Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 3--ELT Professionals Around The World

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Discussions—Series Three
Topic 40
Learning phrasal verbs are difficult for learners of English. Are there any effective ways for them to teach except for memorization?

Director of Studies at Cactus Language Training
Top Contributor

The term "phrasal verb" was suggested in 1925 as a discussion term ONLY by Henry Bradley (a Senior Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1888 to 1923) to Logan Pearsall Smith, who first used it in print in "Words and Idioms" in 1925. Bradley told Smith that he was not satisfied with that term, but he thought that it served as an effective workable term for discussion purposes [apparently].

They had been discussing idioms in general, and Smith asked Bradley his thoughts on combinations like "fed up with", "take off", "break down" when used in idiomatic contexts, where there did not seem any obvious relationship with the words themselves and their uses (e.g. that in "I am fed up with all this" neither "fed" nor "up" seem to have any relationship to "fed" as in "I was FED porridge" and "Look, there's a plane UP there!".

From this first use slowly but surely the concept of "Phrasal verb" became widespread - along with a mistake - that becauase the term was "phrasal verb", and therefore we can talk about "a phrasal verb", that therefore combinations such as "take off" must be one item - a type of compound. This mistake also led to structuralists and various other linguists "proving" that a phrasal verb is "one item", falling into the trap of presuming that "a phrasal verb" is a compound and therefore subconsciously chanelling their analyses to prove this presumption.

More recent research is showing that there is no such thing as a phrasal verb, that the verb and the preposition/particle are in different parts of the sentence, and that also the preposition/particle doesn't really have a direct relationship with the verb, but rather with either the subject of the sentence or the object of the sentence.

E.g. : The horse ran off in fear. : it is the horse that is "off" (off = away from the starting point), not the running. The verb is the action the horse used to get away.

He cut the branch off the tree with a handsaw. : it is the branch that is off the tree - the preposition refers to the resulting position branch. The verb refers to his action - what he used to get the result that the branch ends up off the tree.

The preposition/particle refers to either the pathway that the subject or object takes, or its resulting position. The verb shows how the movement/action/result is done/reached by the subject.

Director at National Unity in language
Top Contributor
<no such thing as a phrasal verb>

All this hocus pocus. Actually, we humans don't really exist, and water is not really wet. However, that was a really good review of phrasal verbs. I just want to be sure I can conjugate them before I use the term. I guess I could teach phrasal verbs as not having the ability to disjoin in a sentence, just for starters in general.
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

"I guess I could teach phrasal verbs as not having the ability to disjoin in a sentence, just for starters in general. "

Actually - phrasal verbs can and do "disjoin" in a sentence - and are normally "disjoinable" in a sentence.

For example:
I looked the word up / I looked up the word / I looked it up.

The movability of "look up" shows that "phrasal verbs" can be and are "disjoined". In this type of sentence, it is the use with pronouns that is the "core" use; with nouns, it depends mainly on the size of the object, the longer the object, the more likely the preposition comes before the object. There are also "phrasal verbs" where the preposition can NEVER come before the object (i.e. can never come after the verb), such as:

"He ran him through with a sword"

An example of what is commonly - and wrongly - called an inseparable phrasal verb:

"Jenny always gets around the rules"

Examples like this are used to show that there are "inseparable" phrasal verbs - claiming that the verb and the preposition can't be split. In the case of "get around", "around" can't move around like "up" in "look up".

However, a naive understand that has developed is that therefore "get around" is a "verb compound" in itself that can't be split. For one - "get around" CAN be split:

"Jenny always gets silly around the rules"

For two, "get" is a reflexive-intransitive verb (a regular thing for many transitive verbs when used intransitively in English) - what the sentence says is:

"Jenny always gets herself around the rules"

A transitive equivalent is:

"Jenny always gets the car around the first obstacle, but fails on the second."

"around" is the preposition of the prepositional phrases "around the rules" and "around the first obstacle".

<around the rules>

So far I'm looking at the non-verb portion of the phrasal verb as 1. a preposition, and 2. an adverb. Also, there is some requirement(?) that the non-verb part must(?) be used in a certain case, or with a non-transitive verb (or at least a verb being used non-transitively).
 Rod Mitchell likes this

The verb can be intransitive or transitive (and most verbs can be both). "Take" is one such which can be both:

The plane took off up into the sky. (intransitive with reflexive effect)
The pilot took the plane off up into the sky. (transitive)
The engines took the plane off up into the sky. (transitive)

The bird took off up to its nest. (intransitive with reflexive effect)
The bird took the whisp of wool off up to its nest. (transitive)
The brid's fluttering wings took it ungainly off up to its nest. (transitive)

The "preposition"/"adverb" is a directional that shows the direction (pathway) - "off" shows that the plane/bitrd has left the ground and is moving away from that starting point, while "up" is the next step in the pathway (upward trajectory), while the perpositonal phrase (into the sky/to its nest) shows the final part of the pathway in the little story of the sentences.

I assume that by 'learners', Mehmet is referring to learners of English as L2 . My mind goes back to when I learnt English as a school or even college student (60 years ago!). Yes, I learnt grammar through Wren and Martin, which was the Bible then. Of course we learnt proverbs and sayings and idioms and their meanings and also wrote short essays but not phrasal verbs or prepositional phrases. We read a lot (that was a substitute for listening), and I continued to read a lot more. Whenever a college student asked me what a phrasal verb meant, I'd direct him to look it up in a dictionary if I didn't know what it meant.

In other words, do we need to strain our wits (definitely out of academic interest, which is how I see this discussion) so much? That is, do we need to take conscious steps to teach them?

English Language Trainer -“We breathe in our first language, and swim in our second.”
Fascinating discussion.
If you don't mind me being a bit more practical, consider this:
As most of you, I was taught and made to believe that phrasal verbs are best presented in specific contexts. While this may be the case in English speaking countries where native speakers and ESOL learners recieve a lot of input, I'm not quite sure if the same applies to learners in other countries.

My EFL learners have a big problem- they tend to confuse the words that were presented to them in the same context. (this goes for any vocabulary, not only phrasals) They do remember which story certain phrasal verbs were part of, they do remember the page in the book or the drawings we used as illustration, but very often they just forget which one was which.

Two contexts we've looked at with my intermediate learners recently were Money and Travel.
We had some fantastic lessons and meaningful conversations using quite a few new phrasals. Some days have passed and now when time comes to use one of them, a lot of my students will just stop mid-sentence and start wondering 'was it 'splash out' or 'scrape by', was it 'see off' or 'take off'?

I'm not offering a solution (though I'd love to hear one), I just think we might need more than contexts in an EFL setting.
Revision and practice are of course the obvious answers, I wonder if there's anything else I could do to help my students :)
 3 like this

online English Teacher via Skype
Yep, retention is definitely a challenge. One follow-up activity I do is try to get the learners to pick the 3 that are the most useful to them personally. They then relate them to their life in some way that is meaningful and helps them remember them. This can be done in writing or as a spoken task, depending on their learning preference. Their next challenge is to try to notice if they hear them or see them being used by anyone on the street, on TV, in a magazine article, etc over the next week. And to try to insert at least one of their 3 in conversation somewhere during the week if they can. (Even retrospectively...Oh, I could have used it there....)

You are getting them to recycle in different ways, but making the target number more manageable and memorable - this will hopefully result in fewer mix-ups. I guess my theory is that it's better to learn and remember the targeted 3 well than 12 wrongly.
 Richard TomlinMelinda Makkos and 1 other like this

Thank you all who have shared the subject of phrasal verbs with me. I am not opposed to being taught them in suitable contexts. However, in non-English speaking environment, it is not so easy for learners to keep the idioms in their minds whenever they need to use them in their sentences when they attempt to say something else in their speaking lessons. A few days ago, I taught several idioms during the lesson, one of which was " put the foot in someone's mouth". first I wanted them to guess the meaning of the idiom, yet they could not find its meaning unless I explained it in Turkish. second, I gave them a text in which there was this idiom. third I wanted them to use in their sentences by taking the text into consideration. They were good at doing what I wanted them to do. two days later, I wanted them to fill in the blanks. ın the blanks, I hoped that they were able to use this idiom which would connect the sides of the sentences. In spite of every effort I made, few of them could remember what it was.
I am waiting for your approach. what would you do if you were me?

