Mainly of Anglo-Saxon origin, they are often considered a colloquial synonym to more formal verbs of Latin or French origins, even though some of them actually contain Latinate words, such as contract out; level off, etc.
Phrasal verbs often present problems for foreign language learners because the meaning may not be transparent from an examination of the individual words involved and they can be grammatically complex. This complexity is not helped by the grammarians arguing with themselves about them.
Transitivity and separation
|Traditional name||Modern name||Typical form||Transitivity||Separation in statements||Particles typically used||Example(s)|
|Type 1 phrasal verb||Separable phrasal verb||verb + adverb||Transitive||Possible and required for pronouns||
|Type 2 phrasal verb||---||verb + preposition||Transitive||Impossible||on, off, in, out, to, for, with||"I got over it"|
|Type 3 phrasal verb||intransitive phrasal verb||verb + adverb / verb + preposition||Intransitive||N/A||(any)||"I got up."|
|Type 4 phrasal verb||Phrasal-prepositional verb||verb + adverb + preposition||Transitive||No||"I look forward to the outcome."|
This analysis is often but not always found in pedagogic grammar books for students. One of the problems with it is that phrasal verbs can belong to different types. For example (1) "I woke my wife up"/"I woke up my wife" or (3) "I woke up". Or type 3 and type 4, e.g. "We get along well" (3) v "We get along with each other well" (4). [Possibly 1, 3, and 4?] A few separable phrasal verbs must be separated. An additional confusion is that the boundary between preposition and adverb is really rather overlappy.
More modern analysis however therefore highlights three main categories - separable, inseparable and double-particle. The intransitive phrasal verb is a pseudocategory - all phrasal verbs used intransitively belong to the category of being either separable or inseparable, though can never be separated because there's nothing to separate them.
Many phrasal verbs have both literal and idiomatic meanings. For example, "put down", in "she put the book down" is literal and clear. But if we say "she's always putting me down", it is a phrasal verb used idiomatically.
There are basically six types of verbs that are used as phrasal verbs:
- verbs of movement (usually monosyllabic and Anglo-Saxon in origin): go; come, run; walk; spin; shake;
- verbs of indefinite/multiple meanings (usually monosyllabic) (delexical verbs): get; put; take; make; do;
- verbs for inviting and ordering: invite; let;
- verbs formed from adjectives: dry; brighten, flatten;
- verbs formed from nouns: chalk up; brick up;
- verbs of Latin origin: contract out; level off;
See; phrasal noun.
Learners with romance languages as L1 may, in their diction, eschew using phrasal verbs and instead use more formal, French- and Latin-derived verbs because they can remember the cognates and more comfortable with their use. This may make their spoken English sound overly formal, but if there is a focus on formal written English, that's perhaps not a problem.