How to remember phrasal verbs without mixing them up

Phrasal Verbs

You have to learn phrasal verbs if you want to sound natural in English. English speakers use phrasal verbs all the time. They give our language color and life.

How have you learned phrasal verbs in the past? Most English learners study phrasal verbs in lists grouped by verb like these:

  • go out with (someone)
  • go around (doing something)
  • go for (something)
  • go on about (something)

This approach has a problem, though: it's easy to forget which words at the end (which we call 'particles'*) to use. It's easy to get them mixed up later when you try to remember which phrasal verb to use.

I'd like to suggest a different approach. Instead of grouping phrasal verbs by the verb, what if we grouped them by their particles like this?

  • chip in (for something)
  • break in (something)
  • hand in (something)
  • give in

I think that you'll find that it's easier to remember phrasal verbs that are listed this way because the main verb is usually easier to remember than the particle.

There's another point to learning phrasal verbs this way as well. Particles are hard to pin down. It's hard to define exactly what they mean, and they often have many different meanings. By learning many phrasal verbs that all use the same particle, you start to get a "sense" of what they mean and how they change the meaning of a verb. This happens in the back of your mind, even if you still can't explain the difference consciously.

Give it a try! Pick a preposition like "in", "down", or "over" and learn 5-10 phrasal verbs that include that word. See if it's easier to remember all of the phrases the next day than you might expect.

*Note: "particles" are what we call prepositions when they're used in phrasal verbs.

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