to help  We roped in everyone we could to help with the work.
rub out:  erase  Be sure to rub out all the pencil marks.
rule out:  remove from consideration  None of the possibilities can be ruled out yet.
scale down:  reduce  Because of lack of funds, we had to scale down our plans.
sell off:  dispose of by selling  We sold off all the books and furniture.
set back:  delay  This could set back the project by several years.
shout down:  stop from speaking by shouting  The crowd shouted down the speaker.
shrug off:  dismiss as unimportant  He attempted to shrug off the mistake.
single out:  select from others  You have been singled out for special attention.
size up:  assess  I quickly sized up the situation.
sort out:  organize  It will take some time to sort out this mess.
sound out:  talk with to learn the opinion of  We attempted to sound him out.
stammer out:  stammer  They stammered out their apologies.
sum up:  summarize  He summed up the discussion in a few well-chosen words.
summon up:  gather  I attempted to summon up my courage.
take in:  absorb  We tried to take in the new information.
take out:  invite to a restaurant  May I take you out for supper?
take over:  assume control  They will take over at the beginning of June.
talk over:  discuss  Let us talk it over before we decide.
tear up:  destroy by tearing  She tore up the letter.
think over:  consider  I need some time to think it over.
think up:  invent  What will they think up next?
track down:  search for and find  We finally tracked him down at the bookstore.
trade in:  give as part payment  Why don't you trade in your old vacuum cleaner for a new one?
try on:  test clothes by putting them on  I tried on the new suit, but it didn't fit me.
try out:  test by using  Would you like to try out my fountain pen?
turn away:  refuse admission  The event was so popular that many people had to be turned away.
turn back:  reverse direction  Every fall the clocks must be turned back by one hour.
turn off:  deactivate by using a switch  I turned off the radio.
turn on:  activate by using a switch  Please turn on the light.
water down:  dilute  The soup has been watered down.
wear out:  gradually destroy by wearing or using  My jacket is wearing out, although it is only a year old.
write down:  make a note  I wrote down the instructions.
write off:  cancel, regard as  They were forced to write off several irretrievable debts.
write up:  compose in writing  I used my notes to write up the report.


See Exercise 5.

a. The position of the object of the verb
In the case of transitive phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by an adverb, if the object of the verb is a noun, the object can usually either follow or precede the adverb. In the following examples, the objects are underlined.
e.g. I called off the meeting.
      I called the meeting off.
In the first example the object meeting follows the adverb off, while in the second example the object meeting precedes the adverb off.

However, in the case of a few phrasal verbs, a noun object must usually follow the adverb.
e.g. We attempted to smooth over the disagreement.
In this example, the phrasal verb to smooth over is followed by the noun object disagreement. In this case, the object disagreement cannot be placed before the adverb over.

The following are examples of transitive phrasal verbs where a noun object must usually follow the adverb. Each phrasal verb is accompanied by its meaning and an example of its use. The objects of the verbs are underlined.

Verbs followed by Adverbs followed by Noun Objects


drum up:  raise  She has drummed up support for the plan.
paper over:  repair superficially  They attempted to paper over their differences.
smooth over:  improve  We tried to smooth over the situation.

In the case of transitive phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by an adverb, if the object of the verb is a pronoun, the object must usually precede the adverb. In the following examples, the pronoun objects are underlined.
e.g. I called it off.
      We attempted to smooth it over.
In these examples, the pronoun object it precedes the adverbs off and over.

See Exercise 6.

Most transitive phrasal verbs may be used in the Passive Voice.
e.g. The meeting was called off by me.
      The disagreement was smoothed over.
In these examples, the phrasal verbs to call off and to smooth over are used in the Passive Voice.

b. The position of an adverb of manner modifying the verb
In the case of a phrasal verb consisting of a verb followed by an adverb, the verb and the adverb usually may not be separated by an adverb of manner. In the following example, the adverb of manner is underlined.
e.g. I hurriedly called off the meeting.
In this example, the adverb of manner hurriedly precedes the phrasal verb called off. The adverb hurriedly may also be placed at the beginning or the end of the sentence, but may not be placed between the verb called and the adverb off.

c. Stress in spoken English
When a phrasal verb consisting of a verb followed by an adverb occurs at the end of a clause, it is usually the adverb which is stressed in spoken English. In the following examples, the words which are stressed are printed ion bold type.
e.g. How did that come about?
      Please drop in whenever you have time.
In the first example, the verb come followed by the adverb about occurs at the end of a clause, and the adverb about is stressed. In the second example, the verb drop followed by the adverb in occurs at the end of a clause, and the adverb in is stressed.

d. Ergative verbs
It should be noted that there are a few phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by an adverb, which have the same meaning whether they are used transitively or intransitively. For example:
      The engineer slowed down the train.
      The train slowed down.

