A phrasal verb is the combination of a standard verb such as make or put with one or two particles. In some cases the particle is an adverb such as up, together; in others it is a preposition such as through, in. Phrasal verbs are very common in everyday spoken and informal written language. Here are a few examples: make up, pull in, get together, make do with, put down to.
English language learners often have great difficulty with phrasal verbs; not only in understanding them, but also in using them correctly.
Phrasal verbs can be difficult to understand because they often have meanings that are idiomatic. The meaning cannot be deduced from the elements of the verb. So, for example, the phrasal verb to put down can be used literally to mean to put down - on the table or floor. But it can also be used idiomatically to mean a. to criticize and humiliate someone, b. to kill a sick or old animal or c. to stop or put an end to (a riot, etc.).
Phrasal verbs can be difficult to use because of variations in the placement of the particle. In some cases the particle can be put in more than one position in the sentence; in other cases the particle usually appears in only one position. So, for example, you can say both I put my glasses on and I put on my glasses. But it can only be: The teacher is always putting his students down The sentence The teacher is always putting down his students is non-standard.
Nevertheless, it is important for learners to try to use phrasal verbs in spoken English. Using a formal synonym often produces language that sounds very odd to a native speaker. For example: Oh, do desist from talking! instead of the common Oh, do shut up! or Oh, do belt up! or Oh, do pipe down!
There is much more about phrasal verbs, together with quizzes, on the phrasal verb index.