Today, we are going to talk about phrasal verbs.
You may remember that a phrasal verb is a verb plus one or two more words called “particles.” Particles can be prepositions or adverbs. There are several common particles in phrasal verbs, such as the word “off.” One example of a phrasal verb is “go off.”
Phrasal verbs usually have idiomatic meanings. In other words, the verb and particle together mean something different from what each individual word suggests.
The phrasal verb “go off,” for instance, is made of the verb “go” and the particle “off.” But “go off” can mean to make a sudden loud noise.
The English language contains a lot of phrasal verbs. Luckily, you do not need to know all of them. Some are more common than others.
A listening exercise
On today’s Everyday Grammar program, we will talk about four common phrasal verbs with the word “off.” They are “go off,” “put off” “drop off” and “pay off.” As you will learn today, some of these verbs can be separated by other words. Others cannot.
Let’s do a short listening exercise.
Listen to this speaker talk about starting his day. Pay attention to the four phrasal verbs with “off” and make a mental note that some are separated by other words:
This morning, as my alarm went off, I remembered that I have a few important things to do today. It has been a busy week, but I can’t put these tasks off any longer. First, I have to drop some donations off at local food banks. Then, I am going to pay off my car loan. I am so excited to make the final payment!
Did you catch all four verbs? And did notice that some were separated by other words while others were not? Good.
Now, let’s examine meanings for each verb and talk about how to use them. Note that each of today’s verbs has more than one meaning; we will focus on the meanings used in the listening exercise.
Go off (intransitive verb)
The verb “go off” means to make a sudden loud noise. We use this meaning in relation to alarms on machines or electronics, such as an alarm clock or a phone alarm or fire alarm.
Listen again to how our speaker used it:
This morning, as my alarm went off, I remembered that I have a few important things to do today.
Notice that the speaker used the simple past tense form of the verb “go,” which is “went.”
“Go off” is what we call an intransitive verb.
Transitive or intransitive
Phrasal verbs in English are either transitive or intransitive.
A transitive verb needs a direct object to express a complete thought. A direct object is a person or thing that receives the action of the verb.
Intransitive verbs, such as “go off,” do not have a direct object. And they are not separable. That means, in sentences, we cannot separate them with other words.
But, transitive phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable. That means you can put the direct object in the middle of the verb or after it.
Put off (something)
Put (something) off
A good example of a transitive and separable phrasal verb is “put off.” It means to delay something or decide it will happen at a later time.
Here is how our speaker used it:
It has been a busy week but I can’t put these tasks off any longer.
Can you find the direct object in the sentence? It is “these tasks.” Notice that this object appears in the middle of the verb.
Again, with separable phrasal verbs, direct objects can appear after the verb. So how would the sentence read then? Think about it as we move to our next verb.
Drop off (something)
Drop (something) off
Next up is the verb “drop off.” It means to take something or someone to a place and then leave. This verb is also transitive and separable.
Here is how our speaker used it a moment ago:
First, I have to drop some donations off at local food banks.
Notice that the speaker separated the verb “drop off” by the direct object “some donations.”
Since it is possible to put the direct object after this verb, let’s hear how that would sound:
First, I have to drop off some donations at local food banks.
Both ways of using separable phrasal verbs are common and grammatically correct. And there is no change in meaning.
Pay off (something)
Pay (something) off
Finally, we have the verb “pay off.” It means to complete payment on something that you owe, such as a bill or a loan. This verb, too, is transitive and separable.
Do you remember how it was used? The speaker talked about his car loan. Here is what he said:
Then, I am going to pay off my car loan. I am so excited to make the final payment!
The speaker did not separate the verb with the direct object. However, if he had put the object in the middle, how would the sentence read then? Think about it for a moment.
Well, that brings us to the end of today’s program.
Phrasal verbs can be difficult, but often their particles provide clues to their meanings. For example, many phrasal verbs with the particle “off” relate to separating, completing or ending something.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Practice what you learned today!
In the comments section below, rewrite the sentence examples for “put off” and “pay off” by placing the direct objects after the phrasal verbs.
Words in This Story
task –n. a piece of work that is given to someone to do
focus –v. to cause attention to be brought to something or someone
alarm –n. a device that makes a loud sound as a warning or signal
tense –n. a form of a verb in English that shows when an action happened
bill –n. a document that shows how much you owe for a certain good or service
clue –n. a piece of information or sign that helps a person find something or someone