Today, I’m going to teach you about phrasal verbs. I’ll explain what they are, then give you some examples. I’ll also make lists of phrasal verbs that include certain words. At the end, I’ll discuss phrasal verbs and how they relate to the IELTS exam.

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are expressions that are made of a verb and either a preposition or adverb. Sometimes there can be more than one preposition. The resulting expression presents a meaning that is different from the individual words.

A good example of this is the expression “back down,” meaning to change one’s mind and cease to argue a certain point. This meaning would be hard to guess from the combination of “back” and “down.” Thus, the two words together have created a totally new meaning.

Unfortunately, this means that phrasal verbs can be hard to learn. The problem is that they are very common in daily life and so you need to know a lot of them if you want to understand what native speakers say.

Common Phrasal Verbs

First of all, let’s look at some very common phrasal verbs. These are listed alphabetically rather than in order of their use.

Phrasal VerbMeaningExample Sentence
Bring upTo mention somethingIt’s a sensitive subject right now, so please don’t bring it up when you meet him.
Call offTo cancel somethingThere’s a thunderstorm heading our way, so we’re going to have to call off the event.
Check inTo go through the registration process for a hotel or flightYou can check in over there, then we’ll show you to your room.
Come acrossTo findI came across an old photo of us yesterday.
Drop offTo take someone to a place and leave them thereShe dropped her kids off at school and then went to the supermarket.
Get back atTo get revengeHe got back at his former employer by leaving a bad review on the internet.
Go out withTo date someoneShe went out with him for a few weeks but then dumped him.
Hang outTo spend time with someoneWanna hang out at my place this weekend?
Log inTo use a certain part of a website or app by giving your passwordTo use this service, you need to log in with your e-mail and password.
Take offTo leaveAfter dinner, I’m going to take off because I’ve got to meet someone.
Work outTo do exercise, especially in a gymIf you want to build muscle, you need to work out at least five days a week.

There are many more, so let’s look at them in groups.

Phrasal Verbs with Look

Here are some phrasal verbs that include the verb “look.”

Phrasal Verbs with Back

Here is a list of phrasal verbs that include the word “back”:

Phrasal Verbs with Show

The following phrasal verbs all include “show”:

Phrasal Verbs with Bring

These phrasal verbs include the word “bring”:

Phrasal Verbs with Hang

Now let’s see a list of phrasal verbs that include “hang”:

Phrasal Verbs with Put

Now let’s see a list of phrasal verbs with “put” in them:

Phrasal Verbs with Cut

There are many phrasal verbs that include “cut.” Here are some of them:

Phrasal Verbs with Break

I mentioned “break up” before. Now here’s a list of phrasal verbs that include “break”:

Phrasal Verbs with Pass

Here are some phrasal verbs with “pass” in them:

Phrasal Verbs with Come

Here is a list of phrasal verbs that include the word “come”:

Phrasal Verbs with Turn

Now let’s see some phrasal verbs that include “turn”:

Phrasal Verbs with Animal Names

Let’s look at something a bit different now… phrasal verbs that have animals in them!

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Separable vs Inseparable

You might have noticed in some of my previous examples that there appear to be different rules governing how we use phrasal verbs. Namely, sometimes an object can go between the verb and particle and sometimes it cannot. This is about separable and inseparable phrasal verbs.

Separable Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs can be separated by the object of the clause. These are called separable phrasal verbs. For example, “call off” is separable. We can say:

  • We need to call the meeting off.
  • We need to call off the meeting.
  • We need to call it off.

In these examples, we can either insert the object into the middle of the phrasal verb, put it after the phrasal verb, or replace it with a pronoun and separate them.

Note: We cannot put the pronoun after the phrasal verb.

  • INCORRECT: We need to call off it.

More examples:

  • She’s trying to cut out carbs.
  • She’s trying to cut carbs out.
  • I’m trying to figure out this game.
  • I’m trying to figure this game out.
  • He let his dog out for a walk.
  • He let out his dog for a walk.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

On the other hand, we have phrasal verbs that cannot be separated. These must be followed by the object (if there is one). For example:

  • The protesters called for change.

We cannot say “called change for” or “called it for.”

Here are some more examples:

  • I could do without any more interruptions.
  • You need to face up to the consequences!
  • She fell out with her friend.
  • Let’s get on the next bus.

None of those phrasal verbs could be separated with the object of the clause.

Phrasal Verbs vs Nouns and Adjectives

It’s worth mentioning here that many phrasal verbs have related nouns. For example, above I mentioned the phrasal verb “log in.”

People (even native speakers!) often confuse this with the related noun “login.” However, they are grammatically different. A “login” is the process of logging in to a website and it can also refer to your login details. (Note that it’s also an adjective!)  

  • Give me your user login and I’ll help you.
  • She logged into the website and searched for information.
  • Do you have your login details? (We can also say “log-in” here.)

Then there’s “break up.”

  • CORRECT: He’s going to break up with her.
  • CORRECT: He went through a difficult breakup.
  • INCORRECT: He’s going to breakup with her.

Does this seem difficult? Well, the easy way to remember it is that a phrasal verb has two (or more) words but a noun is just one. An adjective in this case would usually be hyphenated because it’s a compound adjective.

Here are some more phrasal verbs and their noun counterparts:

Phrasal Verbs and IELTS

Finally, I should mention how these relate to IELTS because this is an IELTS website!

Phrasal verbs are very useful in almost all aspects of English. They do tend to be slightly informal, so it’s perhaps of most use to know them for the IELTS speaking test or maybe task 1 of the general writing test (writing a letter).

You could definitely benefit from knowing lots of phrasal verbs in the reading and listening tests, too. They will frequently come up.

Although the writing test is usually quite formal, phrasal verbs can still help you. They can be seen as idiomatic but they are not exactly idioms. Although they may be slightly informal, they are not fully informal and so most of them are acceptable for inclusion in your essays. You can learn more about formal and informal language here.