I want to know why we use phrasal verbs? I saw many phrasal verbs that have similar meaning with a verb. why do we use them when there are verbs?

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    You need to give some examples of phrasal verbs that you consider to have the same meaning as plain verbs. Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 7:48
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    Please list the many verbs that you saw. I cannot think of even just one. Thank you.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 9:19
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    take off = impersonate; take off = depart; have on = con; make out = discern; do in = murder; back up = reverse; back up = reverse; blow up = explode; blow up = enlarge. Variously transitive and/or intransitive MWVs. There are indeed many examples. // But do you mean 'Why are MWVs often preferred instead of simplex synonyms where they are available?' or 'Why are MWVs used at all where there are simplex synonyms?'? Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


We use a phrasal verb (e.g. put down to) instead of its single-word equivalent (attribute) for the same reason that we choose between any words with similar meanings (e.g. start/commence, lots of/numerous):

Namely, we choose the word to fit the context. Phrasal verbs are generally more appropriate than their single-word equivalents in informal contexts such as everyday conversation. You run the risk of sounding pompous or pretentious if you limit yourself to single-word verbs.

Furthermore, there are many phrasal verbs that do not have single-word equivalents. Here are a few examples:

  • We spent a week living it up in the luxury of the Intercontinental Hotel.
  • He was afraid the others might think he was showing off.
  • I wouldn't put it past you to hop on a plane.
  • The problem was how to sweat out the next six weeks.
  • He worked hard and was easy to get along with.

And in some cases the phrasal verb adds a layer of meaning that is not present in the single-word equivalent. For example:

  • What did you get up to (= do) while I was away?

The Collins Cobuild Dictionary Of Phrasal Verbs explains:

When you talk about what someone gets up to, you are referring to what they do, especially when it is something you do not approve of.

Note: All example sentences are from the Collins dictionary.

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