<Revision and practice>

That's the dangerous thing about teaching phrasals and expressions. They should be dealt with measuredly. But I would just work with them in different ways - context, grammatically, culturally. It should all add up.

 Two like this.

Freelance tutor and trainer
Top Contributor
The problem with memorising vocabulary is that without use, the words just fade away.
This is the advantage that speakers who use the language on a continuous basis have.
You cannot learn English properly solely in class. It has to be practiced long and hard.
I always recommend that my student read books, and other carefully selected literature in their spare time( I prefer it as a way to come into new vocabulary and usage), watch TV and listen to the radio (suitable to them, VERY IMPORTANT. It is one of those things I do tailor for the individual) as much as is humanly possible. Native speakers pick up vocabulary through regular contact with it.

So in the sense of teaching these things, I see my role as introducing vocabulary and usage and then clarifying problems in understanding, but my teaching is more about learning skills rather that what to learn. The best vocabulary to learn for a student is that which they come into contact with and therefore need. Go back to books, TV etc.

As a side issue that is how I treat teaching English to specific groups.
Business English is just English with a different core vocabulary. Sometimes it seems that teaching specialist English biases the vocabulary over the 'English' I prefer to make sure the students learn the same 'English' while just using source materials more relevant to them.

Teacher at Education Queensland
This discussion has moved from the structure of the phrasal verb (thank you Rod)' to the fact that it is vocabulary. The phrasal verb "set up", can be substituted for " established" in the sentence " A new school was set up in the village". Or it could be substituted with "framed" as in " I was set up". English learners will have to be made sensitive to the particular way phrasal verbs work if they are to read and write with them and this means their structure and use must the taught.

However, as pointed out, as with vocabulary learning in general, there are too many of these in existence and unrealistic to think we can or need to teach them all. Once students know the structure they can look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus and use them as and when needed. And as Richard has pointed out many times, vocabulary must be acquired meaningfully and practised often if it to be internalised and absorbed in long term memory.

@ Mehmet

We English speakers also learn such idioms as “I put my foot in my mouth” (or simply “I put my foot in it” – which also comes from another idiom “I put my foot in the s***”) by having them explained to us. Others are “kick the bucket” for “die”, “tongue in cheek” – “kidding/not serious”. With such idioms, the story behind the idiom is important (if it is known).

It is the story that is important – the imagery of the idiom that is behind the idiom. However, the activity you were working on in some ways is “unnatural” – as so many activities we use in class. It is not natural for any native speaker to learn idioms like that and then have to “recycle them”. They are so context dependent that the context we learnt them in gives us the complete feeling of the idiom – with explanation from someone about what the idiom means if necessary. Because it is the context that was special, we then remember the idioms, particularly because we hear them used in similar contexts at other times.

Guessing what the idiom means is very good – particularly if it is presented in the whole context of a story within which it would be use naturally. Then, a few days later, present the same idioms in other contexts (which will be similar of course), and get the students to identify the idioms they learnt.

Then get them to write a story using the idioms, which means they have to focus on the whole context that gives the idioms life.

PS - as .. said : "That's the dangerous thing about teaching phrasals and expressions. They should be dealt with measuredly. But I would just work with them in different ways - context, grammatically, culturally. It should all add up." - teach context-dependent material through their context, not as separate "abstracts".

@ .. - "Phrasal verbs" strictly speaking refers to those combinations of that type that are "expressions". So you are right - they are simply "expressions".

The teachng of verbs, prepostions, articles, adverbs, tenses - everything should be situaional. In the case of "expressions" (idioms, etc.), the "situational" is probably doubly important, as the expressions get their impact from the context.

@ ... : "Actually - phrasal verbs can and do "disjoin" in a sentence - and are normally "disjoinable" in a sentence." meaning separable and inseparable, Rod?"

Yes - in a way - though the terms "separable phrasal verb" and "inseparable phrasal verb" are based on a misunderstanidn of English grammar - I wonder if I should go as far as to say a "naive" misunderstanding of English grammar?

<<This discussion has moved from the structure of the phrasal verb (thank you Rod)' to the fact that it is vocabulary. The phrasal verb "set up", can be substituted for " established" in the sentence " A new school was set up in the village". Or it could be substituted with "framed" as in " I was set up". ... English learners will have to be made sensitive to the particular way phrasal verbs work if they are to read and write with them and this means their structure and use must the taught.>>

This is something we as teachers have to be very careful about. "Phrasal verbs" are vocabulary - because they are made up of words (a verb and a preposition/particle). However, a mistake teachers and texts) make is to equate a "phrasal verb" combination with a "single-word" verb. And the learners need to be "sensitised".

It was good to see that Judith said "substituted" - because this is the process. Many a teacher would say "set up" MEANS "established" in the one and "framed" in the other.

It is important to remember it is pretty rare for two words (or combinations) to mean the same thing. "set up" doesn't mean "establish" or "framed" - they are words that have a specific meaning in their specific contexts (and in the case of "framed" - this is as idomatic as "set up" is in the same context).

"A new school was set up in the village"

Not only is "establish" is a formal word, but "setting up" does not necessarily mean that the thing "set up" becomes "established". "Established" means that the thing established has a permanence. "Set up" doesn't have this meaning. "Set" (the verb) means "start off or prepare for" (Winter has set in, he set the dogs on the intruder, they set the tables up in the square, they set the table for dinner, the concrete is setting, he set the bottles up in a line along the fence and started shooting, they set him up (for a fall)). "Set" talks about the preparation/starting period, not the state (or whatever) that follows.

"UP" - means "at a higher position than the reference position" - and in "setting up", either the things being set are literally "up" (like tables, bottles, etc.), or are "mentally" "up" = ready, prepared - up, ready and waiting.

"Setting up a school in a village" refers to the preparation and starting time of the school - whether it continues or is merely a temporary arrangement is another thing. Establishing a school means that a permanent school is envisaged.

<<there are too many of these in existence and unrealistic to think we can or need to teach them all. Once students know the structure they can look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus and use them as and when needed.>>

All that we can hope to do is - give them the tools that will take them beyond the lessons we do with them. We are teaching not only to the student's present learning, but also to his/her future learning.
4 like this

@ Richard – “How I teach phrasal verbs to beginners (mark the word mind you) is not to.”

A perfect modus operandi (way to go).

If you are teaching the verb as being in company with a prepositions (etc.), you are already at the stage of recognising that there is no such thing as a phrasal verb.

They are a verb that operates in conjunction with a preposition – in which both the verb and the preposition keep their own meaning.

The “rules” of using “phrasal verbs” is based simply on that, nothing weird and wonderful like “irregular verbs” or “past participles”. Which preposition works in conjunction with which verb depends completely of the logic of their meanings.

In other words, know the meaning of the verb and the preposition, and all else becomes so much easier. The mistake we make as teachers (and textbooks) is to say things like “the verb changes meaning according to the preposition” (which is not true), or (confusingly) “the preposition has no meaning – it is simply a grammatical particle” (which is not true either).

<<the extra information>>

The preposition adds extra information to the sentence:

He pulled the rope.
He pulled the rope up.
He pulled the rope out.

He pulled her trousers.
He pulled her trousers on (an example from Huddleston/Pullum)
He pulled her trousers out (of the suitcase).
Richard Tomlin likes this

<context-dependent material through their context>

I would go into a form-based explanation before talking about their meaning. Then their history.

<“the verb changes meaning according to the preposition”>
More like the verb seems to change meaning, to take on a different meaning in accordance with a particular proposition. Pretty good for Intro to Phrasal Verbs.

<simply a grammatical particle>
Especially when the preposition has nothing to do semantically with the meaning of the phrasal verb as a whole.

For most students (in theory 75%), a form-based approach to phrasal verbs doesn't really work (or for any structures, for that matter) - it puts "right-brain learning" before "left-brain absorbtion". But this is theory talking in a way - though based on ral-life research and experience ni a range of studies (I'm not talking about my personal experience here, but the general "literature").

