20 Phrasal Verbs You Must Know For English Conversation

20 Phrasal Verbs You Must Know For English Conversation

I taught a student once who was fluent in English and spent a few months in England. He told me that as fluent as he thought he was in English, during conversation with native English speakers, he felt lost most of the time! He explained that they were using words different from the meanings he knew. Most of these were phrasal verbs or expressions with idiomatic meanings, that sometimes make no sense to non-native English speakers. First I will explain what a phrasal verb is along with the grammatical side to phrasal verbs. I will define such terms as transitive vs. Intransitive phrasal verbs, and separable vs. inseparable phrasal verbs. Finally, I I will go through with you the top 20 most commonly used phrasal verbs in the English language.

…Are you ready? Let's go!!

What is a phrasal verb?

A quick google search will tell you:
A phrasal verb is a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb.

Transitive: Has an object

Separable example: object can go between or after the phrasal verb.
Phrasal verb: Pick up
Object: My phone
Sentence object after: Can you pick up my phone?
Sentence object between: Can you pick my phone up?

Inseparable example: You cannot separate the phrasal verb and put the object in between. The object must come after the phrasal verb.
Phrasal verb: Look after
Object: the car
Correct sentence: I will look after the car.
Incorrect sentence: I will look the car after.

*Transitive phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable.
*If a Transitive Phrasal verb is separable and the object is a pronoun, the pronoun must always be between the verb and preposition, not after!

Intransitive: Has no object

Phrasal verb: Get up
Sentence: I get up at 6:00 a.m.
This sentence has no object.

20 Most Commonly Used Phrasal Verbs.
In no specific order.

  1. Pick up.
  • If you search your dictionary for pick up, you will have at least 6 definitions, but here are the most common uses.

A) (Transitive, Separable)
  • I dropped my phone on the ground. I need to “pick my phone up”. I need to “pick up my phone”.

B) (Transitive, Separable)

Example 1:
Daughter: “Mom, can you drive me home after school?”
Mom: “Yes, I will pick you up after school.”(Correct)
*Pronoun can only be between the verb and preposition, not after
Mom: “Yes, I will pick up you after school.” (Incorrect)

Example 2:
The bus picked up the passengers.
The bus pick the passengers up.

Checkout this website for more uses of the phrasal verb pick up, http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/pick-up_1

  1. Look forward to. (Transitive, Inseparable)
  • You are excited about an event that is going to happen in the future.
*Helpful tip: Think about forward like future.

A: Let’s meet at Starbucks at 2pm
B: Ok, I look forward to meeting you.

A: I look forward to our date.

A: I look forward to our interview

A: Thanks for the invite, I look forward to your party.

A: I am not looking forward to the physics exam.

  1. Calm down. (Intransitive)
  • To relax after being angry.


A: I want to punch that bad driver in the face!
B: Calm down, there's no need to be angry

A: I'm so angry right now, I need to calm down.

  1. Run out of something (Transitive, Inseparable).
  • You have no more of something.


Student: I need to print my essay.
Librarian: Sorry, we have run out of paper. My assistant has gone to buy more, she will be back in one hour.
Student: But my essay is due in 10 minutes!

Son: Mom, I just poured my cereal, can you pass me the milk?
Mom: Sorry, we have run out of milk. I will get some later today.

*This phrasal verb can be shortened to just out.
Sorry, we are out of milk.

  1. Dress up (Intransitive)
  • To dress in nice, fancy clothing.


A: Let's dress up tonight and go to a fancy dinner.
B: Sure, I will wear my new dress and high heels.

  1. Break down. (Intransitive)

A) For a person to feel very sad, perhaps to even start crying. The person feels broken.


-After watching the movie Titanic, I broke down, I couldn't stop crying, it was just so sad!

B) For a machine to break and/or stop working.


-My car started making weird noises when I was driving it, then it broke down in the middle of the road. I had to call a tow truck to tow it to the mechanic.

  1. Figure out. (Transitive, Separable)
  • When you are trying to understand something. To look for the answer.


Boyfriend: Let’s figure out what to do tonight.
Girlfriend: Ok, let’s go see a movie.

A: I am having a hard time trying to figure out the answer to question 5 on the exam.

Man: I can't figure women out.
Woman: I can't figure out men.

  1. Give up. (Separable, Transitive*)

  • To stop trying to do something. To quite.


A: I am going to give up piano lessons, it is too difficult.
B: Don’t give up! You will figure it out!

A: I am going to give up smoking cigarettes.

A: I will never give up on you.

• If you are talking about the action you are currently performing, you do not need to say the action, just the quick expression, “I give up”
Currently writing an exam, pushes exam paper away “I give up!”

