Phrasal Verbs, Prepositional Verbs – Differences & Similarities

What are the differences and similarities between Phrasal and Prepositional Verbs?

Two-word verbs can be Phrasal Verbs or Prepositional Verbs.

Phrasal Verbs often have a very different (idiomatic) meaning from the meanings of the two parts taken separately.

  • verb: turn
  • adverb: up
  • Phrasal Verb: turn up – Susan turned up last night (= appeared, not turn + up).

What is the difference between a preposition and an adverb and why this distinction is important?

An object can go before or after an adverb – but it can only go after a preposition. So:

  • Phrasal Verbs can be separated
  • Prepositional Verbs must not be separated.

Phrasal Verbs

  • correct: verb object adverb → She switched the light off.
  • correct: verb adverb object → She switched off the light.

Prepositional Verbs

  • correct: verb + preposition + object → I will look after the children.
  • incorrect: verb + object + preposition → I will look the children after.

Note: Some adverbs can be also used as a preposition. You should use a good dictionary to find out whether the word is an adverb or a preposition. We have put some Phrasal and Prepositional Verbs examples together in a list.