The communicative approach differs in this way radically from the "structural" approach (by which here I mean the grammar-translation approach, not the approach based on "structural lingusitics"). Most EFL textbooks (and Spanish as a Foreign Language and the like) introduce the context first, then the structure, along with (hopefully) the story/history. I say hopefully because often they don't go into that usefully interesting bit, leaving that up to the teacher.

In our evening classes (and others) for a variety of adults in over 36 languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese being the most popular), the general feeling from student feedback is that a form-based explanation coming first turns off more students than it helps.

The learning style of the students dictates, of course, and so the adult course teachers keep their options open - ready to be more "structural" or less "structural" according to who is in front of them.

"<“the verb changes meaning according to the preposition”>
More like the verb seems to change meaning, to take on a different meaning in accordance with a particular proposition. Pretty good for Intro to Phrasal Verbs."

As I said - it is not true that the verb changes meaning. It keeps its own meaning. The idea that the verb changes meaning comes from "translation lingusitics". E.g. students look up a verb in their dictionary, and in their own language the verb "get" (as an example) has different translations in "get a letter", "get some milk frm the fridge", "get sick", "get dressed", and so on, and so the assumption then is "the verb changes meaning" ["get" has the same meaning in all these cases - it doesn't change].

"<simply a grammatical particle>
Especially when the preposition has nothing to do semantically with the meaning of the phrasal verb as a whole. "

The prepostion ALWAYS has a semantic reason for being in the phrasal verb as a whole. There is nothing random about either the verb or the perposition in any phrasal verb.

If it was random, it would be impossible for us native speakers of English to learn phrasal verbs (there being 15,000 or so of them).

What would be nice would be examples of what "you" (whoever is reading) of phrasal verbs where the verb or the preposition seem to have changed meaning or have no meaning. I always use the same examples, and so I am getting bored with them!

That way we can work through the examples and show how the verb and the preposition keep their own meaning, and how that meaning is important to the understanding of the phrasal verb.
 Richard Tomlin likes this

I usually ask my students to learn phrasal verbs by heart, then we have a short dictation

<the adult course teachers keep their options open>

I did heavy structural explanations at a high school one year, actually my first year teaching foreign language. At the end of the school year I had plenty of time to ruminate on the value of this methodology, before I landed my second one-year teaching stint.

Maestro de ingles
the way to teach phrasal verbs is to use them in their everyday context. People don't want to load themselves down with grammar (unless they need to get the TOEFL. What they want is to speak and to find a job!

break in...enter orcefully" the thief broke into the "house; Break in...make comfortable..I had to break in my shoes before wearing them

Though - it is literally impossible to speak without grammar. Every utterance - even single word utterances - operate under grammatical rules.

The mistake where perceptions where grammar is concerned is to assume that grammar is "structure" and words are "meaning" - both words and grammar have meaning, and grammatical structure depends on the words that fill those structures.

They go hand in hand.

break in : enter forcefully
break in : make comfortable (shoes)

Dare I say “easy-peasy”? To understand the usage, the verb and the preposition need to be understood.

The preposition IN shows that the person/thing being talked about is contained within and by something.

Various concrete examples:

The child was sitting in the corner with a dunce’s cap on. (the walls etc. contain her)

He was nestled contentedly in the armchair. (the back, bottom and sides enveloped him)

There was an ugly brown liquid in the bottle. (the liquid is completely surrounded by glass (and perhaps cap)

OISE is a well-known school in Oxford. (the school is surrounded by the city of Oxford – it is within the bounds of the city)

I was born in November. (my birth was on a day INSIDE November)

The explosion occurred in the morning, not in the afternoon. (the explosion happened WITHIN the time specified.)

The Hilton is in the business of providing accommodation and ancillary services, as are other hotels. (the function of IN here is to show that the Hilton is within the business sector of accommodation provision.)

The statue was set in fast drying concrete. (the base of the statue is physically within the concrete; it is [partly] contained by the concrete.)

The circle was divided in four equal parts. (the circle is conceptually complete, though divisions have been made inside it.)

Have the men fall in (INto the area where they are to go, normally into lines on a parade ground or the like. IN highlights the fact that the officer (or whoever it is) wants the men not only to go there but also to ’bounded/contained’ by the area or line.)

He was taken in by her sob story (She had created a more-or-less abstract world INto which she took him – so that he was then INSIDE and therefore part of her world.)

Keep in line, men! (The men must stay WITHIN the boundaries (the beginning and the end) of the line.)

The father joined in the fun. (The father became part of the group – he was then IN the group and its fun and no longer had a separate status.)

Cinderella came to the ball dressed in glistening white. (She was in white clothing)

IN in the abstract : IN highlights being contained (enveloped or held) within an abstract field or line. Phrases such as “in possession”, “in debt”, “in control”, “in use” and “in business” show that the reference is to being within the period of time or state specified by the second word of the phrase:

The conference hall will be in use from 9.00 to 12.30.

So-called “phrasal verbs” such as “run in”, “set in”, “wear in” and “break in” show that the topic of the sentence either comes or is brought INTO a period of time (a) or a state such as usefulness (b, c, d:

a. Winter set in with a vengeance after a long, warm autumn.

b. You should always run a brand new car in before using it for everyday use.

c. Being soft leather, the shoes wore in quickly.

d. He was an expert at breaking horses in gently.

IN is used with words such as “believe”, “interested”, “specialize”, because belief entails the believer being in the world of the belief, “interest” is in a field of interest, and we specialize in a field of study/research (etc.).

“Meaning” is also seen to be contained by the words used to convey meaning: “in so many words”, “in other words”, “in words of one syllable”, “in simple words”, “in English”, “in German”, “in Indonesian”, etc.

Emotional states are also containers of the subject (the ‘feeler’), just as a believer is IN his/her religion/philosophy (Many people in Japan believe IN Buddhism). One can be IN an emotional state: “in love”, “in pain”, “in anger”, “in despair”, “in ecstasy”, “in panic”, “in a loving way”, “in a hateful manner”, “in a happy frame of mind”; it could also be argued that belief is also an emotional state.

BREAK : covers a field of meaning that is “no longer whole or good [useful/working/etc.]” – with the implication that to arrive in the broken state force has been used.

The thieves broke in [through the window/by forcing the lock].

The thieves had to BREAK something to get IN. Breaking automatically assumes force, but “enter forcefully” is not the meaning of BREAK IN. “Enter forcefully” is a context-dependent understanding – note that thieves (or the like) can also enter forcefully without breaking in. If the thief gets the house owner and forces him/her to open the door, this is not breaking in, it is entering with force.

The semantic opposite is BREAK OUT:

100 convicts broke out during the prison riots.

The convicts had to BREAK something to get OUT.

(Note that “get” means “change position/state from A to B, wher A and B are opposites, and B is the resulting position/state”).

In the case of horses, etc., BREAK refers to breaking the horse’s wildness, untamedness, spirit – whatever we are referring to – so that the horse comes into usefulness. BREAK is used because the traditional means of breaking in horses was to use force, and it was (and still is probably among horse people?) seen as “breaking” the horse’s free/independent spirit. IN has its standard meaning of showing that arrival into a period/state is in question – the horse is BROKEN so that it enters/gets Into the state of usefulness.

This is the same concept of BREAK IN shoes, etc. IN refers to the period of usefulness (which includes the concept of “comfortableness”), and BREAK means that there is some difficulty to go through to get Into that state.

That is to say – “break in” does not really mean “make comfortable” – this (like "enter forcefully") is a context dependent understanding that is not actually the meaning of the combination “break in”. We know that in the following sentence the speaker refers to the shoes getting worn in for the user with some difficulty because that is what we know from world-knowledge.

It took a few days, but I’ve finally broke these boots in. (I wrote “broke” deliberately here to represent dialect).

English Language and Computer Instructor at IBI Language and Computer Center
I think teaching phrasal verb throughout context is so effective. First of of all we should explain the meaning of the verb without the particle. For example, the verb "look" means "to do by eyes" and give an example for that: "Look! Linda is coming." then we explain the meaning of the phrasal verbs related to the verb "look". For Example, "look after" means :care for. Ex. John looks after his kids. Cheer up: make yourself happy. Ex. Cheer up, Sarah. It's your birthday party.

