Many of my students worry about phrasal verbs, and I have written several posts about them, including a basic introduction to the what they are and how they are used and a more recent post on phrasal verbs for everyday actions.
One of the most common complaints is that there are simply so many of them, and that they are difficult to remember, especially when the main verb is a very common one such as take or set. In this post, therefore, I have selected just 5 phrasal verbs. All of them are extremely common, and all of them can be used in a wide variety of contexts. If you learn just these 5, you will be able to use them in your writing and impress your teachers.
The first phrasal verb I would urge you to learn is carry out. This is extremely common in British English, and is just a more formal way of saying ‘do’. We use it particularly when talking about things like work and experiments, or things we have been told to do:
Scientists are carrying out tests on the materials.
We carried out all their instructions.
It is very unusual to separate this phrasal verb, except (as is the general rule) when the object is a pronoun:
I hired them to do some work and paid them when they had carried it out.
My second useful phrasal verb is point out. This has two useful and related meanings – first, to make a person notice something:
As we travelled around the city, our guide pointed out some interesting buildings.
And second, it means to tell someone a fact, especially in order to support your argument:
I pointed out the advantages of the system.
Note that we often use that with this meaning:
He pointed out that the office was closed on Fridays.
Thirdly, I offer set up. This phrasal verb means to start a company or an organization:
She set up a support group for single parents.
The firm was set up by an American entrepreneur.
My fourth useful phrasal verb is sort out, meaning to deal successfully with a problem or a difficult situation or to arrange or organize things that are untidy or not in the correct order:
The heating’s not working, but someone’s coming to sort it out soon.
The papers in his office were in such a mess, they took weeks to sort out.
And finally, the fifth phrasal verb I recommend you learn is put off. This verb has two particularly useful meanings – first, to decide to do something at a later date:
I need to see a dentist, but I keep putting it off.
The second meaning is to make someone dislike something or someone or to make them not want to do something:
I’d love to go skiing, but the cost puts me off.
I was put off chicken by reading about how the birds are kept.
Note that if this phrasal verb is followed by another verb, the second verb needs to have an -ing form:
She put off applying for the job until it was too late.
These experiences put me off going into politics.
This is a rather random selection, but you have to start somewhere, and these are all verbs I think you will be glad to know. Any other suggestions for particularly useful phrasal verbs are welcome!