Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What's the best way to learn phrasal verbs?

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a prepostion that makes a different verb to the original one-word version. For example, "get" means "obtenir" in French, "get up" means "se lever" and "get out" means "sortir".
Students often complain that they are difficult to learn because they can never be sure which preposition should be used. Here's my advice: don't learn phrasal verbs, learn vocabulary. You want to say "je me suis levé" in English, it's "I got up". Voilà. The worst thing you can do is try to study phrasal verbs separately from other words. There's no point. Just learn what you need to say. How can you benefit from studying all the variations of "get"? It takes every preposition - up, down, in, out, over, about, through, across, by, on, off; and you will never be able to assimilate all of them if you study them systematically. Even worse- and I've seen this in serious grammar books- is to study them by preposition - get up, break up, wake up, puke up, mess up, etc. Then there are teachers who tell their students to write a story using all the phrasal verbs they have studied in the lesson. "I woke up at 8 and got up. I went to the pub for a booze-up and after I messed up my room because I had puked up. Then I broke up with my girlfriend. When she called, I hung up the phone." I think you can see what a fruitless and un-natural exercise this is.
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MacGyver13 said...

I have questions about this ...
- phrasial verbs are used a lot by native english speakers even though other verbs (in one piece) exist...I wonder why...Are they used in literature as well ?
-I have the feeling that 'up' doesn't really change the verb's meaning ...well or at least just put more strength into it..
-Puke up ? i didn't now this one..does it mean throw up ?? Is it slang ?
Okay,i know... I hang in there ...
but you know me ..I won't give up ;-))
Take care

Marie Christine

Jonathan Lewis said...

Yes, the meaning sometimes changes a lot according to the word added to the verb. "I get in the morning" means nothing! There are some instances when in informal speech we add words, for example "to be stressed out" is no different to "I'm stressed". It just seems natural for us anglo-saxons to use this structure, it reminds us of our Germanic and Viking roots! When there is an alternative word, it is usually the latin equivalent, which makes us sound posh! In literature, in order to be creative we need to widen our vocabulary and use all kinds of words, but this does not mean that the use of phrasal verbs is somehow incorrect.