"I think teaching phrasal verb throughout context is so effective."
It really is, definitely.
"look" means "to do with/by eyes" - excellent - e.g. look for "seeking using the eyes", look up "find information using the eyes", "look over" "inspect using the eyes", etc. An even better "meaning" is "use the eyes to get information".

I wish so often that native speaker teachers would get to that point rather tan stop half-way by saying something like "look after" means "mind".

Just one word of caution - foreign students often confuse "look after!", "care for" and "take care of" (and "mind").

"Look after" doesn't mean "care for". "Look after" is like when a shepherd looks after his flock - he lets the flock feed (etrc.), and moves after them keeping an eye on them, taking them to water, and so on. It is somewhere between "keep an eye on", "mind" and "take care of".

"Look after" is probably closest to "mind"., though "mind" is "less intense" than "look after". Ot, rather, it is more temporary.

"Care for" is "showing/having caring for someone [something]" - "I care for you" is something like "I am fond of you" - or even at times "I like you", "I love you".

"Take care of" is stronger - more intense and direct - than "look after". It means to take direct, personal duty of care over the object to be taken care of. "When I was in hospital my mother in law took care of the children." We could use "looked after"in this context, but "take care of" shows a strionger commitment.

This came into my mind, because a few days ago I was interviewing a Spanish teacher (for a job teaching Spanish, of course), and she made the mistake of using "care for" instead of "look after". If I was not an EFL teacher and knew what the mistake was, I would have seriously misunderstood her.

Principal - Al Huda Model College
Mehmet, here are some ways that we got around the 'phrasal verbs' -- homely stuff -- nothing spectacular but fruitful!!!
1. Newspapers – newspaper headings employ a host of phrasal verbs – (may be to catch the  
    eye / to inject drama into the routine and mundane!)
    Effective strategy employed was scouring the headlines for phrasal verbs – students were  
    provided with newspapers ( different dated ones borrowed from the Library) . They had to
    focus their search only on the headlines—( teacher would be walking around confirming /
    affirming /assisting, whatever) . Students would then copy the headlines with phrasal verbs
    in their journals – and meanings written out below each headline.
    Taking the activity forward --Clippings of these newspaper headings with phrasal verbs   
    would be displayed on chart papers in the classrooms. Students and teachers quite liked
    this activity.
    Reward ( chocolates have been a favourite with me ) would be given to the student who  
    succeeded in collecting the maximum number of newspaper headings containing phrasal
    You can organize group work -- have a competition !!!!
2. Pictorial Illustrations of Phrasal verbs – ‘ A picture is worth a thousand words’ indeed , am   
    a very firm believer in the worth of visuals as teaching aide -- The picture dictionary
    mentioned below was very useful in teaching these peculiars . I had a lot of pictures blown
    up and displayed in the corridors , in classes and in the Library .— ‘immersion’ is
    important in language acquisition.
    Macmillan Phrasal Verbs Plus – this was extremely useful. I had obtained a copy for the   
    Dubai Modern High School – unfortunately, didn’t get one for myself. tel + 44 1865 405700 fax : +44 1865 405701
3. Teachers were advised to conduct ‘Circle Time’ with their classes with the most frequently  
    used phrasal verbs. Get students to talk about ‘doings’ using phrasal verbs
4. Teachers also came up with some good ideas – flash cards with phrasal verbs and their
    meanings – matching / elimination game – one can use flash cards for any number of
5. – a very useful digital tool for creating worksheets for vocabulary
    enhancement – this tool recycles the vocabulary items into 6/ 7 exposures – and students
    acquire at least 80 to 90 % of the vocabulary under focus – if not 100 % -- at the end of it
I did my schooling at La Mariniere Girls School ( now it is College) and St. Agnes Loreto School and my tutors were mainly Anglo-Indian teachers and Irish and Australian nuns --- learning phrasal verbs was never really highlighted but some way along the line we knew them – how – I don’t remember any teacher employing any particular technique.
But now it seems that these are one of the ‘peculiars’ of English Language and they must be ‘taught’ – these ubiquitous and surreptitious phrasal verbs ! I use these descriptors because they are so much part of the spoken and written English that they quietly slip into everyday usage and you don’t even know it – till you get tripped by one or another!!!
How to teach them? You have got to teach them in context --you can’t memorize them ( doesn’t help) like one can do the ‘irregular verbs’ – because phrasal verbs need to be not only comprehended but recognized whenever they do appear (which is very, very often) – and their usage mastered through continuous and diligent study of the contexts in which they appear.
Three like this

a phrasal verb is literally a verb plus a preposition. A phrasal verb is RARELY what those two words combined suggest...and ONLY someone with a native knowledge of English or someone with YEARS of experience living the language in an English speaking country can teach...sorry for those I offend

"a phrasal verb is literally a verb plus a preposition" - and also other words, like "back", "home", "forward", and other words that aren't prepositons.

"A phrasal verb is RARELY what those two words combined suggest" - well - in most cases this isn't true - and I would say in all cases, the meaning of the verb and the preposition can be shown to stem directly from the meaning of the verb and preposition as separate words.

However - to rephrase it - "phrasal verb" is best used when we refer to idioms where the understood meaning is somewhat separate from the literal meanings of the verb and preposition - like "work out" in the following:

He works out every morning for half an hour before going to work.

Our knowledge of the world tells us that what is meant is "exercises". However, this idiom can be shown (through discussion) to come from the literal meanings of "work" and "out".

Many teachers use "phrasal verb" for every possible combination of verb + preposition - which in a way is much simpler - but even more inaccurate than restricting "phrasal verb" to idioms.

I don't think that the issue is whether you have the "years of experience" using the language. There are many who will have this instinctive awareness of the language who cannot reach their students to get them to learn. The experience we have makes us more attuned to the nuances of meaning. But I have met many teachers, especially those who teach native speaking students who haven't a clue what the English language learner requires to learn.
Rod Mitchell likes this

The teacher of native speakers can safely assume that the student already speaks the language as well as the tacher (from the point of view as native speaker teacher - native speaker student). Native speaker teachers assume that "work out" (as a specific example) is a "single item", simply because they subconsciously know all the links and background cultural grounding of the phrase.

With native speaker students, you can take pretty well all this backgrounding for granted.

The statement "phrasal verbs are something that you have to learn "as is"" is applying native-speaker assumption to the language learning context inappropriately. it is presenting language as something that is "granted".

The learner of a language can take nothing for granted, and the teacher of such students also can not take anything for granted. Everything is new and "mysterious". The most effective teachers are those that can step back from the language they teach and can look at it with learner's eyes. This means really looking at each word in any construction - and the construction itself - to fully understand the sentence as a whole.

Of course - this can be done in so many ways, through activities, word games, stories, jokes, miming - anything that makes the language real.

<sorry for those I offend>
You have just ruined months of time that I had budgeted in my effort to figure out what a phrasal verb was. What will I do in my spare time now? Thanks a lot, buddy.
Five like this Arzoo BakerRod Mitchell and 3 others like this

go thru the most common phrasal verbs with your students and talk about their not-so-obvious meanings

the plane took off (well known meaning)
My business took off when I got a web site (not so known, meaning accelarated)
I took yesterday off

afterwards, once they understand the meaning, have them make sentences with those phrasals BASED ON THEIR EXPERIENCES. I tell me students to give me examples in ALL grammar classes that relate to them personally; I believe it helps to connect the grammar to their life
K R LakshminarayananRod Mitchell like this         

EFL teacher at Private School Nea Genia Ziridis
I would have to agree with the colleagues on this one... visual input has helped my students over the years.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Freelance English Language Teacher Online, Blogger and Writer
I teach phrasal verbs with stories, comics, infographics and mindmaps.

My story ideas are in here with a phrasal verb comic/infographic as well:)

Assistant Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University
Try out a phrasal verb game here in which you have to combine the verbs with the prepositions/adverbs:

You can also use your own wordlists from Quizlet in the game

Nice one, Oliver.

English Trainer (ELT Switzerland, since 2000)
Most ESL coursebooks will introduce bit by bit these verb+particle verbs—call them what you like—though I prefer to call them Phrasals (since you have adjectives and nouns as well).

In German it's similar; you have, instead the particle as, a prefix (which are separable, and where the prefix often gets moved to the end of a clause depending on syntax.

