Phrasal verbs are one of the most confusing aspects of learning English.
There are two main things to remember about phrasal verbs. Those two things are different, but related:
1. There is almost always a single-word verb that means the same thing. For example, take the phrasal verb “to pay off.” It can also mean “to bribe.” Why not just use the more precise, single-word verb? That brings us to the second thing:
2. Phrasal verbs introduce imprecision into the language. After all, one of the uses of language is to be clear and to be understood, but one use is also to allow both parties to appear to agree, even though they don’t really agree. This requires imprecision and multiple meanings. Take “to pay off,” for example: it could mean “to bribe,” but it could also mean “to bring benefit or profit.”
That’s an important thing to remember about phrasal verbs: They often mean 2 or more very different things. The most common meanings are given here, but remember that they might mean something else, too. So, for example, phrasal verbs are popular in TV comedies, which often rely on the characters misunderstanding each other.
By the way, this is a list of the top phrasal verbs in English. If you are looking for a specific one, type it into the search box.