Knowing the difference between phrasal verbs vs verb phrases can trip many people up because they have similar names, and they both identify verbs made up of several words. But there is a difference between the two, which we'll go over in this article.
Let's look more in-depth at the difference between these two grammar concepts.
It functions as a regular verb, but the key difference is that its meaning is changed by the word it's combined with. Take the verb 'wrap,' for example. It means to cover something with paper or cloth like you would wrap a gift. But if you combine it with the preposition 'up,' you get the phrasal verb 'wrap up,' which means to complete something.
Here are some common phrasal verbs:
Notice that phrasal verbs can comprise three words, sometimes even four.
Often, the thing with phrasal verbs is that their meaning can't be inferred from the words, which makes them idiomatic by nature. Take 'back up,' for instance. Neither word 'back' or 'up' has anything to do with the phrasal verb's meaning of supporting someone. You simply have to know what it means or look it up in the dictionary.
But that isn't always the case. Sometimes the meaning is quite obvious, like with the following phrasal verbs:
A transitive verb has a direct object, and an intransitive verb does not. So are phrasal verbs transitive or intransitive? The answer is they can be both.
Here's an example of a sentence with a transitive phrasal verb:
Sit down on that chair over there.
The phrasal verb is 'sit down,' and its object is 'chair.'
Here's an example of a sentence with an intransitive phrasal verb:
The plane is ready to take off.
The phrasal verb is 'take off,' and it has no object.
'Take off' is an example of a phrasal verb that can be both transitive and intransitive. It's also an example of a phrasal verb that can be split and the object inserted in the middle.
Let me illustrate:
Take your shoes off at the entrance.
The phrasal verb is 'take off,' and the object is 'shoes.' We've split the phrasal verb into two parts and inserted the object in between.
You could also say:
Take off your shoes at the entrance.
The phrasal verb is no longer split, but the sentence's meaning remains the same. This is an example of a phrasal verb that can be split. That's not the case for all of them: many phrasal verbs must stay together to retain their meaning.
A verb phrase is a verb made up of several words. It consists of a main verb plus auxiliary and/or modal verbs.
I would have been happy to stay here longer.
Here, the verb phrase is 'would have been.' The main verb is always the last word of the verb phrase. So here, 'been,' the past participle of 'be.' 'Would' is a modal verb, and 'have' is an auxiliary verb.
The following is an example of a sentence that contains a modal verb ('could') and a main verb ('learn'):
You could easily learn French.
Notice the adverb 'easily' in between the two parts of the verb phrase. It is not a part of the verb phrase, but it's okay to put it there. You could also put it elsewhere:
You could learn French easily.
Now let's take a look at some example sentences that contain both phrasal verbs and verb phrases, so you can see how they're used in context.
I'll underline the phrasal verbs in the examples below. Sometimes they're separated by a pronoun, which I won't underline since it's not part of the phrasal verb.
I just came by to check in on you.
I asked him what time he wanted to meet, but he hasn't gotten back to me.
Thanks, that really cheered me up.
Do you want me to drop you off at school this morning?
We need you to fill in this form before you can see the doctor.
I was thinking of dying my hair a different color.
Don't worry; I'm sure she will understand.
We would have been grateful for any donation, no matter how small.
You can't be serious!
She must have forgotten to let you know.
So there you have it: phrasal verbs and verb phrases are two completely different concepts. I hope you feel more confident using each one.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful and would like to learn about more grammatical concepts, visit our Grammar Rules blog.
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