It is indeed difficult to find effective exercises which will help internalise these.
(Even the apps available are rather peculiar).

The best I came across is comprehensive and therefore geared towards advanced adult learners. It has 96 units and includes a 'mini-dictionary' and 5 tests.
JOHN FLOWER, Phrasal Verbs Organiser, LTP, Jan 1993
ISBN-10: 0906717620 | ISBN-13: 978-0906717622
The various exercises comprise the following:
* multiple choice,

* sentences with prompts,

* sentences with a single given particle (e.g. DOWN) where you insert the correct verb (from a limited choice),

* definitions with prompts, and my favourite,

* a set of three examples sentences where the answer is one single phrasal

* verbs with two particles

* graph spiders with common verbs (brainstorming)

* cloze with verbs to identify as phrasals.

* brief explanations (e.g. particle before objects)

It's a pity there's nothing really out there that matches this as an app.

There are over 15,000 "phrasal verbs" - any grammar, app, or whatever that tries to handle that from a purely structural point of view is going to fail. Even John Flower's work - despite its excellence - fails in getting to the simplicity of the system - which is that we as English speakers know the system before we start schooling. 4/5 year olds can comfortably handle phrasal verbs.

Sometimes it's useful to contextualize the parts of the phrasal verb and have fun with them using TPR.

Rod: I was of course addressing non-natives, adults, whose levels are intermediate and above. I should think that a book for this purpose needn't 'point out' that natives learn these before schooling.
But another way of helping learners is to provide the formal equivalent together with the phrasal.

It's also important to point out to L2 that a phrasal often also refers to two actions, or concepts, (in one), which is why it's useful.

Director of Studies at EF Pejaten
Giving long lists of phrasal verbs simply intimidates students.
I find preparing a paragraph for me to hand out (1) or say (making sure I speak up(2)) is useful in helping students get over (3) any fear, and help out (4) where they hear the phrasal verb said in context without having to look it up (5). This way the students will hear the most commonly used phrasal verbs (of course, in your preparation you can choose which ones to include) and have a context to help them remember when to use them appropriately. Don't give up (6) :)
Rod Mitchell likes this

Alexander - I understood your reference - which is the same as mine, as well (even if I mentioned native speakers). There is a psychological need of mentioning the fact that we as native speakers learn the system early on - that it is that simple. Of course, at times when I say it to students, the knee-jerk reaction of some is to say "my God - I must be dumb" - or words to that effect. Then the process is to show them that they are actually very intelligent - which they probably knew anyway.

It is indeed helpful to give the "one-word" equivalent (it is not always the formal equivalent), just as it helps to give any equivalent for any type of word or group of words. We all do it. The danger is to say "X means Y" - because, and this is particularly true for "phrasal verbs", "X means Y only in certain contexts".

It is more like "X and Y can both be used in Z context, but you can't use Y in A context, only X, and vice-versa in B context. But this is true for all "pairs" that have similar meanings.

It is better to avoid future misuses as much as possible (I know it is impossible) by focusing on the meaning of the verb and prepositional partical fro the beginning.

As you say, "a phrasal often also refers to two actions, or concepts, (in one), which is why it's useful." - or, as I prefer, the "phrasal" is made of words, each word has its own meaning/use/function, and they (all) work together to give a message - usng "together" instead of things like "in one".

"Giving long lists of phrasal verbs simply intimidates students."

It intimidates the teachers as well more often than not.
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

We teach those aspects of the English language that a syllabus prescribes. And an English syllabus for a particular level specifies items of language as discrete items and we teachers tend to treat and teach them so, then there’s a lot of confusion in our minds and in the minds of our students as well. There are thousands of phrasal verbs and idioms, and even thinking to teach all of them is mind-boggling; then the question is: which ones will we teach and which ones will we leave out? So it becomes a question of choice. That will be a poor choice!

And memorisation is next to impossible. Besides there’s no need because students are not going to come across all of them or even some every time they converse with someone. Nor can they remember all. The least we can do as teachers is to list out the most-often-used ones and teach them—even this will be a huge task. The best we can do as teachers is to ask students to read and listen to genuine communication—read fiction. And let them look up in the dictionary for any phrasal verb or idiom they come across and don’t know the meaning of.

And if students are to be tested, God help them!
Rod Mitchell likes this

<<memorisation is next to impossible.>>
When there at least 15,000 phrasal verbs, definitely.

The question is - and I mentioned this earlier - how is it possible that we as native speakers can "decode" phrasal verbs we have never heard before, and how can we as native speakers make new phrasal verbs?

We can do it because we "know" the meaning of the verb - and we "know" the meaning of the preposition-particle. We might not be able to overtly state what the meanings are, but at the subconscious level we know these.

"get", for example, means "change state from A to B, where B is the arrival state"

He got in the car (A = outside, B = inside)
He got drunk (A = sober, B = drunk)
They got married (A = single, B = married)
I got an email this morning (A = didn’t have an email, B = had an email)
and so on.

This meaning of "get" is a constant - which is why we can use it in so many contexts (get in/on/at/to/through/over/under etc, get sick/well/dressed/busy etc., get an email/letter/prize, etc.).

"Get" doesn't have 500 meanings according to what comes after it - it has one meaning that the student can learn to use - and understand - in all contexts.

The same goes for all verbs - take, look, go, and so on and so on.

Similarly, the preposition-particle has its own meaning, and so can be used - and understood - in a variety of contexts.

He took/flew/ran/jumped/dropped/slipped/broke/etc. off
He took/flew/ran/jumped/slipped/etc. up

and so on.

In other words, the 15,000 plus phrasal verbs are in reality the much smaller number of prepositon-particles (around 50 focusing only on the really common) and the larger number of verbs, of which there are not that many really common (1000 or so).

By teaching the core meaning of the verb AND the prepositions-particle, we are giving the student the tools to understand a much wider body of language. Telling the student that each phrasal verb is "unique" and has to be learnt "as is" means giving the student the impression that the learning process is impossible.

Which it would be for us native speakers if it was true that each [phrasal verb is "unique". We would never have been able to learn English.
 K R Lakshminarayanan and another like this

I've been away from this thread for a while. I recognise some of the new ideas from older comments.
I think we talked about learning phrasal verbs by looking at their parts a while back.
 Rod Mitchell likes this

Too true Richard, this type of discussion tends to go around in circles - and to be repeated in other discussions - as new people make contrictions, as the "oldies" forget what was covered, and so on.

You and I have also discussed it elsewhere in the past - last year - times like that.

<we "know" the meaning>

It's fun to teach the meaning of the components of an expression, especially if you and your students are not afraid to muddle in the gray of unspecificity on the way to understanding. Add to that possible ambiguity in meaning of a word being analyzed, and you have the makings of an intellectual undertaking for the few. I really think it's worth the effort.
To complement the methodology, using the conversational and situational context could prove useful, as well as bringing in the corresponding expression in students' L1.

It definitely is - students do (or should) like to be intellectual - to be challenged, and to work out things for themselves.

Thanks Rod for the A B way of looking at a verb and its particles.
Help me with this:
get at sb--to keep criticising
get at sb/sth--to gain access to sth/sb
get at sth--to learn or find out sth

Note, KRL - that the A to B is specific to "get" - other verbs have their own meanings, like

"look" "use eyes to get information"
"set" "start a process"
"run" "move or manage movement along/through a pathway - normally (but not necessarily) in a quick and easy way"

The dictionary meanings of words - particularly in bilingual dictionaries, are often not the "real" meaning of the word, but the use of other words to "translate" the word in different contexts. That is why "get" in a bilingual (and monolingual) dicitionary has so many entries - not because the word itself has as many meanings, but simply each of the contexts is explained by translation.

This is equally true of prepositions - knowing the meaning (which includes its function) of the prepositoon is all important - and also knowing what the basis of idiomaticity and what is literalness is - idiomaticity is part of the context, not the words used in the context. I say more on this in reference to "get" below.

"At" shows that a point is being used to ‘fix’ its subject at that point and that the subject is using the point. There is a certain amount of ‘detachment’ from the point, however. When we are sitting at a table - we do not have to be touching the table in any way to be "at it".

