Phrasal verbs are very common in English conversation. They often have a meaning that is different from what the verb means by itself. This can make them hard to remember and use. In this post, I’ll share my strategy for learning and easily remembering phrasal verbs.
How to learn Phrasal Verbs
- Understand the meaning of the new phrasal verb.
- Find a natural example sentence that uses the phrasal verb.
- Make your own example sentence that connects to you on a personal level. (Model the example.)
*New information connected to existing memories is easier to remember.
Learn some different ways to connect new phrasal verbs to existing memories, learn why it works, and start practicing this technique right away. You will find exercises at the end of this post to help you use them comfortably in your own conversations.
What Is A Phrasal Verb?
In English, a phrasal verb is a combination (mixture) of two or three words to make a phrase with a single meaning. Phrasal verbs combine a verb with an adverb or a preposition.
How To Remember Phrasal Verbs
A key to remembering new information is to connect it to new memories that already live in your brain.
These existing memories are sometimes called anchors, they can be used to connect and associate anything that you want to recall (remember) later on.
Step 1) Learn a new phrasal verb and understand its meaning.
Example blow over
The verb blow means to move air, this can be caused by a mouth or by the wind.
The word over can be used as a preposition and an adverb with many different meanings.
Together, these two words make the phrasal verb blow over which means – To go away without having a serious effect
Step 2) Find a natural example sentence that uses this phrasal verb.
Example “The president’s scandal was all over the news for 3 days, then it blew over and no one seemed interested.” = After a few days the scandal was forgotten, it didn’t have much effect on the president.
*When you first hear or are taught a phrasal verb, you probably heard it used in an example sentence.
BUT – If you didn’t hear it used in an example or if you’re looking for more examples I have included some tips below. These tips are taken from my blog post – 4 Proven Ways to Improve Your English (From a Real Teacher)
Where to Find Natural Examples
|You can pick up complete sentence examples from a few places. Here are some of the best places I have found as an English teacher and a language student.|
Good textbooks with example conversations
– Example conversations are a great way to pick up complete sentences. Make sure you have a good textbook. I like the textbooks in the Cambridge series English in Use.
– These can be found in podcasts, videos, blogs or newspapers, and magazines. Interviews are real people talking.
Find a good English blog
– I believe in the power of natural sentences, so my blog has lots of them! Of course, there are other great English blogs out there too. Find one that you like and that uses example sentences to teach grammar points.
Where NOT to learn full sentences
This is a warning I can give you as a language student.
I spent a lot of time trying to learn from newspapers and textbook units that told stories.
The problem is that these stories didn’t use the same kind of language that people use in real conversation.
– Textbook stories
I learned this when I tried to use some phrases from a textbook story. It was a classic Japanese children’s story and I tried to use the same vocabulary and sentence patterns in conversation. My Japanese friends told me:
“We don’t talk like that.”
The story is fun and interesting but it doesn’t use the same kind of vocabulary that people use in regular conversation.
A warning from a language teacher.
– I was using an English newspaper in Japan for one of my private lessons. The newspaper had translations for the difficult vocabulary from the story.
My student could understand the story, and learn difficult words with a Japanese translation right in the text. I thought this was great.
It wasn’t great…
I looked at the vocabulary they were learning. Can you guess what I thought?
“Native speakers don’t talk like that.”
Newspaper and magazine stories don’t use the same kind of language that we use in regular conversation. The Japanese language also uses different vocabulary for these kinds of articles. (I bet it’s the same in your language too.)
Read a newspaper in your native language and see if it uses the same kind of vocabulary that you use in regular conversation.
Step 3) Make your own example sentence that connects to your life.
Try to find an example that relates to you or a real experience that you had in your life.
Anything about your school, work, country, family member, favorite celebrity, or anything that has meaning to you.
Remember our example phrasal verb is blow over. Our example sentence is “The president’s scandal was all over the news for 3 days, then it blew over and no one seemed interested.”
Now we want an example that we can connect to in some way. We learned that it’s important to have proper example sentences for us to model in our own examples. Try to find an event that is similar to your example sentence.
- Have you or someone you know been in trouble recently?
- Has there been any trouble (scandals) at your school or work recently?
- How about a scandal in the news about a local politician or a favorite celebrity?
- Choose something like this as the base for your own example.
*Here’s what I did.
I Googled the word scandal and then I clicked the News tab.
I saw many news stories and I chose one that was familiar to me. I was reminded of an ongoing cheating scandal in the world chess community.
I know a little bit about chess and I know the players involved in the scandal so this story is already interesting to me.
I also learned that this scandal is continuing, so I chose to use, not blown over yet, for my own phrasal verb example. Here’s what I put together:
“The Magnus Carlson Vs. Hanns Niemann cheating scandal has not blown over yet.”
“Magnus Carlsen resigned after only one move in his online game against Hans Niemann. The entire chess community was shocked by this! It seems like the cheating scandal has not blown over yet.”
*NOTE – Remember I said that newspapers are not a good place to get examples from? I only used the news story for the topic idea, I didn’t copy the headline. (Headlines are not written in conversation-style English.)
Now the phrasal verb blow over is connected to a memory that already exists in my head. This will make it easier to remember in the future.
Of course, you want to use your own example that has meaning for you. I only wanted to show you my example so you could understand the process.
Why This Phrasal Verb Memory Technique Works
The memory technique of associating two pieces of information in your mind has been used for a long time. I learned from my own second language study that this technique is great for language acquisition.
According to the article 5 Memory Association Techniques for students from
More than that, images are connected to your memories. Recalling images is a powerful way to connect memories
The webpage Memory Improvement TIPS says that visual images are easier to remember than just words.
Your personal experiences are visual AND emotional! A great way to connect your new English.
Learning Phrasal Verbs Exercise
This exercise will take you through the process of creating your own example one more time.
Let’s use a simple phrasal verb for this exercise
- get over something/somebody – To return to your usual state of health, happiness, etc. after an illness, a shock, the end of a relationship, etc.
Here are two example sentences to guide us as we make our own personal example.
- “Lucy is really upset after her breakup, but she’ll get over it. She’ll meet a nice guy soon, I’m sure.”
= Lucy is sad now but she will be happy again soon.
- “I spent the weekend in bed trying to get over a bad cold.”
= I rested so my body could recover and return to a healthy condition.
You can use this example even if you’re already familiar with the phrasal verb get over and you understand the meaning. I just want you to practice using this process so you can use it with other phrasal verbs that are new to you.
Now I want you to think about experiences in your own life that you could use get over to describe. If you don’t have an example like this how about a friend or family member? How about a celebrity that you like what local politician? Remember any subject is okay if you have a connection to it already in your mind.
*Useful TIP – If you can, it’s awesome to have your teacher or a native speaker look at your example. That way you can get feedback and make sure that your example is good. (This is for insurance, if you modeled your example sentence you should be okay.)
Learning Phrasal Verbs Worksheet
I created a basic worksheet using the phrasal verb exercise that you can print out and use as often as you like.
Printable PDF worksheet
For a detailed list of Common Phrasal Verbs, Advanced Phrasal Verbs, and more check these other great blog posts.