How to Learn All of the Phrasal Verbs in English

Phrasal Verbs 1One question we get frequently is: Can you please talk about phrasal verbs? A phrasal verb is sometimes called a two-word verbs such as “to put down” or “to get out” or “to kick (someone) out.” English has lots of these phrasal or two-word verbs, and they can be very confusing to people trying to acquire English.

Let me respond to this question a couple of different ways. First, we DO talk about phrasal verbs, almost every episode. For example, in ESL Podcast 322 from last week, we had all of these phrasal verbs: to pick up, to take advantage, and to stick to (something). In English Café 112 last week, we talked about the phrasal verbs to cover up and to carry out. Even more phrasal verbs are typically found in our Learning Guide under the sections What Else Does it Mean? and Cultural Note. We talk about two to three phrasal verbs on nearly every podcast episode and Café.

Second, many people want a “systematic” or structured review of all of the most important phrasal verbs in English. I understand the desire to be thorough and organized in your learning, but unfortunately that’s not the best way to pick up new words, whether they are phrasal verbs or otherwise. Yes, you could try to memorize verbs the way many English teachers and courses try to teach you, one word at a time. But that one-by-one approach has been found by several research studies to be the least efficient use of your time, the worst use of your time. Why is this so?

To understand why trying to memorize vocabulary is not a good idea, you have to understand a little about language acquisition. I don’t have time to cover everything on a blog post, but I tried to provide more details on how you should improve your English a few years ago in a “special” podcast episode called, Secrets to Improving Your English. Those of you who have been listening since the beginning may already have heard this, but if you have not, just RIGHT-click on this link and “Save As…” to your hard drive. It’s about 25 minutes long.

One excellent way to improve your vocabulary (in addition to listening to ESL Podcast, of course!) is through reading – lots and lots of reading. In fact, reading has been shown in studies to be 10 times more effective than traditional vocabulary teaching. Reading is 10 times faster than any other typical approach to increasing your vocabulary, including flash cards, computer programs, and websites with lots of “vocabulary” exercises. The problem is that very few English teachers or students are aware of the scientific research in these areas.

So if you want to know all of the phrasal verbs in English, now you know what to do!


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28 Responses to How to Learn All of the Phrasal Verbs in English

  1. Ari Fernando Ramos says:

    Thanks a lot for your useful and outstanding approach to improve our English learning explained in The Secets to Improving Your English.

  2. Borja Duran says:

    I’ve been listening to ESLPod for over a year now, and after this reading and the listening of “Secrets to Improving your English” I just couldn’t wait any longer to thank you (Jeff, Lucy, and whoever is involved in this project) for the work you do. I find it very useful and I enjoy it a lot. Thank you very much!

  3. Pablo Chamorro says:

    I’m a new ESLPod listener. I didn’t know about all of these ‘secrets’. From now on I will focus on reading too.

    Thank you very much!

  4. ESL Podcast Google Group says:

    Hello Jeff, How doing ?

    Very very interesting topic Jeff. I enjoyed know the secrets to improve english.

    We are discuting this topic in the group.

    Thank very much.

    Warm regards.


  5. emiliano says:

    At first English looks as an easy lenguage to learn. More easy to people that their own lenguage has so many difficult irregular verbs, also so many conjugate verbs, and differents gender, subjuntives, reflexives and other difficult grammar constructions. But, as we continue studing we begin to see that English has too many phrasal verbs, idioms, short pronunciation, so many short words, and all changes suddenly, and learn English is as climbing a high mountain that never end. For many of us it seems that we never reach enough high position to think we know enough English to understand what people talks. And of course every english people speaks in different way. Some times I say, oh that persons speaks well I understand him or her very well, I am so happy, but suddenly we listen to other and we do not understand anything, what a pitty for a moment I was thinking I can understand English.
    Thank you Jeff and Lucy for your efforts, you are pushing us up to the top of the mountain every day, and little by little English figures more accesible for all us when we listen your ESL podcast.