Another example of "detachment":

"The hunter shot at the tiger" - the hunter did not actually hit the tiger, or if he did, hitting the tiger is accidental.

"The hunter shot the tiger" - the hunter definitely hit the tiger.

"at" vs "by":

"The student is at the door."
"The student is by the door."

The student is "at" the door to use it to come in, or to go out, or to talk to someone (etc.). "By the door" shows that he/she is near the door. The student's physical position can be the same in both cases - "at" or "by" expresses our understanding of why the student is in that position.

"At" vs "to":

"John threw the ball to Mary" - ""John threw the ball at Mary."

With "to" we know that John expects Mary to catch the ball - to respond positively. In the second, he is using her as a target - he does not expect her to either catch the ball or to respond positively. He "mentally detaches" himself from her as a person and treats her more as an object.

"get" + "at" vs "get" + "to":

"What the chairman was getting at in his round-about way was that the discussion was getting bogged down in unimportant details."

"Please be patient. We will get to Canberra soon."

"get" + "at" = arrive at or aim at, referring to the point which is ’used’ for (mental or physical) arrival. "Get" + "to" uses "to" in its meaning of movement towards and arrival.

The danger of "translation" :

get at sb--to keep criticising
get at sb/sth--to gain access to sth/sb
get at sth--to learn or find out sth

The phrases "to keep criticising", "to gain access to" and "to learn/find out" are translations - words/phrases that can be used in the same context, but are not the meanings of "get"+"at" in each context. I say this because other prepostion combinations with "get" can also be used with exactly the same translations:

"Their criticisms are getting on my nerves" (to keep criticising)
"He got into the computer room after breaking the door down" (to gain access)
"She got onto the answer after a lot of research" (to learn/find out)

Depending on context, also, other "translations" are equally valid:

"The kittens got at the meat on the table" : gain access to, manage to eat, manage to take, take away, etc.

In other words, to really understand "get" and the preposition, be it "at", "on", "through". and the meanings they express in any sentence, translation can help - but the translations are based on what is happening in the context. They are NOT an expression of either "get" or "at". "Gain", "manage" and "take" do not have the same meaning as "get". They have their own meanings that are also compatible with the context, but also give a diferent picture of the event.

We use "get" to show the (quick) A-to-B movement, where the B is the focus point. The "at" focuses on the arrival point (and how we use it). With criticism (and a host of other terms like this), the expression is on the person being criticised and the effectof the criticism on that person - who is being used as a "target". Gaining access is another example of the same meaning of "get" - the place/thing we want to gain access to is the final position where we want to arrive, obviously for some use. "Getting at information" expresses the subjects desire to arrive at the information and then to use it; it doesn't necessarily mean that the person wants to learn that information or even to know that information (find it out) - simply to use it. These latter are context-dependent, not part of the meaning of "get" (or "at").

Other uses of "at" also depend on the "use" concept, such as points on scales of measurement (at 2.30 pm, at Christmas, at age 20, at 100o at sea level, at 25 yards, at present, priced at $10.99, at all costs, at 7 foot 3 inches he was the tallest. AT shows a point on/along a measuring scale. The significance of the specific point is that it is used for something.

This contrasts with "in". "At" doesn’t focus inside the measured point, but rather that the point itself is important and is being used for some reference of some kind:

"The child was born at 9.20 in the morning."

The only way to be IN 9.20 is to stop time. 9.20, as a point of time, and therefore the birth itself, of course were INSIDE the time period of the morning.

"At" is also used to focus on the process of an activity – which is often expressed as a verbal noun in "-ing", but not always. In this use it contrasts with "on", which focuses on the activity/situation as happening/continuing. "At", on the other hand, focuses on the use or ability to use the activity/situation.

"He’s really good at story telling." - he can use his skills well
"He’s really good on story telling." - he has an expert academic knowledge about the art of story telling - but may well be crap at himself.

Other examples:

"She was capable at all she did." - she put her skills to good use

"That kid’s an expert at getting out of tight spots." - he/she’s good at using his/her skills to avoid problems

"The next applicant is an expert on industrial biochemical processes." - he/she knows all there is to know in this field

"I want you to keep at it until 5.00." - keep using the equipment or whatever until then

"The children kept on asking questions – they were really interested in the topic." - they continued the same activity

"They’re working at trying to find a solution." - they are using their skills to try to find a solution

"They decided to work on through the night so as not to waste any more time." - they decided to continue the activity

"They've been at it all day and there’s no end in sight." -they are using the time to do an activity

The three 'get' expressions are from Advanced Learner's.
I don't understand how you term what follows the verb phrases as 'translations' but 'are not the meanings'. Please expand your cryptic comment so I can follow your train of thought.
 Rod Mitchell likes this

meaning : the semantic content of a word and its function. The expression of the content and function refers purely and only to that word, being the meaning - and is an abstract description of that word.

"through" means "enter, move along/across inside and come out the other side/end of a physical or abstract enclosing area":

He walked through the jungle (physical)
He walked through the crowd (physical)
Hw crawled through the sewer (physical)
He passed through Oxford on his way to London. (physical)
He worked through all the paper-work (physical and abstract)
He got an A-class PhD through a lot of hard work and study, burning candles at both ends (abstract and physical).
He got his A-class PhD through studying hard, researching well, and burning candles at both ends (abstract - though a physical background).

Translation is using other words and functions to explain the original word and its function according to each context. Translation by its very nature is normally always inexact, and only "explains" one aspect of the meaning/function of the original word within each context.

He walked through the jungle (physical)
"through" can be translated by "moved along inside or among the trees from one side to the other"

He walked through the crowd (physical)
"through" can be translated by "moved among the people from one side to the other"

He passed through Oxford on his way to London. (physical)
"through" can be translated by "by in", "via", "by", "past", etc.

He worked through all the paper-work (physical and abstract)
"through" can be translated by "on", "with" (and perhaps other words/phrases)

He got an A-class PhD through a lot of hard work and study, burning candles at both ends (abstract and physical).
"through" can be translated by "by doing", "by undertaking"

He got his A-class PhD through studying hard, researching well, and burning candles at both ends (abstract).
"through" can be translated by "by"

Translation involves translation of the words as used in context; that is why good translators never translate word by word, but concept by concept.

In statements such as " 'get at' means 'gain access to' ", "gain access to" is not a meaning of 'get at'. It is an in-context translation that within the specific context gives more-or-less the same message. However, outside that context, other translations are needed to "explain" the use of 'get at' in the other contexts; just as in other contexts 'get at' can't be used to translate 'gain access to':

"He gained access to the computer room" - here the best translation using "get" is "got into"

"The hacker gained access to her bank account details" - here 'get at' is a good translation, but so is 'get onto'.

We as teachers commonly say "X means Y" where we should say "In this situation X has a very similar meaning to Y, however what Y really means is [statement of meaning], and X really means [another statement of meaning]". In otherwords, "mean" is often used in a very inexact way, referring to translations rather than meaning. Translation is an inexact science, which is why using translations to express the meaning of a word must be always done with great care.

For example:

He got his A-class PhD through studying hard, researching well, and burning candles at both ends (abstract).

Here X ("through") can be translated by Y ("by"), however Y ("by") gives a different feeling of the event. Y ("by") simply tells us which action(s) led to the getting of the PhD. X ("hrough") tells us that the PhD student had to enter into a period of study/research, pass along/across this period of study (maybe 3 years), and then come out the other side/end. X ("through") in this abstract sense reflects its concrete sens of "enter, pass through, and come out the other side".

Licensed Elem.Teacher / ESL Private Tutor
@Rod. Thank you for all that you post. Very useful, presented information.
 Rod Mitchell likes this

'We can do it because we "know" the meaning of the verb - and we "know" the meaning of the preposition-particle.'

get at sb--to keep criticising
get at sb/sth--to gain access to sth/sb
get at sth--to learn or find out sth

Let’s apply your statement to these three phrasal verbs:
‘At’ gives 13 messages:
1. where something is/happens

1. where somebody works
1. when something happens
1. age at which sb does sth
1. in the direction of/towards sb/sth
1. show sb tries to do sth
1. state distance away from sth
* the situation sb is in/what sb is doing/what is happening
1. show rate, speed etc
* that sb/sth is as good/bad as can be
1. how well sb does sth
1. show the cause of sth
1. in response to sth

‘Get’ gives 27 messages:
1. Receive * sth
1. receive an amount of moeny
1. bring (go and get)
1. receive something as punishment
1. receive broadcasts
1. buy
1. achieve grade
1. illness
1. and so on
1. and beyond, why even from 3 onwards have no relevance to getting the three meanings (‘translations’) of ‘get at’.

