Phrasal Verbs Reading Comprehension

The Problem with Phrasal Verbs.

woman in white shirt showing frustration with phrasal verbs in English

Phrasal verbs are a big cause of stress for English-language learners, which is not surprising considering that there are more than ten thousand of them in English!

To complicate matters even more, most of these verbs have multiple meanings; on average between 5 and 6 meanings, but sometimes as many as 15!

Additionally, what phrasal verbs mean is not always obvious, sometimes their meaning is completely different to similar verbs. Lastly, they sometimes have an object, sometimes they don’t, sometimes you can separate them, sometimes you can’t and sometimes you have to.

Why bother?

A dictionary used for learning and understanding phrasal verbs.

Because there are so many of these verbs students might feel overwhelmed and try to avoid them completely. It is possible to speak English without using phrasal verbs at all as there is almost always an alternative to any given phrasal verb, in fact, the alternative might even sound more academic, more formal and may be more similar to a verb that the learner knows from their native language. So perhaps learners don’t need to use them at all.

On the other hand, one reason not ignore this type of verb is that native speakers use phrasal verbs a lot! Apparently, as a result, learners will encounter, on average, one in every 150 words of English they are exposed to! That might not seem like a lot, but in conversation they are likely to be even more frequent.

So how can learners make progress with all these verbs? Nobody can memorise 10,000 verbs, especially when most of them are so similar!

The importance of prioritising

Academic researchers discovered that although there are a lot of phrasal verbs, there are a limited number that are used again and again; they found that just 20 verb stems are used for 54% of all verbs used in the sample material.

A pie chart showing how just 150 verbs represent 75% of the phrasal verbs used in sample material.
3/4 of the examples of phrasal verbs are just the same 150 common verbs

They also found that just 8 different prepositions (out, up, on, back, down, in, over, and off) used with these 20 verbs accounted for half of all the phrasal verbs in the sample material.

Interestingly, just 25 phrasal verbs accounted for more than 30% of all phrasal verbs used in the sample texts, 100 verbs represented more than 50 percent of all the phrasal verbs used in the texts, and a list of 152 phrasal verbs represented 75% of all the examples in the sample texts.

So, the good news is that although there are 10,000 phrasal verbs, by learning just 152 (most of which are based on 20 verb stems and 8 particles) you can understand 75% of all the instances of phrasal verbs that you see and hear!

How to learn the most common phrasal verbs

Arguably, the best way to learn is by consuming as much English as possible! Nowadays, thanks to the internet, it is easy to do this, you can listen to the radio and podcasts, read news, novels and non-fiction and make conversation in English as much as possible. By doing this, you will encounter phrasal verbs again and again in their natural contexts and consequently your comprehension and recall of these verbs will improve dramatically.

A little practice goes a long way!

training will help students dominate common phrasal verbs.

This specially created trainer will help you dominate these verbs with just a couple of minutes practice a day. Because the quiz is loaded with the 152 most common phrasal verbs, with various different examples to show their different meanings and uses, every time you use the trainer, you are presented with a random selection of these verbs to answer as many as possible in just 2 minutes. Then, when you finish you can review your results, see the corrections and even add your score to the leaderboard!

Academic references

The usual suspects – The 150 phrasal verbs that are used 75% of the time

Here is the complete list of the most frequently used examples. Amazingly, by remembering these 150 verbs you’ll be able to understand 75% of the phrasal verbs that you see and hear in English.

