There are verbs that, when paired with certain adverbs, can have a distinctly different meaning. For example,

I looked up the word in the dictionary.

The phrase looked up functions as a verb with a distinct meaning than looked in a sentence like

I looked ridiculous.

In all of these two-word verb examples I can think of, they become a single word when used as a noun or adjective:

The software performs millions of lookups per second.

Is there a term for these verb+adverb pairs, and, if so, what is it?

Additional examples: back up, run off, hang out

Once upon a time, I though these were called verbals, but that was wrong. The term verb phrase is not quite right either; a verb phrase generally encompasses additional modifiers, objects, etc.

  • 7
    Yes. They're called Phrasal Verbs. There are several different kinds, with different properties and meanings. They're idiomatic, and there are more of them than there are of non-phrasal verbs. (And, by the way, the particle isn't always an adverb) – John Lawler May 31 '13 at 18:10
  • There are 144 questions on this site which actually have the tag phrasal-verbs, and twice as many which mention them – StoneyB on hiatus May 31 '13 at 19:29
  • @John Lawler: Thanks! Phrasal verb is the term I was looking for. Particle is a new one to me though, more research to do. – Adrian McCarthy May 31 '13 at 19:43
  • "Particle" is a non-question-begging term to refer to the non-verb part of a phrasal verb. "Verb plus particle constructions" or "two-word verbs" are terms that have been used for them. They work sort of like German separable prefixes (trennbare Vorsilben), but have different morphology and syntax, of course. – John Lawler Jun 1 '13 at 16:41
  • @EdwinAshworth: Seems a stretch to call this a dupe. – Adrian McCarthy Nov 9 '16 at 18:24

Look is a verb, while look up is a phrasal verb.

The term phrasal verb is commonly applied to two or three distinct but related constructions in English: a verb and a particle and/or a preposition co-occur forming a single semantic unit. This semantic unit cannot be understood based upon the meanings of the individual parts in isolation, but rather it must be taken as a whole. In other words, the meaning is non-compositional and thus unpredictable.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.