‘Get’: ‘1. receive/obtain 2. obtain something’ are general in nature. Combined with either of these two, which meaning of ‘at’ gives me the ‘translations’. None, I must say.

It is what comes after (the context) that helps us understand phrasal verbs.

If natives understand ‘get at’ as criticising someone or the other translations it’s not because they can consciously combine one out of the several meanings of ‘get’ and one out of the several meanings of ‘at’, it’s because it’s their subconscious which makes meaning for them.

So I conclude: if natives can understand what phrasal verbs mean (though they may not be able to say it overtly), it’s not because they consciously derive meaning from combining the meanings of a verb and a particle but because they have either already heard the particular phrasal verb being used in a CONTEXT and their subconscious has absorbed it which later helps them when they come across that particular phrasal verb or they can perceive the messages from the context in which a phrasal verb is placed.

Am I not right?
Nelson Bank likes this

<< ‘At’ gives 13 messages:>>

I change the statement : ‘at’ has one meaning that can be used in 13 contexts. It can be used in those 13 contexts because its meaning is compatible in those contexts. HOWEVER – the 13 contexts are actually a much smaller number of uses – and so I put them together:

<< where something is/happens, where somebody works, the situation sb is in/what sb is doing/what is happening >>

“He was standing at the corner.” – he was using the corner for a purpose (e.g. waiting for a friend, to see what was happening). His exact positioning also is not important. He might actually be in the street next to the corner, and so not “on the corner”. “On the corner” shows us that his position is specifically there.

“He is at work / school / play / the post office / the beach” (etc.) – he is at a place typically used for the activity – the place where the activity happens.

“He is at the beach” is not the same as “he is on the beach”. “On the beach” is specifically positioned there, while “at the beach” is using that place for a purpose. “At the beach” can also include “he is swimming in the sea”, “he is in a café across the road from the beach”, and so on.

<< when something happens / age at which sb does sth / state distance away from sth / show rate, speed etc >> - you can add “distance along something, point along something, point of altitude/depth, point of temperature, and so on. The common theme is “measurement point that is used as a reference”.

“Water boils at 100 degrees (temperature) at sea level (altitude)”
“The submarine leveled out at 100 meters (depth) below the surface”
“He got married at the age of 30 (life time-line) years”

<<in the direction of/towards sb/sth, show sb tries to do sth>> - the aiming point is being used as a target, however the result is uncertain, because the preposition ‘at’ does not refer to specific position/arrival (like ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘to’), but to the use of the point for an activity/reference (etc.).

<<that sb/sth is as good/bad as can be, how well sb does sth >> : this is the expression of “ sb/sth has degrees of proficiency” – it links to the “measurement” and the “activity” uses

The following are incorrect (I probably explained myself badly)

<<show the cause of sth>> - in the examples I gave ‘by’ can have this translation : to give another example – “He crossed the river by swimming” – the action that got him across the river was swimming.

An example of ‘at’ that can give this impression of ‘cause’ is :

‘She was bitterly disappointed by the poor reception of her new album, and so hit out at the critics’.

However, ‘at’ does not show the cause (the ‘by’ does). ‘At’ here is part of the result of the cause – she uses the critics as a target to vent her anger.

<<in response to sth>> (this is actually ‘to’ in the examples I gave : John threw the ball to Mary – he expected her to catch the ball – that is to say, to respond and to be involved positively in his game/action.

The sumamry of 'at': ‘At’ means ‘use the point for an activity and/or as a reference’

<<‘Get’ gives 27 messages:>>

Likewise, ‘get’ does not give 27 messages.

‘Get’ has only one message ‘change state from A to B, where B is the resulting state’. Note that ‘Get’ refers to the change-over point gone through to reach the resulting state, however does not mention the starting state.

I put the 27 messages into their logical groupings :

<<receive / receive an amount of money / receive something as punishment / receive broadcasts / achieve grade / illness >>

“He got a letter” – the change over is that before he didn’t have the letter, then he got the letter, and after he had the letter.

“He got sick” – first he was well – he got sick – then he was sick.
“Ho got married” - He was single – he got married – he was married.

When teaching ‘get’ I use it with prepositions – because these can show the physical very clearly – things like “I get on the chair” – saying this while getting onto the chair. Then saying “I get off the chair” while getting off it. Then follow with other examples, like pretending that the chair is a car, miming opening the car door and getting in, saying “I get in the car” while doing so, and then mime getting out of the car, saying “I get out of the car”.

After a few examples like this I ask the students themselves to tell me what ‘get’ shows (it can take a while with guidance). Once that is clear (changing position from A to B, where B is the opposite of A), then I go on to examples like “get sick”, “get well”, “get married”, “get dressed”, which show that ‘get’ shows “change state [position is a type of state] from A to B, where B is the opposite of A) – then move onto “get a letter”, “get a book”, and so on – where ‘get’ shows “change possession [possession is also a type of state – this is why “have” is a state verb when it refers to possession] from not having to having”.

<< bring (go and get) / buy >> - note that this has been complicated by writing “go and get”, and also implying that ‘bring’ “means” ‘go and get’. It is important to detach the understandings (actions) that are part of the context from the word in discussion itself.

“Can you get the milk for me?”

Out of context – this simply shows that I don’t have the milk, you are there (probably at the fridge), can you “change my milkless state” to a state of me having the milk”.

Of course this means that the person has to take the milk and bring it to me – or pass it to me if I am next to him/her – or go somewhere (the fridge/shop), get it, and bring it back to me. These actions are logical parts of the situation – but are implications of the action of getting. Other actions that are part of getting in this context are stretching out the hand, taking hold of the milk, tightening the3 grasp just enough so as to hold it safely, lifting it, walking with it (this is the bringing/taking stage) to me, then handing it over (passing) and releasing it so that I can have it.

This also goes for ‘buy’ – “Can you get the milk for me at the shop when you go there?”. In the context we assume that the person has included “buying” as part of the sequence of actions that form part of getting the milk – however the person who gets the milk could actually steal it – or could be the owner of the shop and so doesn’t need to buy it, and so on. Buying the milk is simply part of the context.

‘Get’ doesn’t mean the same as “take” or “bring” or “pass” or “hand” or “buy” (etc.). “Take” and “bring” show the bearing of something along a physical or abstract path, “pass” shows the action of moving the object across an intervening space so that it arrives at the other person/side (etc.), “hand” means use the hand to do something. “Buy” shows a business dealing.

Each of these words can be used in contexts where ‘get’ can also be used – but that doesn’t mean that any of these give the message of ‘get’, or that ‘get’ carries their messages – except by the awareness of what actions form part of what is happening in the context. ‘Get’ itself can be used in all the contexts because its meaning (change state from to B from the previous A [putting it in another way]) means it has a general meaning that can be used in a wide range of contexts, while “take”, “bring”, “hand”, “buy” and so on are more specific in their references and therefore in how they can be used.

<<It is what comes after (the context) that helps us understand phrasal verbs.>>

It is not so much what comes after that helps us understand the meaning that the speaker/writer wants to get across to us. (Here ‘get’ again means “change state to B from its opposite A – we don’t understand [“A”], and the speaker/writer is getting the understanding across from him/herself to us, so that the result [“B”] is that we then have the understanding].

However, what you say has a very important insight. The speaker/writer produces the speech to get the meaning across – this meaning is in their heads before they start speaking, and the process of speaking is to transfer the “idea” to the “message” – and then to pass it over. In general, this process is more than lightening swift.

From the receiver’s point of view, however – we hear the first word, then the next word, then the next – we have to wait for each word to come across to us so as to build up the understanding of the whole message. This also is lightening swift (thank the gods that be) as a rule. It is often what comes AFTER that really helps us understand the meaning of the word(s) before.