In the first example, the phrasal verb to slow down is used transitively, with the object train. In the second example, the phrasal verb to slow down is used intransitively, without naming the originator of the action. In these two examples, it can be seen that the object of the transitive verb is the subject of the intransitive verb. However, the general meaning of the two sentences is the same. Verbs which can be used in this way may be referred to as ergative verbs.

The following are examples of expressions which can function as ergative phrasal verbs. Each ergative phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and examples of its use.

Ergative Phrasal Verbs


blare out:  make a loud sound  The loudspeakers blared out the music.
      The music blared out.
blow up:  destroy by an explosion  Troops blew up the bridge.
      The bridge blew up.
break up:  break into pieces  The icebreaker broke up the ice.
      The ice broke up.
burn down:  destroy by fire  We burned down the old barn.
      The old barn burned down.
calm down:  become calm  I calmed down the child.
      The child calmed down.
dry out:  become dry  The sun dried out the earth.
      The earth dried out.
get across:  transmit  We got our point across to the audience.
      Our point got across to the audience.
liven up:  become lively  He livened up the party.
      The party livened up.
pull through:  recover from, survive  The doctor pulled her through the illness.
      She pulled through the illness.
roll up:  wrap into a cylinder  I rolled up the window blind.
      The window blind rolled up.
shut down:  close, stop working  They shut down the factory.
      The factory shut down.
wake up:  stop sleeping  I woke her up.
      She woke up.
wash out:  remove by washing  We washed out the dye.
      The dye washed out.
wear away:  gradually remove  Water wore away the rock.
      The rock wore away.
wear out:  gradually destroy by using  I wore out the sweater.
      The sweater wore out.

 

3. Distinguishing between verbs followed by prepositions and verbs followed by adverbs


It has been seen that the position of pronoun objects, adverbs of manner and stress in spoken English varies according to whether a verb is followed by a preposition or by an adverb.

These differences are summarized in the following table. The verbs to sit and to turn are used as examples. The verb to sit is followed by on used as a preposition, whereas the verb to turn is followed by on used as an adverb.

Verb followed by PrepositionVerb followed by Adverb
  Pronoun object is placed  Pronoun object is placed
  after the preposition:  before the adverb:
    I sat on it.    I turned it on.
     
  Adverb of manner may be placed  Adverb of manner may not be
  between verb and preposition:  placed between verb and adverb:
    I sat quietly on it.    I quietly turned it on.
     
  Verb is stressed:  Adverb is stressed:
    This is what I sat on.    This is what I turned on.


Because of the differences summarized above, it is important to be able to distinguish between a verb followed by a preposition, and a verb followed by an adverb.

a. Adverb phrases of location compared with phrasal verbs followed by objects
In many cases, it is necessary to distinguish between an ordinary verb followed by an adverb phrase of location, and a phrasal verb followed by an object.
e.g. I turned up the street.
      I turned up the volume.

In the first example, the verb turned is followed by the adverb phrase of location up the street. In the second example, the phrasal verb turned up is followed by the object volume. In this example, the phrasal verb turned up has the meaning increased.

In the first example, street is the object of the preposition up. If the object is changed to a pronoun, the pronoun must follow the preposition:
      I turned up the street.
      I turned up it.

In the second example, volume is the object of the phrasal verb turned up. If the object is changed to a pronoun, the pronoun must precede the adverb up.
      I turned up the volume.
      I turned it up.

In the first example, if the verb is modified by an adverb of manner, the adverb of manner may precede the adverb phrase of location:
      I turned up the street.
      I turned quickly up the street.

In the second example, if the verb is modified by an adverb of manner, the adverb of manner may not be placed between the two parts of the phrasal verb:
      I turned up the volume.
      I quickly turned up the volume.

See Exercises 7 and 8.

b. Words used as prepositions or adverbs
It is also necessary to be able to distinguish between a phrasal verb consisting of a verb followed by a preposition, and a phrasal verb consisting of a transitive verb followed by an adverb. In many cases it is possible to make the distinction by means of the preposition or adverb following the verb.

For example, the following words are used in phrasal verbs as prepositions, but are not usually used in phrasal verbs as adverbs following transitive verbs:

  after  against
  at  before
  by  for
  from  into
  of  to
  toward  with
  without 

In contrast, the following words are used in phrasal verbs as adverbs following transitive verbs, but are not usually used in phrasal verbs as prepositions:

  along  aside
  away  back
  behind  down
  forward  out
  together  up

It should be noted that of these words, aside, away, back, forward, out and together are usually never used as prepositions. In contrast, the words along, behind, down and up are often used as prepositions, but are not usually used as prepositions in phrasal verbs.

