Conquer Your Phrasal Verbs - Study Them in Context

Most of my clients' reaction to phrasal verbs (a phrasal verb is a special kind of verb that consists of two or three parts: a verb plus preposition such as into, after, back, down and so on. Some phrasal verbs can be separated while others are non-separable) is panic, and even fear. Panic that they might be too difficult to memorize. Fear because they feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of phrasal verbs. Always remember the famous quote from "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (not the one with the towel): DON'T PANIC!! Keeping this in mind will safe you from a lot of stress and help you conquer your phrasal verbs.

Somehow many English learners approach phrasal verbs differently from other vocabulary they need to memorize and study. Key is the realization that phrasal verbs need to be learned just like other verbs with the exception that some rules may apply that need to be remembered as well. Also, always keep in mind that phrasal verbs tend to have a literal and non-literal (idiomatic) meaning representing many layers of nuances depending on context and application. They are, in many ways, a representation of the Germanic side of English: straight-forward and efficient in their integration of multiple connotations. Thus, translating them into your own language might lead to a long descriptive sentence instead of a verb plus preposition in English. Further, phrasal verbs come with a visual connotation especially represented by the preposition. This often subconscious aspect of visualization happens automatically in the mind of people who speak Germanic languages which use the concept of phrasal verbs. However, English students, who speak languages that are unfamiliar with this linguistic concept, do not come up with (= produce) these associations and approach phrasal verbs in a much more abstract manner which creates roadblocks on the learner's path to phrasal verb success. Training your brain to associate phrasal verbs (and prepositions) with specific mental images will help you understand how this particular feature of English vocabulary works. This is especially important since phrasal verbs function as the ultimate key to English fluency and a mastery of listening comprehension. Take "run into", for example, the literal meaning of "run into", namely "to run into a physical object like a wall or chair" creates a mental image of randomness, and surprise. Thus, the non-literal meaning of "run into" and its various layers of meaning appear much more logical; for example, "I ran into my friend at a party" (= I unexpectedly met my friend at a party). This example demonstrates that the mental image can help understand phrasal verbs and that studying them in context while keeping the importance of the visualization of phrasal verbs in mind will demystify this panic-inducing part of English vocabulary. Below you will find three examples for phrasal verbs in context. Hopefully, you will enjoy this little exercise, and DON'T PANIC. You got this (= you have this under control/can do this):

1) Sandra: Have you checked the weather forecast for tomorrow? 
Jane: No, I haven't, but let me TURN ON the TV real quick. 
Sandra: Thanks so much, I might drive to the beach tomorrow, but if the weather is bad I'll have to PUT it OFF (postpone).

2) Mary: Can I borrow your shoes? 
Rena: Sure, but you should TRY them ON first. 
Mary: Cool, I 'll PUT them ON real quick to see if they fit.

3) Hannah: Can you PICK me UP from work tomorrow? (go get me from work) 
John: Sure, what time?

(Image source:

Marike Korn