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Multiword Verbs

Multiword verbs, including phrasal verbs, are very common, especially in spoken English. A multiword verb is a verb like pick up, turn on or get on with. These verbs consist of a basic verb + another word or words. The other word(s) can be prepositions and/or adverbs. The two or three words that make up multiword verbs form a short "phrase" - which is why some people refer to all multiword verbs as "phrasal verbs".

The important thing to remember is that a multiword verb is still a verb. "Look" is a verb. "Look up", is also a verb - a different verb. "Look" and "look up" are two different verbs. They do not have the same meaning, and they behave differently grammatically. You should treat each multiword verb as a separate verb, and learn it like any other verb.

Look at these examples. You can see that there are three types of multiword verb formed from the singleword verb:

  verb definition example
singleword verb look direct your eyes in a certain direction You must look before you leap.
multiword verbs phrasal look up search for and find information in a reference book You can look up the word in a dictionary.
prepositional look after take care of Who is looking after the baby?
phrasal-prepositional look forward to anticipate with pleasure I look forward to meeting you.

In this lesson we look at the three types of multiword verbs, starting with phrasal verbs, and we end with a quiz to check your understanding:

Like many grammar books, we divide multiword verbs into:
  • phrasal verbs
  • prepositional verbs
  • phrasal-prepositional verbs
Note that other grammars may class all multiword verbs as "phrasal verbs".
Phrasal Verbs reference: Hundreds of phrasal verbs with definitions, example sentences, quizzes and answers.