Multi-word verbs are verbs that consist of more than one word. They fall into three types:
Before we look at each one, we'll examine more generally what multi-word verbs are.
Multi-word verbs are made up of a verb and a particle. Particles are words that we use as prepositions and / or adverbs in other contexts. Here are examples of some of these words:
When we combine a verb with a particle to make a multi-word verb, it has a different meaning to the meaning of those words when used on their own.
For instance, here are two common meanings of one word taken from each list:
However, we can put these two words together to make a multi-verb word, creating a completely different meaning:
So give up is a multi-verb word we have created by placing together a verb and a particle. Neither give nor up have the same meaning as when they are used on their own.
Multi-word verbs are no different to other verbs in that they can be used as a main verb (i.e. after a subject and taking a tense) or in other positions, such as acting as an infinitive:
Some multi-word verbs can be split up, while others cannot:
Given that multi-word verbs have different meanings to the individual words, they tend to be idiomatic expressions.
Some will make sense as you see them but others may look confusing if you are not already aware of what they mean.
For example, in the first two, we can probably guess the meaning, but the others are more difficult:
So with these types of verbs you often have to learn them and their meanings as it can be difficult to guess the meanings from context.
There are three types of multi-word verbs:
A prepositional verb is a multi-word verb made up of a verb plus a preposition. These are the key factors which make these multi-word verb prepositional verbs:
Main Verb + Preposition + Direct Object
Here are some examples of prepositional verbs:
In none of these cases can we move the direct object to between the verb and particle, or in other words separate them. For instance we can't say I sailed my speaking test through or He can't do his car without.
You may have thought that Their house was broken into does not fit because there appears to be no direct object after 'into'.
But remember that as prepositional verbs are transitive, they can usually be turned into the passive voice. This example has been turned from active to passive:
A phrasal verb is a multi-word verb made up of a verb plus an adverb. There are two types of phrasal verb:
Main Verb + Adverb
Main Verb + Direct Object + Adverb
Main Verb + Adverb + Direct Object
Some of the most common adverb particles used with Phrasal Verbs are: around, at, away, down, in, off, on, out, over, round, up.
Something to note with Phrasal Verbs in type 2 constructions is that if the object is a pronoun, then it must go between the verb and adverb particle. It cannot go after it.
So it has to be like this:
The key distinguishing factors of these types of multi-word verbs are:
Main Verb + Particle + Particle
It is possible though with certain phrases to put a direct object after the verb. So in this case there will be a direct object and object of the preposition:
Some learners of English find multi-word verbs difficult because they may take the literal meanings of the individual words. For example, with this sentence:
It actually means to await eagerly, in this case to meet someone at a later date, but taken literally a person could think it means looking in a particular direction, such as looking ahead at someone.
Some verbs can have two meanings, which confuses some people if they only know one. For example:
If as a learner, you only notice the verb, then this can make you misunderstand the sentence and again take the verb with it's literal meaning. This can often happen when they are split up with several words between them:
In such a case the phrasal verb may not be recognised.
This can be unclear; however, it is not really important to know the differences. As long as you understand that multi-word verbs are verbs plus a preposition or adverb (or both) and that they have a differing meaning to the words on their own, that is enough for most purposes.
But the key difference is that an object can go before or after an adverb, but it can only go after a preposition. In other words:
Of course type 1 Phrasal Verbs would not be separated because they do not have an object at all.
It is often the case that a speaker or writer may get the the word order of the multi-word verb wrong, with the pronoun placed in the wrong place:
It can sometimes be confusing when you search on 'multi-word verbs' or 'Phrasal Verbs' as differing sites or books categorise them differently.
For instance, in some cases, all verbs + preposition or / and adverbs are labelled as multi-word verbs, regardless of whether they create a different meaning. For instance:
In these cases, the phrases have their literal meaning and have not been changed. However, these could be seen simply as words that commonly collate together rather than multi-word verbs.
In some cases, all those that have a different meaning are labelled 'Phrasal Verbs', with no reference to prepositional verbs.
This should not really concern you though. The main thing to know is the differing structures with regards to whether words can be separated or not and to understand that with multi-word verbs with different meanings (i.e. what some people just call phrasal verbs) you will probably have to gradually learn there differing meanings.
Here you can find a useful phrasal verb list with examples to start leaning some of the words.
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