Common phrasal verbs in English

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Many of the most common words in English, especially the most common verbs and the most common prepositions combine to form phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are an essential part of the English learner's vocabulary for listening comprehension and can lend a great deal of naturalness to the learner's speaking.

Common phrasal verbs[edit]

The frequency of the word is in parentheses.

do (19) get (47) go (49) make (52)
to (3) get to
  1. annoy
  2. track down
go to
  1. attend
  2. support
make to
  1. close or shut
in (7) do in
  1. kill or end
get in
  1. enter a place
  2. get access
  3. be admitted to a school
go in
  1. enter
for (12) do for
  1. help
go for
  1. try, attempt
  2. attack
  3. accept
with (15) get with
  1. be in the company of someone
go with
  1. choose
  2. date

Boot strapping fluency[edit]

Phrasal verbs can boot strap a learner to fluency with a minimum of vocabulary. The phrase "What can I do for you?" has "can" as its least common word, at the 53rd most common word in English. Even with only the 60 most common words in English, it is accessible. In practice, a learner with only 60 words probably is not ready for a phrase as long as "What can I do for you?", and would be unable to continue the conversation further, but the point is that phrasal verbs give the learner a lot of communicative ability without requiring them to acquire any new vocabulary.

Stumbling block[edit]

Phrasal verbs are frequently a barrier to listening comprehension if the learner does not recognize them. If the learner successfully deals with the phonetic difficulty of recognizing the component words in a phrasal verb, they may falter at the next step and try to interpret the meanings of the verbs separately. This may lead to incorrect assumptions about meaning which will cause the learner to misinterpret input further along. The frequency of phrasal verbs in English makes them a frequent source of confusion, especially when learners are speaking to native speakers who are not accustomed to consciously avoiding phrasal verbs to avoid such confusion--that is, native speakers who are not teachers. Phrasal verbs are often not a serious issue in the classroom, but wait like traps as soon as the learner steps outside.