Phrasal verbs

A multi-word verb is a verb plus a word such as inonoutupawayoff and down. We often think of these words as prepositions, but here they behave like adverbs. The adverb sometimes extends the meaning of the verb on its own.

  • It’s so annoying. Jason keeps phoning me all the time.
  • It’s so annoying. Jason keeps on phoning me all the time.

Here, the phrasal verb keeps on means continues. It has the same meaning as keeps but is slightly stronger. Other phrasal verbs that extend the meaning of the main verb are hurry up and sit down.
Many verbs can go with different adverbs and the adverbs can completely change the meaning of the verb.

  • ‘When did you break up?’
  • ‘Oh, I broke off our engagement ages ago. He broke down when I told him.’

In this conversation, break up means separatebroke off means ended and broke down means became very upset. The meanings are different from the verb break.
Some phrasal verbs are intransitive (they have no object) for example: keep on and hurry up. Other phrasal verbs are transative: they can be followed by a direct object, but not an object pronoun.

  • broke off our engagement ages ago
  • NOT: I broke off it.

However, you can often put an object pronoun in the middle of a phrasal verb, between the verb and the adverb.

  • ‘Guess what! Rob asked me out yesterday!’

Some verbs have three parts to them, an adverb and a preposition.

  • ‘Ah! I’ve seen you talking to Rob a lot recently. You seem to get on with him really well.’


No object
My car broke down.

No object
My car broke down.
Noun object
Mark broke out of prison.
Object pronoun after the verb
Last week Ismail broke up with her.
Object pronoun in the middle
They were engaged, but they broke it off.

Take note: phrasal verbs with direct objects

With phrasal verbs, (but not prepositional verbs), the noun object can usually go before or after the adverb.

  • broke off our engagement. / I broke our engagement off.


For most phrasal verbs, the main stress is on the adverb.

  • When did you break up?’
  • ‘Oh, I broke off our engagement ages ago. He broke down when I told him.’

This is the same for three-part verbs.

  • I’m so looking forward to it!

But for prepositional verbs, the stress is often on the main verb, not on the preposition.

  • I really can’t deal with it.