  6. Oleg says:

    Dear Jeff,
    I listened to the bonus podcast you gave the link to and have to say that I completely agree with you. That approach of acquiring a new language really works. At least that’s following from own experience as well. When I studied at high school few years ago I always had problems with learning English, my vocabulary was very poor, and reading and translating tons of new word I came across while reading a text and writing down them in my copybook were always very exhausting. I was getting tired very fast and I didn’t like to learn English very much.
    About more than one year ago I occasionally ran into this site! The first thing I listened to was English Cafe #1. I was so impressed by your very clear and understandable American speech, and since then I’m continuing listening to all of your podcasts. I’m making a brief summary in my copybook from listening to each episode. I already have 3 full writing-books with summaries beginning from the very first episodes and also including early TOEFL podcasts. Yesterday I just started the 4th writing-book.
    I eventually made a conclusion that all of the English textbooks I had didn’t really work and weren’t very helpful… At least for me, English is improving significantly faster if I listen to speech and different dialogs and then their detailed explanations. A word which explanation I heard can be remembered 20X faster than if I would simply met this word reading the text with electronic dictionary.
    And the last thing I’m going to say is that my English is getting better then I don’t learn English on a specific purpose. In my opinion English is acquiring more effectively when learning is going as a kind of natural process. When I’m trying to remember lots and lots of words within a certain time, I have to make lots of efforts, but it’s not so effective as it would go in a more natural way, without a specific purpose.
    Hope it will help linguistics in their research 😉
    And thank all ESL Podcast team for your wonderful work!

  7. Igor Grivko says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks a lot for your very-very interesting message. Yes, it is a problem HOW to learn English more efficient? Some of my friends were learning English just by reading books. My father in law was learning English by listening to the BBC news. He used to listen every hour, and I suppose, he had a rough idea about what the greatest world news were. Now he is speaking very fluently and he has very high level of understanding. He is a professor of math and has I think very high language talents.

    I am completely agreed with your ideas of learning language. A child is learning language very-very efficient. Now my youngest daughter (she is 2.5 years old) speaks and understands Russian quite well.

    But I think it is important to have a language environment, so you have to speak and understand English (or another language) and there is no other way to communicate. For most of EFL (foreign) students it is not fulfilled, the most of my time I have to speak Russian, not English.

    Now I am reading Gospels in English. It is a very poetry text and I can understand almost everything. And I am a listener of ESL Podcast as well. I am looking forward for another topics concerned with learning English not found in this episode of “Secrets to Improving Your English”.

    Thank you very much for your great work. It is really helpful.

  8. Jack Song says:

    Thank you very much.

  9. emiliano says:

    Oleg, I can’t understand that you are a student of English, it is not possible. You write it near perfectly.
    Are you sure that you need to learn it any more?. If you speak or understand English as you write it ………….puf I am very jealous of you.
    Igor, you write it also quite well, jealous of you too …….but that is not my case. I read it quite well, may understand enough when it is speaking as well as Jeff do, but write it……..that is my great problem.
    Today it is my birthday, and I have received great news, a very hopeful gift.
    My best wishes for all blogers and thank you.

  10. apple says:

    Thank you, Jeff, for giving us those good suggestions to improve English. And it’s really interesting to read all of the replies here, it
    makes me realize that people from different backgrounds having different problems when they try to learn a foreign language.

  11. Anja says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Your podcast and your advices were very helpfull for a full-time working mother with two little kids. (They love your birthday song!) I listen to your podcast almost everywhere. Because I’m a very fast reader in my own language, I started to read English books. So I need only two books in (on?) my vaccations and my family is very pleased. (We like to go camping.)
    I think your advice learning throught reading and listening to native speakers is a very efficient way to learn a language. But in school the children learn that they have to understand more words, more grammar rules and then they could speak English very well once day. Many children are learning English since three, four or five years, but they can’t understand simple sentences and they can’ t speak about their daily life. They are frighened to speak in the English lessons, because they have to follow to many abstract rules. (I’m not the English teacher, my skills are too poor)
    I am learning English just for pleasure and I’m very satisfied with my progress. One or two more years listening and reading and I can write good letters in English, too. Maybe?
    Thanks for your great work.


    (In Germany the children sing the following birthday song: Happy birthday to you, Marmelade im Schuh (jam in your shoe), Aprikose in der Hose (apricot in your pants), Happy birthday to you! – It’s just nonsense)

  12. Oleg says:

    Hi emiliano!
    We wish you a happy birthday and good luck everywhere and in studying English in particular! 😉

  13. Igor Grivko says:

    Hi Emiliano,
    Happy birthday, best wishes and kindest regards to you and your wife.

    Hi Oleg, your letter was gorgeous, now I realize that my English is very poor. Good for you! Where are you living now? I suppose that you are from Russia.
    Best wishes from Moscow.

  14. LaurentJ says:

    Dear Jeff,
    I found your remarks and advice on language acquisition very useful. You said studies show that reading is 10 times more effective than traditional teaching. If possible, would you please provide us with a few scientific article (or book) references? I’d be curious to try and read some of those, and thus exercising my English through reading! I know that academic writings are more difficult to read, but I find the topic interesting.
    Thank you so much, Jeff and Lucy, for all you’re doing for helping ESL students.