1. Go on27. Show up53. Catch up79. Hold out105. Shut up131. Move out
2. Pick up28. Take off54. Go in80. Break up106. Turn off132. Come off
3. Come back29. Work out55. Break down81. Bring out107. Bring about133. Pass on
4. Come up30. Stand up56. Get off82. Pull back108. Step back134. Take in
5. Go back31. Come down57. Keep up83. Hang on109. Lay down135. Set down
6. Find out32. Go ahead58. Put down84. Build up110. Bring down136. Sort out
7. Come out33. Go up59. Reach out85. Throw out111. Stand out137. Follow up
8. Go out34. Look back60. Go off86. Hang out112. Come along138. Come through
9. Point out35. Wake up61. Cut off87. Put on113. Play out139. Settle down
10. Grow up36. Carry out62. Turn back88. Get down114. Break out140. Come around
11. Set up37. Take over63. Pull up89. Come over115. Go around141. Fill in
12. Turn out38. Hold up64. Set out90. Move in116. Walk out142. Give out
13. Get out39. Pull out65. Clean up91. Start out117. Get through143. Give in
14. Come in40. Turn around66. Shut down92. Call out118. Hold back144. Go along
15. Take on41. Take up67. Turn over93. Sit up119. Write down145. Break off
16. Give up42. Look down68. Slow down94. Turn down120. Move back146. Put off
17. Make up43. Put up69. Wind up95. Back up121. Fill out147. Come about
18. End up44. Bring back70. Turn up96. Put back122. Sit back148. Close down
19. Get back45. Bring up71. Line up97. Send out123. Rule out149. Put in
20. Look up46. Look out72. Take back98. Get in124. Move up150. Set about
21. Figure out47. Bring in73. Lay out99. Blow up125. Pick out
22. Sit down48. Open up74. Go over100. Carry on126. Take down
23. Get up49. Check out75. Hang up101. Set off127. Get on
24. Take out50. Move on76. Go through102. Keep on128. Give back
25. Come on51. Put out77. Hold on103. Run out129. Hand over
26. Go down52. Look around78. Pay off104. Make out130. Sum up
Table showing the 150 most common Phrasal Verbs in sample English texts.

References & Resources

The usual suspects – The 150 phrasal verbs that are used 75% of the time

Here is the complete list of the most frequently used examples. Amazingly, by remembering these 150 verbs you’ll be able to understand 75% of the phrasal verbs that you see and hear in English.

1. Go on 27. Show up 53. Catch up 79. Hold out 105. Shut up 131. Move out
2. Pick up 28. Take off 54. Go in 80. Break up 106. Turn off 132. Come off
3. Come back 29. Work out 55. Break down 81. Bring out 107. Bring about 133. Pass on
4. Come up 30. Stand up 56. Get off 82. Pull back 108. Step back 134. Take in
5. Go back 31. Come down 57. Keep up 83. Hang on 109. Lay down 135. Set down
6. Find out 32. Go ahead 58. Put down 84. Build up 110. Bring down 136. Sort out
7. Come out 33. Go up 59. Reach out 85. Throw out 111. Stand out 137. Follow up
8. Go out 34. Look back 60. Go off 86. Hang out 112. Come along 138. Come through
9. Point out 35. Wake up 61. Cut off 87. Put on 113. Play out 139. Settle down
10. Grow up 36. Carry out 62. Turn back 88. Get down 114. Break out 140. Come around
11. Set up 37. Take over 63. Pull up 89. Come over 115. Go around 141. Fill in
12. Turn out 38. Hold up 64. Set out 90. Move in 116. Walk out 142. Give out
13. Get out 39. Pull out 65. Clean up 91. Start out 117. Get through 143. Give in
14. Come in 40. Turn around 66. Shut down 92. Call out 118. Hold back 144. Go along
15. Take on 41. Take up 67. Turn over 93. Sit up 119. Write down 145. Break off
16. Give up 42. Look down 68. Slow down 94. Turn down 120. Move back 146. Put off
17. Make up 43. Put up 69. Wind up 95. Back up 121. Fill out 147. Come about
18. End up 44. Bring back 70. Turn up 96. Put back 122. Sit back 148. Close down
19. Get back 45. Bring up 71. Line up 97. Send out 123. Rule out 149. Put in
20. Look up 46. Look out 72. Take back 98. Get in 124. Move up 150. Set about
21. Figure out 47. Bring in 73. Lay out 99. Blow up 125. Pick out  
22. Sit down 48. Open up 74. Go over 100. Carry on 126. Take down  
23. Get up 49. Check out 75. Hang up 101. Set off 127. Get on  
24. Take out 50. Move on 76. Go through 102. Keep on 128. Give back  
25. Come on 51. Put out 77. Hold on 103. Run out 129. Hand over  
26. Go down 52. Look around 78. Pay off 104. Make out 130. Sum up  
Table showing the 150 most common Phrasal Verbs in sample English texts.