Figuring out phrasal verbs

I received this question from Hanne G. as she studies for her English 4 final exam:

Am I right to say that a phrasal verb can be followed either by an adverb or a preposition (or both) and that a prepositional verb is followed by a preposition? Because I don’t really see the difference… and on some websites I’ve read that a phrasal verb can only be followed by an adverb and not by a preposition, so I’m a bit confused.

I was jumping at the chance to use my new blog to deal with student questions – thanks, Hanne!

I agree, phrasal verbs – especially the metalanguage – can be confusing! Often, they disagree with many students, making them sick to their stomach. So, Hanne, don’t despair – let me see if I help you break phrasal verbs down! I’ve looked some of my reference books over and have come up with this post for all those students studying and confused by phrasal verbs.

Simple, a phrasal verb is multi-word verb. It is made up of a verb and a particle. This particle could be a preposition, an adverb or a combination of the two. We will use the term ‘particle’ to distinguish between the function of prepositions and adverbs. For example, so far in this post, you have seven phrasal verbs. Here they are:

to figure out; to jump at; to disagree with; to break down; to look over; to come up with; to made up

Four of them are two-word verbs, made up a verb and either an adverb or a preposition. ‘To jump at’, ‘to disagree with’ and ‘to look over’ use prepositions; ‘to figure out’ and ‘to break down’ use adverbs; and, ‘to make up’ uses a word that can be both a preposition and an adverb. ‘To come up with’ is a three-word verb, made up with an adverb and a preposition. So, to avoid any confusion – is a preposition? an adverb? or both? – we will just the word ‘particle’. Got that?

This is the first step you need to following when identifying a phrasal verb. Is it followed by a particle?

Be careful, though, some verbs are usually followed by a preposition – but they are not phrasal verbs. Look at these sentences:

She agreed with him for the first time!

The baby bumped into the table and knocked the lamp to the floor.

These two verbs look like phrasal verbs, but they do not pass the second test: Is the meaning of the original verb altered by adding the particle?

The verbs ‘to agree’ and ‘to bump’ have not changed their original meaning, so these are not phrasal verbs but verbs followed by a preposition. (Here is link to a partial list of verbs that are usually followed by a preposition.)

The verbs allow change their original meaning:

to figure: to compute or calculate to figure out: to understand something
to jump: to leap or spring over to jump at: to accept eagerly
to disagree: to differ to disagree with: to make someone feel sick or ill

A really good resource for looking up the meaning of phrasal verbs can be found at

Once you’ve have determined that multi-word is a phrasal verb, you need to categorise it. Parrot (2010) identified four main categories based on whether is transitive or intransitive (is it followed by an object or not?) and whether it is separable or inseparable (does the particle need to come right after the verb or can the object come between the verb and particle?)

Category One: No object (intransitive – automatically inseparable)

We set out early in the morning.

As he drove up to the traffic light, he slowed down.

Category Two: Object (transitive) inseparable

They are heading towards the Rocky Mountains now. (NOT *are heading the Rocky Mountains towards now)

Suzy runs into Joe every now and again. (NOT *Suzy runs Joe into every now and again)

Category Three: Object (transitive) separable

Sub-category A: The object can be placed between the verb and the particle AND after the particle without changing the meaning:

Can you drop my parents off at the airport? OR Can you drop off my parents at the airport?

Sub-category B: The object needs to be placed between the verb and the particle.

Linda always knows the right thing to say to cheer me up. (NOT *knows the right thing to say to cheer up me)

Category Four: Objective (transitive) with two particles (automatically inseparable)

You need to go through with this course of action; you can’t stop now. (NOT *need to go this course of action through with OR need to go through this course of action with)

So, Hanne, I hope this helps!!!

Good Luck!


Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course (2nd Edition ed.). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers (2nd Edition ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Image Conference in Barcelona

On Saturday , 8 June 2013, I attended The Image Conference; the conference, sponsored by LTSIG (Learning Technology Special Interest Group, part of IATELF), was held in Barcelona. I love Barcelona! I’ve only been there once, but I fell in love with this colourful, beautiful city! Unfortunately, I was in Barcelona (wish I were, but glad I wasn’t – they had heavy rain that day). Instead, I watched selections form the conference completely online!

