Why are phrasal verbs so frustrating? It’s like they’ve been sent from the devil to destroy the morale of English language students everywhere. I mean, how can changing one little preposition or adverb affect the meaning of a verb so drastically?

No matter how much we hate them, they are important. According to two leading linguists learners will encounter, on average, one phrasal verb in every 150 words of English they are exposed to. That’s a lot!

They are also essential if you want to be fluent and sound native like. But with thousands of phrasal verbs out there, many with multiple meanings, it’s virtually impossible to remember them all.

Therefore you need to come up with ways of learning them.

One common strategy is to categorise them by verb.

For example:

  • take something up (to start doing a new activity)
  • take something back (to return something to a shop)
  • take something off (to remove an item of clothing)

However, this can get confusing and you’ll often remember the verb but not the preposition which is not ideal.

Another popular strategy is to group them by category. If we look at sport as an example there are many related phrasal verbs:

  • work out (to exercise)
  • warm up (to prepare for physical exertion by exercising gently beforehand)
  • give up (to quit or stop doing something)

This is a good way to learn vocabulary which is relevant to your interests, but may not actually help you in everyday conversations.

So, why not start by learning the most frequent ones and their most common meanings?

Luckily for us the good people at PHaVE Dictionary already thought of this and made a list of the 150 most common phrasal verbs and their most common meanings using various corpora (databases of words and phrases that show how people speak, made by linguists in order to study them).

Here are the top ten, each with the most common meaning, an example and a link to a TED talk with it being used in context.


1. Go on – to happen or occur

E.g. There is a debate going on right now between the two parties.

Video Example


2. Pick up – to get or take somebody or something from a place

E.g. Can you pick up some food on the way home from work please?

Video Example


3. Come back – to return to a place or a conversation topic

E.g. She came back to the kitchen with a bottle of wine.

Video Example


4. Come up (with) – to think of or produce something – to return to a place or a conversation topic

E.g. She instantly came up with a solution to the problem.

Video Example


5. Go back – to return to a place, time, situation, activity or conversation topic

E.g. He washed the dishes and went back to his room.

Video Example


6. Find out – to discover something

E.g. We need to find out who ate the cheese.

Video Example


7. Come out – to leave a place (room, building, container) or appear from it

E.g. She went into the bank and came out with some money.

Video Example


8. Go out – to leave a room, building, car, or one’s home to go to a social event

E.g. We should go out for dinner sometime.

Video Example


9. Point out – to direct attention toward something (fact, idea, information)

E.g. Experts have pointed out that eating too much sugar is extremely unhealthy.

Video Example


10. Grow up – to gradually advance in age and maturity

E.g. Seeing my kids growing up is such a lovely thing.

Video Example


6 ways to become a phrasal verb expert


Reading (or listening) to these phrasal verbs, or any piece of vocabulary for that matter, is only the first step to learning them. The next thing is to actually use them. Here are six things you can do today to help you remember the 10 most common phrasal verbs.

  • 1. Copy them down into your notebooks
  • 2. Translate them into your first language – use WordReference if you need help
  • 3. Use an online dictionary to check the other meanings of the same phrasal verbs
  • 4. Use PHaVE Trainer to Quizlet to test yourself
  • 5. Write new examples that are relevant to you
  • 6. Write a funny story using all 10 phrasal verbs

We’d love to see some of your examples. Post them below in the comments!

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