How to Learn Phrasal Verbs

What is the thing you hate most about English?

There is a 90% chance that you’re going to say phrasal verbs

It’s understandable. These 2-3 word verbs that don’t exist in Spanish can be hard for you to wrap your head around.

The first hurdle for you to overcome is understanding phrasal verbs.

What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a verb made up of 2-3 words. The first word is always the principal word. The next 1-2 word(s) are the prepositions. For example:

put on

PUT is the principal verb and ON is the preposition.

If you ever see a a principal verb and then a whole bunch of words after (ie: put it in the past), it is not a phrasal verb, it is an idiomatic expression.

These phrasal verbs are extremely common in germanic languages such as English, Swedish, and German.

How many phrasal verbs are there in English?

English has over 1,000 different phrasal verbs. You heard me right, 1,000!

How many are used on a daily basis?

That’s tough to say. Probably around 200 are used frequently enough to warrant you learning them.

Profe, how do I learn phrasal verbs?

This is one of the most common questions I get from students, and the truth of the matter is that you need to treat them like any other vocabulary word.

Just because they’re phrasal doesn’t mean that they need to be memorized differently.

My biggest piece of advice would be for you to learn them one-by-one as you encounter them. See one online, find out what it means, memorize it, practice it, bang, boom, done.

But wait! There is one more thing you need to know before you leave.

There are 2 types of phrasal verbs, separable and inseparable.

Separable Phrasal Verbs

As you know, phrasal verbs have 2-3 words. The object pronoun (him, her, us, you, me, them) the phrasal verb is acting upon can come after the phrasal verb or after the principal verb within the phrasal verb. The latter phrasal verbs are called separable phrasal verbs.

Some examples:

It cost $5,000 to bail him out.

He paid me back the bail money in less than a year.

As you can see in the above examples, the object pronouns come between the principal verb and the preposition. The phrasal verb is split in two and for this reason it is separable.

One thing to note about the above is that you must split these separable phrasal verbs if the object is a pronoun. If they are not an object pronoun, you can put them after the phrasal verb like this:

It cost $5,000 to bail out David./It cost $5,000 to bail David out.

David paid back Alan the money./David paid Alan back the money.

Not so hard, right?

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Inseparable phrasal verbs are the opposite of separable phrasal verbs. No matter if the object the phrasal verb is acting upon is a pronoun or a regular noun, the phrasal verb cannot be separated. If it is, you will sound silly.

Some examples of inseparable phrasal verbs:

He put up with his girlfriend’s drama for far too long.

The criminals broke into the bank at 2am.

1 Trick for You

To play it on the safe side if you are unsure whether or not a phrasal verb is inseparable or separable, always use a noun AFTER the phrasal verb. In this way, you will always be right. At the same time, begin getting used to using the object pronouns in the right places.


Phrasal verbs are a pain in the butt for any latino student. They don’t exist in Spanish and they make little sense to you. Your best bet is to treat them like any other vocabulary word. Even though there are 2-3 words, DO NOT translate each word separately, and DO treat the 2-3 words as though they are one unit.

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