Phrasal verbs can be hard to learn for many different reasons.  But perhaps, the first thing to understand is that there are thousands of them.  This is why you should never attempt or even consider trying to learn all of them!

Different Meanings

The problem with phrasal verbs lies in the fact that the combination of the words used in a phrasal verb will add up to a completely different meaning.  Sometimes the meaning will very clear.  For example, when you knock on a door and somebody says, ‘Come in!’.  It is quite clear that this means you should enter.  On the other hand, in the sentence, ‘Long dresses are really coming in this year’, the meaning may not be quite so clear.  In this context, ‘coming in’ means becoming trendy or fashionable which is a completely different meaning to that of enter.  Another thing to keep in mind is that phrasal verbs often have more than one meaning.  In fact, there are 14 different meanings to the phrasal verb come in!

Same Verb different Preposition

In addition to having many meanings, the same verb can be used with many prepositions or particles.  For example, common phrasal verbs with come include: come up or come down, come on, come around, come forward, come through, come into, come across.  I won’t list them all but I will tell you that there are 49 phrasal verbs with come in all.   And let’s not forget, all 49 of them have different meanings.   As you can see, when you add other common verbs like go, look, see, play, work, set, be, do, make etc. and then add all the particles that these verbs can be combined with: the list is never-ending.

The Preposition Can Move

Grammatically, there are 2 kinds of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable (also called transitive and intransitive).  In simple words, this means that we can sometimes but not always separate the preposition from the verb by placing the object between them.  For example, you can pick up a pen or the pick the pen up.  On the other hand, you can say, ‘Come in, John!’ but not (Come John in!).  So it’s important to take a look at new phrasal verbs you learn in this way.

The Good News

Although there may be thousands of phrasal verbs, there is absolutely no need to learn them all.  You probably already know and understand many more than you think you do.  For example, the verbs wake up, get up, get into, get off are probably already in your vocabulary if you are reading this.

So how do we learn phrasal verbs?

There are different ways to go about (approach) learning phrasal verbs.  You can organise phrasal verbs by the verb and put all the phrasal verbs you come across (find accidentally) in lists organised by the verb.  You may also decide to make lists of phrasal verbs sorted out (organised) by the preposition such as phrasal verbs with up / out / in etc.  The point here is to make your own lists and try and remember the phrasal verbs that you have learnt while reading, studying or watching videos.  It is always easier to remember lists of words that you have created yourself than lists of phrasal verbs created by other people.

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