  1. Hang out. (Intransitive)

  • To spend time with somebody, usually just relaxing, but can also be used when going somewhere.


A: Hey! If you’re not busy on Friday, do you want to hang out?
B: I'm free so sure, let’s hang out and go to the mall.

  1. Take off.

A) (Intransitive)
  • An airplane departing.

  • My flight took off late.
  • Please fasten your seat belts, the airplane will be taking off momentarily.

B) (Intransitive)
  • For a vehicle or person to leave very fast.

  • Another car hit my car in a parking lot and took off. But I wrote his license plate number down and reported it to the police.

  • She took off in the middle of the night and never said goodbye.

C) (Transitive, Separable)

  • Undress. To remove an object from yourself or another object.


-I need to take off my clothes before I get in the shower.

-Can you take the lid off this jar?

  1. Make up

A) (Transitive, Separable)

  • To create a story or an idea.


  • He made up that story.
  • She made up that lie.
  • She made that idea up.
  • He made up the idea to go swimming.

B) (Intransitive)

  • To stop arguing and be friendly (on good terms) together again.


A: I really want to stop fighting, I am sorry, can we make up?
B: I am sorry too, yes, let's make up.

C) (Transitive, Separable)
  • To organize.


  • We have guests coming over, can you help me make up the house?

Mom: Did you make up your bed?
Daughter: No, I forgot… sorry, I will do it now.

  • Dinner is almost ready can you make up (set up) the table?

D) Make up your mind. Make your mind up.(Transitive, Separable)

  • To make a decision. To decide. This is an expression where the object is the mind.


A: I am having a hard time deciding what I want to eat.
B: Can you hurry up and make up your mind!

  1. Hurry up. (*Intransitive)
  • To quicken your pace. To start moving faster or to do something faster. Usually a request or a piece of advice given by another person, but you could also say it talking to yourself. This is literal in my opinion because you are increasing (up) the level of hurry!


A: If you don't hurry up we are going to miss the bus!
B: I know, I know, I am trying to!

*Usually intransitive, except for the slang, “hurry your butt up” and “hurry yourself up”

  1. Catch up.

A) (Intransitive)
  • To reach somebody or something that is ahead of you. (You are behind).


  • I am so behind in homework, I need to catch up.

  • You left the house 10 minutes before me and I still caught up with you. You walk so slow!

  • I caught up with the car that sped past me at the red traffic light.

B) (Intransitive)
  • To get up to date with news.


A: It was nice talking to you, it had been a long time, glad we caught up.
B: Yes, it was so nice to catch up.

  1. Look up. (Transitive, Separable)

-To search for an answer.


A: What does the word, “inspiration” mean?
B: I’m not sure, you should look it up in a dictionary or on Google.

A: What is her phone number?
B: I don’t know, I will look up her phone number for you in the phone book.

  1. Eat out. (Intransitive).
  • To eat outside of the house at a restaurant.


Wife: What do you want for dinner tonight?
Husband: How about we eat out? Maybe at the new restaurant down the street.

  1. Fill in/Fill out. (Transitive, Separable)
  • Both Phrasal Verbs mean the same thing. To complete the blanks on a form with information.


Government officer: Please fill in your name, address, and telephone number.

Receptionist: Please, fill the form out with your information.

  1. Find something out. (Transitive, Separable)
  • To discover something.

  • I found out he was lying to me. (Inseparable)
  • I found the truth out, he was lying to me. (Separable)
  • I am going to find the truth out.
  • I found out your secret.
  • Can you find out what time the movie starts?

  1. Grow up. (Intransitive
  • The transition from being a child to becoming an adult. You literally grow directionally up when you become an adult.


A: Where did you grow up?
B: I grew up in Toronto, Canada.
Grandma: Look at you, you're all grown up!
Grandson: Yes, I'm 25 years old now!

*Grow up
Idiomatic saying: Stop acting like a child, be mature, act your age.

Husband: That man took my parking spot! I was here first!
Wife: Oh grow up, just find another parking spot.

  1. Pass away. (Intransitive)
  • To die.


A: How did he pass away?
B: He had a heart attack

  • My husband passed away 10 years ago.

  1. Show off. (Transitive, Separable)
  • To brag about something you have or something you can do. Usually, you do not say this to the person who is showing off.


  • Look at him, showing off his new car to everyone in the neighbourhood.
  • Yes, he is good at basketball, but does he always have to show it off?

*Daughter: Why are people upset when I show them my handstands?
Mom: Because nobody likes a show off. (In this example, a show off, is a noun)

. There your have it, 20 phrasal verbs you must know! Hope you enjoyed!

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