See Exercises 9 and 10.

The following words present more difficulty, since they can be used in phrasal verbs both as prepositions and as adverbs following transitive verbs:

  across  around or round
  in  off
  on or upon  over
  through 

Thus, it is advisable to study which phrasal verbs use these words as prepositions, and which phrasal verbs use these words as adverbs. The following table gives examples of phrasal verbs containing each of these words. The left-hand column gives phrasal verbs consisting of verbs followed by prepositions, while the right-hand column gives phrasal verbs consisting of transitive verbs followed by adverbs.

Words used as Prepositions or Adverbs


Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  come across  get across (an idea)
  cut across  put across (an idea)
  run across 
  stumble across 
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  hang around  bring round
  lounge around 
  mill around 
  pass around 
  rally round 
  show around 
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  confide in  break in
  deal in  breathe in
  join in  call in
    fill in
    hand in
    phase in
    rope in
    take in
    trade in
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  glance off  call off
  keep off  fend off
  warn off  give off
    lay off
    pair off
    pension off
    polish off
    pull off
    put off
    reel off
    sell off
    shrug off
    turn off
    write off
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  bank on  cheer on
  border on  hand on
  build on  try on
  call on  turn on
  come upon 
  count on 
  dawn on 
  decide on 
  dwell on 
  enlarge on 
  expand on 
  frown on 
  grow on 
  hinge on 
  live on 
  pick on 
  prey on 
  reckon on 
  survive on 
  thrust upon 
  touch on 
  verge on 
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  get over  take over
  go over  talk over
  run over  think over
  watch over  paper over
    smooth over
   
Verb + PrepositionTransitive Verb + Adverb
  break through  pull through
  get through 
  go through 
  leaf through 
  look through 
  sail through 
  scrape through 
  see through 
  sit through 
  wade through 


See Exercise 11.

 

4. Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a word which may function either as an adverb or as a preposition


Some phrasal verbs consist of an intransitive verb followed by a word which may function either as an adverb or as a preposition. For example:
      We passed by.
      We passed by the library.
In the first example, the word by of the phrasal verb passed by functions as an adverb. In the second example, the word by of the phrasal verb passed by functions as a preposition which has the object library.

The following are examples of phrasal verbs which contain words which may function either as adverbs or as prepositions. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and examples of its use. The objects of the prepositions are underlined.

Intransitive Verbs followed by words which may function either as Adverbs or Prepositions


  break through:  appear  The sun broke through.
      The sun broke through the clouds.
  do without:  survive without  We had to do without.
      We had to do without electricity.
  glance off:  hit and bounce off  The ball glanced off.
      The ball glanced off the wall.
  go without:  not have  They went without.
      They went without food.
  hang around:  stay near  We hung around.
      We hung around the movie theater.
  join in:  become involved in  I joined in.
      I joined in the game.
  lounge around:  relax in  We lounged around.
      We lounged around the living room.
  mill around:  (of a crowd) move randomly  The students milled around.
      The students milled around the lobby.
  pass by:  pass  I passed by.
      I passed by the house.
  rally round:  gather to give support  We rallied round.
      We rallied round our class president.
  sail through:  succeed easily  She sailed through.
      She sailed through the exam.
  scrape through:  barely succeed  They scraped through.
      They scraped through the course.
  turn off:  leave a road  We turned off.
      We turned off the main highway.

a. Expressions in which the verb has an object
There are a few phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a word which may function either as an adverb or as a preposition, where the verb may have an object. In the following examples the objects are underlined.
e.g. We passed the candies around.
      We passed the candies around the class.
In each of these examples, the verb passed of the phrasal verb to pass around has the object candies. In the first example, the word around functions as an adverb, while in the second example, the word around functions as a preposition with the object class.

The following are examples of phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a word which may function either as an adverb or as a preposition, where the verb may have an object. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and examples of its use. The objects of the verbs and prepositions are underlined. The last example illustrates the use of the Passive Voice.

Verbs followed by objects followed by words which may function either as Adverbs or Prepositions


cross off:  put a line through  I crossed his name off.
      I crossed his name off the list.
pass around:  distribute  I passed the papers around.
      I passed the papers around the class.
show around:  conduct on a tour  We showed the visitors around.
      We showed the visitors around the city.
tide over:  provide for temporarily  This money will tide me over.
      This money will tide me over the weekend.
warn off:  warn to leave  We were warned off.
      We were warned off the premises.

 


5. Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by an adverb followed by a preposition


There are several commonly used phrasal verbs which consist of a verb, followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition. For example:
      I went along with the idea.
In this example, the phrasal verb went along with consists of the verb to go, followed by the adverb along, followed by the preposition with which has the object idea.

