I am teaching English to my cousin, but I am not sure how to explain phrasal verbs correctly.

For example "take off". I explain it as two words but a single entity. When I ask her to name a verb in the sentence The plane is taking off, I expect to hear "to take off", not "to take".

Do I understand this concept correctly?

Update: In the sentence "She put her hands around her hear and squeaked." Is "put around" a phrasal verb or there are separate verb and preposition?

2 Answers 2


Phrasal verbs:

are idiomatic expressions, combining verbs and prepositions to make new verbs whose meaning is often not obvious from the dictionary definitions of the individual words. They are widely used in both written and spoken English, and new ones are formed all the time as they are a flexible way of creating new terms.

To put your hands around your head is obviously not a phrasal verb.

Coming to your question, Yes they work as a single entity, in the sense that to take off, works only with the verb take and the preposition *off *together.

  • Then my question: how did you figure out that verb in my example is not a phrasal one? Apr 14, 2014 at 10:09
  • put + around together don't change their literal meaning, but they just mean "put around"
    – user66974
    Apr 14, 2014 at 10:14
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/a/61686/15299. Apr 14, 2014 at 14:06

Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable. To take off, meaning to rise into the air, is inseparable; the two words take and off must remain together to have this meaning. If they are separated as in he took it off, then the meaning is quite different (here: removed).

There are several dictionaries available for phrasal verbs and it is well worth owning one.

Also, a word of warning. Even when you think you know what a phrasal verb means, you may not use it appropriately.

Your example to put around reminded me of a class where I was teaching phrasal verbs. To put around (separable) is a phrasal verb. It means to spread a rumour; to imply; to suggest. But it has other - dangerous - meanings too:

A - She's been putting it around that he's leaving.

B - He's leaving?

A - Yes, she's been putting it around.

This is where the teacher tears his hair out. The last usage is inappropriate but the learner probably won't realise it. Only native speakers are likely to hear the innuendo. So another important factor with phrasal verbs is they cannot be left hanging. They really are a minefield for learners.

  • Just curious, what the last sentence ("Yes, she's been putting it around.") actually means? Apr 15, 2014 at 8:12

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