One of the things that can be difficult for English learners is understanding the grammatical structures known as phrasal verbs.
Phrasal verbs combine verbs and prepositions to make idiomatic expressions whose meaning is usually not obvious by understanding the individual words. They are used a lot in both written and spoken English.
To improve your listening and speaking skills, it isn’t necessary to spend much time deconstructing grammatical structures, so I don’t recommend that you spend a lot of time studying lists of phrasal verbs.
Instead, I prefer to help you understand what you are actually hearing or reading, so that you can reproduce these phrases in a natural, easy way when you speak.
Here are some common phrasal verbs:
to hang on, to get away with, to make up, to hand out, to put up with, to set aside, to put forward, to kick around with
These are groups of words with a verb (an action word) and a preposition (e.g. aside, around, on, with).
There are a few great ways to acquire phrasal verbs naturally, in a real-world context, namely by reading or listening to stories (as in my program Success with Stories), watching movies or TV programs, and listening to music.
Here is a fun song called “Hang On” by Smash Mouth that uses quite a few phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. While you are listening to it, read the lyrics below, with my explanations in italics.
Things are getting weird, things are getting tough
To get weird: to become strange or bizarre
To get tough: to become difficult, to get hard
Nothing’s making sense, but you keep on looking up
To keep on: to continue, To look up – to be positive
They tell you to be true, you’re trying every day
To be true: to be true to yourself, to do what feels right for you
To keep it on the real, still you gotta find a way
To keep it on the real: to stay real, authentic
To make your mama happy, to make your papa proud
You wanna turn it up, but all you hear is tone it down
To turn it up: to do more, to be more excited, to increase the volume or intensity
To tone it down: to lower the volume, to not be so excited, to calm down
So gather round, I’m here to say
To gather round: to get in a circle, to make a circle in order to listen to someone speak
You’ll never make everybody’s day
To make someone’s day: to make another person happy
But while you’re around, you might as well
Catch the tiger by his tail
To catch the tiger by his tail: to do something risky, to take a risk, to go for it
And hang on, hang on, hang on
To hang on: to hold on, to not let go, to keep doing what you want
Get on, get on, get on, get started
To get on: to join in, to do the same thing as the others, in this case, take risks, do what you love
And go on, go on, go on
To go on: to continue, to keep doing something
Everybody, just hold on
Sometimes I wanna cry and throw the towel in
To throw in the towel: to give up, to stop doing something because you think you won’t succeed or win
They try to beat me down, but I’ll take it on the chin
To beat someone down: to bother someone so much that they eventually quit, to get someone to stop
To take it on the chin: to stand up to criticism, to not stop doing something just because someone criticizes you, to continue to do what you want
And everywhere I go, the people are the same
They just wanna know that everything will be OK
When things are getting rough, you’ll turn it back around
To get rough: to become difficult
To turn it back around: to do something in the opposite way to achieve a goal
You gotta turn it up, when they tell you tone it down
To turn it up: to do even more, to increase the volume or activity or energy
To tone it down: to calm down, to be less active or energetic
Feel free to share this post with your friends who are also learning English, and therefore may find it useful. Thanks! ~ Lisa