Phrasal verbs can make your English sound more natural and lead to a higher degree of fluency. This can obviously help you in the speaking exam, although because they tend to be less formal, they aren’t so useful for writing. However, you will likely hear phrasal verbs in the listening exam, and probably read them in the reading exam, too!

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs act as verbs but are actually two or three word phrases. They are comprised of:

Verb + Adverb


Verb + Preposition

These are troublesome for students because the meaning of the phrasal verb is different from the meaning of its parts! Example:

Bring up (eg children) = to raise

                It’s hard work to bring up four children.

                She brought up the children without a husband.

You cannot guess from the verb “bring” and the preposition “up” the meaning of the phrasal verb “bring up.” Instead, phrasal verbs need to be learned or understood from context.

How to Use Phrasal Verbs

Verbs can be transitive or intransitive, and this is also true for phrasal verbs. Transitive verbs need to take an object, while intransitive verbs don’t. However, in phrasal verbs this changes how they can be used in a sentence.

Let’s take a transitive phrasal verb for an example:

Turn down (eg a job offer or university placement) = to reject

Transitive phrasal verbs are separable, which means the object can come between the verb and the adverb or preposition. So both of the following sentences are correct:

She turned down the job offer.

She turned the job offer down.

However, we cannot do the same if we use a pronoun as the object.

She turned down it.

She turned it down.

Here’s another example:

Jane handed in her homework.

Jane handed her homework in.

Jane handed in it.

Jane handed it in.

On the other hand, intransitive verbs are inseparable, meaning we cannot use the object between the verb and adverb/preposition:

Yesterday, I ran into my former boss.

Yesterday, I ran my former boss into.

We follow the same rule for pronouns as objects:

Yesterday, I ran into him.

Yesterday, I ran him into.

How to Use Phrasal Verbs in IELTS

Phrasal verbs will make your speaking sound much more fluent. Try remembering some of these phrasal verbs and integrating them into your vocabulary. Pay attention to the above rules and practice talking on IELTS topics with phrasal verbs replacing regular verbs.

Carry on (doing something) – to continue

Drop in on (someone) – to visit

Look up to (someone) – admire/respect

Look into (something) – investigate

Put up with (something/someone) – to tolerate

Take after (someone) – to resemble