A phrasal verb is an idiom which consists of a verb followed by a preposition, a verb followed by an adverb, or a verb followed by an adverb, followed by a preposition. The phrasal verbs in the following examples are printed in bold type.
e.g. I ran into an old friend.
We put off washing the dishes.
They all look up to him.
In these examples, the phrasal verb to run into consists of the verb to run followed by the preposition into, the phrasal verb to put off consists of the verb to put followed by the adverb off, and the phrasal verb to look up to consists of the verb to look followed by the adverb up, followed by the preposition to.
Many phrasal verbs are used more often in informal English than in formal English. In most cases, the ideas expressed by such phrasal verbs may also be expressed by other phrases which are more likely to be used in formal English.
For instance in the table below, the phrasal verbs used in the preceding examples are listed in the left-hand column and other phrases with the same meanings are listed in the right-hand column.
to run into
to meet unexpectedly
to put off
to look up to
It should be noted that the use of many phrasal verbs varies among the different dialects of English. For instance, in order to express the idea of contacting someone by means of the telephone, the expression to ring someone up is frequently used in British English; whereas the expression to call someone is frequently used in American English.
Because of differences in dialect, the forms of the verbs and the meanings given may vary from one dictionary to another. In addition, some phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. The meanings provided in this chapter are samples of meanings which are used in North American English.
1. Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition
Some phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by a preposition. As has been seen in previous chapters, it is very common for English verbs to be followed by prepositions. However, in the case of a phrasal verb, the verb followed by the preposition forms an expression with an idiomatic meaning.
For instance, the phrasal verb to come across is an idiomatic expression with the meaning to find. Similarly, the phrasal verb to frown on is an idiomatic expression with the meaning to disapprove of.
e.g. We came across an old diary while we were cleaning out the attic.
The workers frowned on the practice of smoking in the office.
It should be noted that some phrasal verbs consisting of a verb followed by a preposition can be used in the Passive Voice.
e.g. The practice of smoking in the office was frowned on by the workers.
The children were looked after by their aunt.
In these examples, the phrasal verbs to frown on and to look after are used in the Passive Voice.
The following are examples of phrasal verbs which consist of a verb followed by a preposition. Each phrasal verb is followed by its meaning and an example of its use.
Verbs Followed by Prepositions
abide by: adhere to
We abided by the rules.
account for: explain
He accounted for the discrepancy.
ask for: request
They asked for an extension.
bank on: depend on
We are banking on good weather tomorrow.
bear with: be patient with
Please bear with the delay.
border on: be near, be next to
Their excitement bordered on hysteria.
break into: enter by force
Thieves broke into the store.
build on: develop from
We want to build on our success.
burst into: suddenly enter
He burst into the room.
call for: demand
This calls for an investigation.
call on: ask, order
We will call on you to give a speech.
come across: find accidentally
She came across some old papers.
come upon: discover
We came upon a small lake.
confide in: share a secret
The two friends confided in each other.
count on: depend on
We are counting on you.
cut across: use a short route
I cut across the parking lot.
dawn on: realize
Finally the truth dawned on him.