To Catch On to Phrasal Verbs, It Helps to Hook Up With an English Teacher

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- English teacher Lida Baker joins us from Los Angeles to talk about phrasal verbs.

RS: The first word is a verb. The second word, sometimes even a third, is usually a preposition.  

AA: Phrasal verbs, also known as two-word verbs, have a reputation for being tough for English learners. So what does Lida Baker think?

LB: "I think that is a myth."

RS: "Really."

Lida Baker
LB: "Phrasal verbs are not hard to learn, as long as you learn them in a context. I think what has given phrasal verbs a reputation for being difficult is the way they are traditionally taught, which is that students are given long lists of verbs -- you know, for instance every phrasal verb connected with the word 'go.' So 'go on,' 'go up,' 'go out,' 'go in,' 'go away,' 'go through,' OK? That's a very tedious way of learning anything."

RS: "Well, give us some of your strategies."

LB: "All right. Well, one thing we should keep in mind about phrasal verbs is that they are used a lot more in conversational English than they are in formal English. So you are going to find a lot of phrasal verbs in conversational settings such as ... "

RS: "Come on [laughter]."

LB: " ... television programs, radio interviews, and pop music is a wonderful, wonderful source for phrasal verbs. I think the best way to learn, or one of the best ways of learning phrasal verbs is to learn them in everyday contexts. One good one is people's daily routine. We 'get up' in the morning, we 'wake up,' we 'put on' our clothes in the morning, we 'take off' our clothes at the end of the day, we 'turn on' the coffee maker or the television set, and of course we 'turn it off' also. After we eat we 'clean up.' If we're concerned about our health and our weight, we go to the gym and we ... "

RS: "Work out."

LB: "There you go. You see, so as far as our daily routine is concerned, there are lots and lots of phrasal verbs. Another wonderful context for phrasal verbs is traveling. What does an airplane do?"

AA: "It 'takes off.'"

LB: "It 'takes off,' that's right. And lots of phrasal verbs connected with hotels. So when we get to the hotel we 'check
in,' and you can save a lot of money if you ... "

RS: "Stay -- "

LB: "'Stay over,' right."

AA: "And you just have to make sure you don't get 'ripped off.'"

LB: "That's right! I'm glad that you mentioned 'ripped off,' because a lot of phrasal verbs are slang, such as ripped off. And most of them do have sort of a formal English equivalent. So to get ripped off means to be treated unfairly ... "

AA: "To be cheated."

LB: "To be cheated, yeah. And there are lot of other two-word or phrasal verbs that you might find, for instance, in rap
music. For example, to 'get down' means to, uh -- what does it mean?"

RS: "It means to party, doesn't it?"

LB: "To go to parties."

AA: "Have a good time."

LB: "Right. Another wonderful context is dating and romance. For example, when a relationship ends two people 'break up.' But when they decide that they've made a mistake and they really are in love and want to be together, they 'call each other up' ... "

RS: "And they 'make up.'"

LB: "And they make up. Now, if your boyfriend 'breaks up' with you and it's really, really over, then it might take you a few months to 'get over it.' But, you know, sooner or later you're going to find someone else ... "

AA: "To 'hook up' with -- "

LB: "To hook up with."

AA: " -- to use a current idiom."

LB: "Right. Or you might meet someone nice at work to 'go out with.'"

RS: "So what would you recommend for a teacher to do, to build these contexts, so that the students can learn from them?"

LB: "I think the best thing for a teacher to do, or for a person learning alone, is to learn the idioms in context. And there are vocabulary books and idiom books that will cluster the phrasal verbs for the student. There are also so many wonderful Web sites. I mean, if you go to a search engine and you just type in 'ESL + phrasal verbs,' you're going to run across -- and there's another one, 'run across' -- you're going to find lots of Web sites that present phrasal verbs in these contexts that I've been talking about. And also grammar sites which explain the grammar of phrasal verbs, which I haven't gotten into because we just don't have the time to discuss it here. But in doing my research for this segment I found lots of Web sites that do a really great job of explaining the grammar of phrasal verbs."

AA: Lida Baker writes and edits textbooks for English learners.

RS: And you can find other segments with Lida Baker at

AA: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.