  15. &rey says:

    Hello, ESLPOD listeners!
    First of all I want to return to the title of the article that Jeff posted – “How to Learn All of the Phrasal Verbs in English”.
    I suppose that most of the ESLPOD listeners learn english by there own as i do. So if you need reference to all
    common phrasal verbs you can find it in the third edition of famous textbook “Grammar in use” by Raymond Murphy.
    I use this book to improve my grammar and I’am sure this book is very useful for self-studing.
    I am very glad that so much listeners of ESLPOD are from Russia. So special greetings for Oleg and Igor!
    Today I’ve created a group of ESLPOD listeners in the Russian social network “Vkontakte”. I’ll be pleased if you join this group.
    Thank you again Jeff and Lucy, and all the ESLPOD team.

  16. emiliano says:

    Laurent I may tell you that there are some english books published by Oxford Bookworms Library, from the stage 1 to the stage 6 (the stage 6 have 2500 headwords and I think is the top). So you may try with this books that are adapted to English students. The web page is [link removed] or that is what the books look on the back page. I have two books now “Vanity Fair”of W. Thackeray (Retold by Diane Mowart) stage 6 and The Woman in White of Wilkie Collins (Retold by Richard G. Lewis) stage 6 also. But as I told you before I think these are the most difficult, as there are some with 1000 headworks only. Some time before Longman, another editorial has books of that kind also.
    Best luck.

  17. Sebastian says:

    I didn’t read all of the posts here, but I’d like to shed some light on television in terms of learning English Language. Sometimes it’s very beneficial to turn the closed captioning on when you’re watching your favorite TV series (this is what I do). Now, that we have “much work” and “some play”, it’s a lot easier to memorize new expressions, pick up some new words and so forth. You may find it difficult to learn new phrases solely from a dic. Real-life situations supplemented with CC are always good to dispel your doubts if the context you’re using is appropriate. For what it’s worth, try hard and someday you’ll reach the point of not having to lose sleep over translating a passage from a book into your own language. Of course, this is me. You might have slightly different angle 🙂



  18. LaurentJ says:

    Thanks for the suggestions, Emiliano, but I was actually thinking of research articles or books, dealing with the subject of language acquisition. Not teaching books for students. I’ve just found some links and bibliographical references on Google Scholar, including articles by Jeff. One PDF-article entitled “Pleasure Reading” by Stephen Krashen contains bibliographical references on the subject (I cannot give the link, but it’s easy to find it on Google).

  19. LaurentJ says:

    In addition to my previous post, I’d like to mention another very interesting article by S. D. Krashen: “The Case for Narrow Reading” (on his website: It contains useful information for people who want to improve their language skills through reading.

  20. emiliano says:

    Thank you LaurentJ., I have found it. The “Pleasure Reading” by Stephen Krashen and Jeff’s articles that for me are very appreciated.
    That is a new and interesting side of my prefered teacher. Thanks again.

  21. Muhammad says:

    Hi Jeff, Lucy
    How are you?
    I am Muhammad from Syria I have been listening to your program, really they are very interesting and useful and you can say that I make your episodes as essential thing in learning English.
    really thank you I like you too much you are fantastic.

  22. Loe says:

    Hello Jeff, Lucy and other people of ESL pod 🙂

    I have a great tip on learning English, watch English DVDs with English subtitles.
    You can watch something you like, so it’s fun, you can see how the words are written, you can hear how the words are spoken, and you have pictures to help you understanding the text. 🙂
    I use this a lot because my teacher is very bad at teaching English. (I’m thirteen)
    So, thanks a lot for making this podcast.


    by the way, sorry for mistakes

  23. tauro says:

    ¡Hello to everybody!

    I am writing from Burgos. I am studying English and I have just discovered this page. I think It is very interesting especially for pronuntiation and speaking.

    I recomended to everbody. Tranks a lot.

  24. This post is the best!


  25. George says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’ve a question: Why “Secrets to Improving Your English” instead of “Secrets to Improve Your English” ?
    I really enjoy all episodes of ESLPODCAST, I wish I could have something like these 25 years ago when I began learning English.


  26. Bettina says:

    I’m trying to make a learning guide of this special topic by myself but it’s not simple. Perhaps there will be one in the future. I hope we would find more podcasts like this. Thanks for all…

  27. Sharon says:

    Nice good blog!

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