The following table gives examples of phrasal verbs which consist of a verb, followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use.

Verbs followed by Adverbs followed by Prepositions


add up to:  amount to  It is hard to see what that adds up to.
back down from:  withdraw, avoid  She never backs down from a challenge.
back out of:  not fulfill  I wish I could back out of the agreement.
boil down to:  can be reduced to  All his arguments boil down to a belief in the supernatural.
bow out of:  withdraw  He bowed out of the race.
brush up on:  refresh knowledge of  I must brush up on my English.
carry on with:  continue with  We carried on with our conversation.
catch up to:  overtake  The boy ran quickly to catch up with his friends.
clean up after:  tidy for  She spent half her time cleaning up after the children.
come down to:  can be reduced to  Your choices come down to these.
come down with:  become ill with  She came down with a cold.
come out in:  develop  He came out in a rash.
come up against:  meet an obstacle  They came up against many difficulties.
come up with:  produce  She came up with a solution to the problem.
creep up on:  approach undetected  Old age tends to creep up on one.
cry out for:  urgently require  The education system is crying out for improvement.
cut back on:  reduce  The government has cut back on spending.
do away with:  abolish  We want to do away with delays.
face up to:  accept and deal with  It is best to face up to one's problems.
fall back on:  turn to for help  Because of unexpected expenses, we had to fall back on our savings.
fit in with:  be suited to  You don't fit in with this group.
fool around with:  not be serious, have as a hobby  He likes to fool around with computers.
get away with:  not be punished  He got away with being late for school.
get down to:  begin dealing seriously with  It is time to get down to business.
get in on:  manage to participate in  I want to get in on the planning for the new school.
give up on:  stop trying  I've given up on the situation.
go along with:  agree, not resist  I'm willing to go along with your idea.
go back on:  break a promise  He never goes back on his word.
go through with:  fulfill, carry out  Are you going to go through with your plan to conduct a survey?
grow out of:  become too big for  My son has grown out of most of his clothes.
hold out for:  not compromise  We want to hold out for better conditions.
keep up with:  be on the same level as  She has a hard time keeping up with her brother.
lead up to:  be a preparation for  The first thirty chapters of the book lead up to the dramatic conclusion.
live up to:  maintain a standard  She has lived up to her reputation as a great singer.
log on to:  contact a computer  She logged on to the new system.
look down on:  regard as inferior  He looks down on his classmates.
look forward to:  anticipate  I'm looking forward to the holidays.
look out for:  watch for  Look out for fallen branches.
look up to:  admire  We looked up to her.
make up for:  compensate for  She tried to make up for her past mistakes.
pull out of:  leave (of vehicles)  The train pulled out of the station.
push on with:  go ahead, continue  I must push on with my work.
put up with:  endure, tolerate  Bus passengers must often put up with crowded conditions.
read up on:  read about  Whenever I travel, I like to read up on the place I am going to visit.
rub off on:  acquire from someone  Some of his enthusiasm has rubbed off on me.
run up against:  meet  One runs up against many different kinds of people.
send away for:  order by mail  We sent away for warm winter boots.
stick up for:  defend, support  Will you stick up for me?
stock up on:  lay in supplies  We should stock up on bananas.
talk down to:  speak patronizingly  He always talks down to people younger than he is.
walk away with:  win easily  They walked away with all the prizes.
watch out for:  beware of  Watch out for snakes.
wriggle out of:  avoid  She always tries to wriggle out of her responsibilities.
zero in on:  focus on  Let us zero in on the heart of the problem.


See Exercise 12.

a. Expressions in which the verb has an object
There are a few phrasal verbs consisting of a verb, followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition, where the verb may have an object. In the following example, the objects are underlined.
e.g. We played them off against each other.
In this example, the verb played of the phrasal verb to play off against has the object them, while the preposition against has the object each other.

The following are examples of phrasal verbs consisting of a verb, followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition, where the verb may have an object. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use. The objects of the phrasal verbs are underlined.

Verbs followed by Objects followed by Adverbs followed by Prepositions


get over with:  undergo, finish  If I must visit the dentist, I prefer to get it over with as soon as possible.
let in on:  allow to share  We let them in on the secret.
play off against:  encourage to fight  In the last century, the British weakened their enemies by playing them off against one another.
put down to:  attribute to  We put his bad temper down to fatigue.
put up to:  urge to do wrong  She put me up to playing a trick on the teacher.
take out on:  vent bad feelings on  She took her dissatisfaction with her job out on her neighbors.
take up on:  accept an offer  I would like to take you up on your offer.
talk out of:  dissuade from  We tried to talk him out of retiring.

 

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