In this lesson I’m going to give you advice on the best way to learn phrasal verbs. We’re going to look at the phrasal verb ‘put down‘ and discover 6 different meanings of this one phrasal verb! Listen to the audio and read the lesson and then try out the quizzes and the writing task at the end. Enjoy!
Listen and read
Phrasal verbs are always a sticking point* for English learners. Sometimes they seem so logical, when the preposition demonstrates the movement, like sit down, stand up. However, the more advanced your English becomes, the more you will realise that most of the time the preposition doesn’t mean much at all! (Or rather, it does, but the meaning isn’t always immediately obvious). So how can you figure out the meaning? And what’s the best way to learn phrasal verbs?
sticking point = an obstacle to progress towards an agreement or goal.
Hi, this Kerin at English Digital Academy and this lesson is dedicated to my lovely students Stefania and Catherine!
My advice? Don’t learn phrasal verbs in lists
Writing down lists of phrasal verbs will not only make you hate them! It won’t be effective without context. Here’s what I mean. Let’s take ‘put’ as example:
If you try to learn phrasal verbs in this way, without any context, it’s totally going to do your head in!*
do your head in = annoy you
- put down
- put up
- put out
- put away
Even if you write a definition of sorts:
- put down – place something on a surface or the ground
- put up – raise something
… not only is it really difficult to learn vocabulary like this, or at least it is for me, it’s not very accurate. A lot of these verbs have several meanings. Put down doesn’t just mean place something down, it can mean reduce, decrease, write, make someone feel inadequate and more! We’re going to look at this verb in a moment. The meaning depends on the context.
How do you learn phrasal verbs?
Do learn phrasal verbs in context. Read on to see what I mean.
How do you understand the meaning of phrasal verbs?
Learning phrasal verbs in context by reading, watching TV or YouTube videos or listening to podcasts is so powerful because you can see how we use these verbs in real life.
Let me show you what I mean. If you hear a child saying: “Mummy! Mummy! Put me down. I want to play over there!” … It’s clear from the context that the child is asking to be placed back on the ground, instead of in her mother’s arms.
Whereas, “We got the test results back from the vet. I’m devastated … it looks like we have to put our dog down.” Clearly has a different meaning. Here put down means euthanise.
We are hardly likely to confuse the meaning of “Mummy! Mummy! Put me down.” From the context it’s obvious that the child is asking to be released and not euthanised!
Steps to learning phrasal verbs
The next time you are reading something in English (or watching a TV series, or listening to a podcast) follow these steps:
- Try and pick out (so identify) phrasal verbs and try to catch the meaning from the context.
- Next, look up the meaning in a dictionary (I like Cambridge)
- Head over to Phrasal Verb Demon and click the ‘Lists’ option – this is a brilliant resource. You just pop in the phrasal verb you are learning and it will generate a load of different examples. Here’s a screenshot of what you’d get if you typed in ‘put down’
4. Use them: write sentences showing how you would use the phrasal verb in a context that is meaningful for you. If you are creative, try writing a story or a dialogue – this will help you create connections between the words and experiences and it will help you to remember them much more easily.
Bear in mind, there is no magic method for learning phrasal verbs. It takes time, effort, patience and commitment. But if you do take the time to practise phrasal verbs, you’ll become more confident using them and you’ll sound natural and fluent when you speak English.
Give these techniques a try and to help you get started, try out the quiz and the writing task below. Share your work in the comments and I will get back to you with feedback.
Phrasal Verb Lesson: 6 meanings of ‘put down’
Write your own sentences using the phrasal verbs above to show how you would use them. Share in the comments for feedback 👇
Or, if you are feeling creative, write a short story or dialogue!