This was my first ‘online’ conference’. It was pretty cool. Although you don’t get to choose what you follow, it was still neat to listen/watch Jamie Keddie, Kieran Donaghy, John Hughes and Ceri Jones from the comfort of my home. I even was able to finish some work and the laundry at the same time!

Visualisation is not really my strongest point. I know how to use images/film/video to introduce a topic, but I never really understood how you could use images to truly ‘teach’ concepts – that is, until this conference.

Keddie’s talk about ‘picturetelling’ was really effective. His four-step process (preparation, visualisation, exploration and resolution) made sense. I really liked the way that he withheld the image and first elicited a dialogue with the students (participants). The teacher’s planning is very specific – they need to decide what to say, to ask, language to teach and communicative language teaching techniques to use. In addition, I really like the app, ‘Tracing and Sketching (Graphite)’ that he used. I thought the idea of creating an outline of the image and allowing the students to collect vocabulary/lexis right in the image was very effective.

I love Kieran Donaghy’s blog, ‘Film English’. It’s inventive and original, but I have not yet used or adapted one of his lessons for my own classroom. That will change! There is something really special about seeing a person whom you admire – like I admire Donaghy and his work; after hearing them speak and present, your mind becomes more focused. That is exactly what happened to me after watching Donaghy’s talk at The Image Conference.  I never understood how to put his lesson plans into motion – although they are clearly presented on his blog. I loved the one short film he used, ‘Manifesto’. Not only was it was visually stimulating, upon watching it, things clicked for me. Immediately, I came up with a makeshift lesson plan in my head. Now – I need to find the right short film to use my class and think how I could get them to develop their own lessons using short films. (My poor students – they always suffer after I attend a conference!)

Ceri Jones’ talk was interesting as well. I did not find it as engaging as the others, but I really liked the way she worked from a detailed close-up from an image and then expanded it into a full image – often leading to dialogue writing. This was a bit different from Keddie’s earlier presentation – but capitalised on the same concepts.

John Hughes is one of my favourite speakers; I’ve seen him three or four times now. Each time I walk away with a head swimming with ideas! His presentation on writing scripts for videos was very good. I really like the framework he gave for producing a script. I have toyed with the idea of having my students do something with video – I did it once with a Logistics English class and it was very effective; they produced a nice ‘news magazine’ type video. I’m still thinking about, so I don’t think I will anything this year – but next year, definitely!

All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday – learn a lot, do a little laundry and finish some work! I can’t wait for my next ‘at-home, online’ conference!


OK, I’ve finally done it! I have added my voice to the plethora of voices on the Internet.

I have been thinking about creating a blog for quite some time now. I know that it involves a lot of work and effort, so I have put it off. But, I think the time is right for me to gain an online presence!

Love to see students collaborating in English!

Love to see students collaborating in English!

Recently, I have been following a number of great blogs (see my list to the right), attending some great webinars (loved Cecilia Lemos’ IATEL presentation and  BELTA webinar on oral correction), and joined a number of ELT Facebook groups. Yesterday, I even attended a one-day conference in Barcelona from the comfort of my den! So, as I’ve said, the time is right.

At the BELTA Conference (on 1 June 2013), I attended both sessions given by Philip Kerr. One of the things he did that I really like (beside great content) was he offered his hand outs via a blog. ‘What a great idea!’ I thought. I could do the same – offering my hand outs and follow up to some of the workshops that I do. This way, my students from the Teacher Training Department at Thomas More University College would have access as well. Then, I thought, why not use the blog to offer my students not only at TM, but also the students I see at the HUB in Brussels and KaHo in Sint-Niklaas, more information on the topics we are exploring.

Then, thinking some more, why not ask my students to be involved. I want them to explore blogs during our time together, but I knew that asking them to produce a blog would be too much. So, I could give them experience writing blog posts by asking them to write for my blog! Not revolutionary, I know, but practical.

What will you find on this blog?

  1. My thoughts related to topics that interest me, especially Spoken English Grammar, Cooperative Learning, Grammar teaching and Differentiation.
  2. My reviews and/or responses to various events that I attend.
  3. Blog posts from present and former students on topics we are exploring in class.
  4. My occasional rant about the differences between American English and British English.
  5. Entries related to American culture. (And excuse me now if you find out that I write too much about American musicals – sometimes our passions cannot be controlled!)

If you have any thoughts or comments or would like me to address a specific topic, send me a comment and I will do my best to accommodate you!


Photo taken from by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Sam Shepherd

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