Something to look forward to: three-word phrasal verbs

by Liz Walter​
Most phrasal verbs are formed with a verb and a single particle, but a few have two particles. This blog looks at some of the most common ones.

You probably already know the one in the title: look forward to. One important thing to remember is that if you use another verb after it, it must be in the –ing form:

I’m really looking forward to seeing you. (= I’m pleased and excited because I am going to see you)

Here are some more common three-word phrasal verbs which are well worth learning:

come up with = think of something: He’s good at coming up with ideas.

face up to = accept and try to deal with a problem: You need to face up to the fact that she’s not coming back.

get away with = not be criticized or punished: She shouldn’t be allowed to get away with such bad behaviour.

get round to = do something you had been intending to do: I finally got round to calling Joe yesterday.

make up for = do something to make a bad situation better: I gave her a nice present to make up for missing her party.

put up with = accept something even if you don’t like it: I won’t put up with this behaviour! (Note that although ‘tolerate’ means the same, it is only suitable for formal writing.)

The basic rule for separating three-word phrasal verbs is easy: don’t do it! The only common exceptions I can think of are these:

I put his bad mood down to the fact that he was hungry. (= decided that was the reason)

I tried to talk her out of going.  (= persuade her not to go)

There is also a group of phrasal verbs which consist of a verb and an adverb when they are used as intransitive verbs (with no object), but which need a second particle when they are used before an object.  Here are some common examples:

‘Is there any milk?’ ‘No, we’ve run out.’ (= there is no milk left)

We’ve run out of milk.

I have a lot of work to do, so I must get on. (= start or continue to do it)

I must get on with my work.

I eat too much chocolate. I really should cut down. (= eat less of it)

I really should cut down on chocolate.

This blog has given you a selection of useful three word phrasal verbs, but if you come up against others that you don’t know, just check the Cambridge online dictionary.

30 thoughts on “Something to look forward to: three-word phrasal verbs

  1. Granizus

    Great article, thanks for the job.

    A good one missing here is “get along with”, sometimes only get along, which stands for “having a good relation with”, like:

    * I do get along with my boss

    Respects from Brazil.

  2. phudit puangmalai

    I have insight into the meaning and how to use the phrasal verbs today. I love blogs and get roud reading them. Can you please put more than one blog at the same time? I feel as if i didnt get enough of it. :p Thank you, ms. Walter.

  3. I missed these ones when I post the first comment.
    * catch up with sb – to update with somebody
    * keep up with sth – to keep yourself updated about sth, like news
    These are very important and useful daily life conversation.

  4. thanks nice post, learners may be interested in the 150 most common phrasal verbs and their most common meanings PHaVE dictionary –


  5. Fidier Rescia

    Of course, this post is worth reading. It guides us in a proper way and it is usefu for professors and English foreign students.

  6. Hilary

    How about ‘hang on to’ meaning don’t let go.
    He wanted to ‘hang on to’ his shares in case they increased in value.

  7. Liz Walter

    Hi Sukue. That’s a tricky one! We tend to use ‘get on with’ for an activity rather than something like a journey. It would be better to say: ‘I tried to talk her out of going but she went anyway.’

    1. sanaa

      Thank you Miss Liz. I am really getting on well in learning English because of Cambridge Online Dictionary and your blogs.

  8. Pingback: Phrasal verbs | ELT Infodump

  9. Pingback: Common mistakes with phrasal verbs – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

    1. Hi Natalia

      Thanks for your question. We use the -ing form here because in this case ‘to’ is a preposition. Verbs that come after prepositions always take the -ing form. You’re not alone in finding this confusing. The trouble with ‘to’ is that sometimes it is a preposition and sometime’s it is part of the infinitive (to go, to be, etc.). I hope this helps!

  10. Freeman Lai

    Hi Lize! Thank you for sharing these useful knowledge to us!

    In my country, students are asked to memorize a lot verb phrases to pass National-University-Entrance exam, what they are doing now is just read it everyday, which seems to be ineffective and inefficient. So is there any good way for doing this?

    Kind regards
    Freeman Lai

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