The question that linguistics (and philosophers and others) ask, of course, is “how is this possible?” how can we actually understand the message in such a virtually immediate way? The answer from psycho and cognitive linguistics (and other types of linguistics get close as well) is that each word has its own meaning – and we know the meaning of this word. The other words in the sentence show how we are to apply the meaning of that word in the context.

‘Get’ always means “change state from A to B” – ‘at’ always means use a point (place, etc.) for an activity/reference (etc.), ‘to’ always means “move towards and arrive”, and so on. In the context of criticizing, ‘get’ and ‘at’ can only be used ni that context according to their respective meanings, and their meanings show us how we see the specific parts of the act of criticism – and, more importantly, that it is not the ‘get’ or the ‘at’ that tell us that criticism is happening. It is the other words:

“All their snide comments started to get at her”.

Here, “snide comments” in a context of criticism show us that others are criticising her. What the ‘get’ shows is that her state of mind is changing from unaffected to affected, while the ‘at’ shows that their snide comments are directed in her direction and treating her as the target – the snide comments are being used to hurt/offend her, and she is being used as a target.

And the most important thing you have said : <<it’s because it’s their subconscious which makes meaning for them.>>

This is hitting the nail on the head. Meaning transfer is largely subconscious. We rarely consciously think of how to say something, except in special cases where we are not sure of how to say something. The construction of bulk of what we say is subconscious – below our level of conscious awareness. The processing of the bulk of what we read/hear is at the same level.

It is like riding a bike or even simply walking. We had to learn this skills, just like we had to learn how to speak, however once learnt they become automatic – subconscious, just as language use and understanding becomes automatic and subconscious.

Teaching/learning another language also ideally aims at the same skill level, for the new language to become automatic and “subconscious”.

And to answer your conclusion, KR.

As I have already mentioned, there are something like 15,000 phrasal verbs listed in the Macmillan Phrasal Verbs Plus dictionary. Most ESL/EFL practitioners have no idea how many phrasal verbs there actually are. I interviewed an English teacher with a CELTA and a DELTA, a Masters, and loads of experience in EFL, had been an academic director, and so on. He imagined that there would only be around 2000.

In other words, there is a lot of “myth” surrounding the topic “phrasal verbs”, and the myth developed through “translation linguistics” (assuming that a “phrasal verb” is the same as a “one-word verb”) as well as applying the concepts of the syntactic structures of Latin and its descendants French, italian and so on to the syntactic structures of English (and German, Dutch and the other languages where “phrasal verbs” are a major part of syntax).

From the structural point of view, there is no such thing as a phrasal verb. The verb and the preposition-particle belong to different parts of the sentence (e.g. as shown in the Cambridge English Grammar edited by Huddleston and Pullum).

From the semantic point of view also there is no such thing as a phrasal verb. The preposition-particle does not refer to the verb. The preposition-particle refers to the subject of the sentence in intransitive sentences, and the object of the sentence in simple transitive sentences (I ignore the more complex transitive sentences here).

Intransitive :

“The bird took/flew/hopped/jumped off/away” – here it is the bird that is off the ground/branch (starting point) and moving away. The verb shows how the bird moved away - “take” means it took itself off/away, “flew” that it did this by flying – and so on.

Transitive :

“He broke/cut/sliced/sawed a piece of cake off ~ He broke/cut/sliced/sawed off a piece of cake” – “off” refers to the piece, it is the piece that is moved away (off) from the starting point – the cake. The verb shows how the subject moved the piece away – however it is the subject that caused the piece to be away, not the verb.

We have developed the concept of a “phrasal verb” through sloppy analysis – by translation linguistics mainly. For example, sentences like the following are often used to “prove” that phrasal verbs exist:

The police “investigated” the matter.

The police “looked into” the matter.

There seems to be a “one-to-one” relationship. However, when you start to really analyse these sentences, then it becomes clear that “look into” is not the syntactic equivalent of “investigate” – and also that they don’t actually mean the same thing. From the structural point of view, adverb placement shows that “look” + “into” are not one phrase; also, as most of us know, “into” actually belongs to “the matter”. “Investigate” in the sentence above is transitive, “looked” is intransitive”:

The police looked “into the box”
The police looked “into the matter”.

Adverb placement:

The police quickly investigated the matter.
Quickly the police investigated the matter.
The police investigated the matter quickly.

But we can’t really say : “The police investigated quickly the matter.” The adverb can’t split theverb and its object.

With “look” + “into”:

The police quickly looked into the matter.
Quickly the police looked into the matter.

The adverb can come after the verb – just as the adverb can come after any intransitive verb, which shows that the prepositions is not linked in a phrase sense to the verb. If it was, the adverb wouldn’t be able to “split” it:

The police looked quickly into the matter.

And, the adverb can’t come after the preposition – adverbs can’t split the prepositions and its object.

*The police looked into quickly the matter.

Coming back to how native speakers understand “phrasal verbs” (keeping in mind that there is no such thing). It is because we “know” the meaning of the verb and “know” the meaning of the preposition-particle separately, and know how to combine these according to they separate meanings so as to create combined meanings along with the other words in the sentence.

There are just too many “phrasal verbs” in existence – and we are always creating phrasal verbs and hearing phrasal verbs that we have never come across before – and as I said, we already know the system by the time we are 4-5 years old.

So, it is not the case that native speakers “derive meaning […]because they have either already heard the particular phrasal verb being used in a CONTEXT and their subconscious has absorbed it which later helps them when they come across that particular phrasal verb”.

Rather, to expand on your last sentence : “they can perceive the messages from the context in which a phrasal verb is placed” – by knowing beforehand the meaning of the verb and preposition-particle separately and independently, and then creating meaning from ALL the words used in the context.

Some word becomes a Phrasal when the particle attached to it gives it new &/or multiple meaning. The verb then 'takes on' another meaning, either out the process of simplification else because it would otherwise sound too 'French', pardon my saying so.

From the samples given in the discussion here, the particle 'up' seems to mean 'with speed &/or simplicity', does it not?

Useful in learning environments would be to have a list of those Phrasals which are so exclusively commonplace that if they were to be replaced by another, more formal variant, you'd sound FOREIGN (which isn't all such a bad thing either these days).

I'm beginning to think that the word 'understand', considering how frequently it appears (comes up) in this discussion alone, is yet another kind of phrasal !!! Comprehend?

My father & I used to have this thing going: He'd say 'get it?' —I'd say 'got it' —and he'd reply 'good!' (That's just the way it goes.)

There are two standard uses of the term "phrasal verb".

The most standard is that the term "phrasal verb" can only be used when there is an idiomatic use (the one that "purists" of the term so as the true use). For example:

"He went to Paris to brush up his French." : "brush up" is a phrasal verb, because the word "brush" is not being used with its literal meaning, but an abstract/figurative meaning.

"I need you to brush up the fibres so that they are all lying upwards like this - that way they will reflect the lights better for the filming" : "brush up" is not a phrasal verb, because 'brush' has its literal meaning.

The problem with this definition is that we always understand the abstract/figurative from the literal. We use "brush" to refer to the figurative "brushing" of the language so that it figuratively looks better.

The other use is often used by treachers, who assume that any verb + preposition-particle is a phrasal verb. This usage is "useless" as a concept, and simply complicates life for everybody.

Note that the verb "understand" is not a "phrasal verb" - it is a compound verb.

The other error so many of us make is to think that a "phrasal verb" is a compound. A “phrasal verb” is not an unbreakable unit like a compound word; for example, "pull over" is not the same type of linguistic item as "pullover". A “phrasal verb” is where two or more items come together in a syntactic-semantic relationship (often called a collocation ) and work together to give a joint meaning.

In "pull over", "pull" has its meaning, and "over" has its meaning, and the two work together. In "pullover", the two parts of the compound together have a single reference. The origin of the reference is clear in that a "pullover" is a garment that is put on by "pulling" it "OVER" the head - however, "pullover" is a single word (in this case a noun), and has the grammatical and syntactic characteristics of nouns:

"pullover", plural "pullovers", ‘have’-adjective "pullovered" (a bearded, pullovered sailor walked into the dock-side pub), "the/a pullover", "some pullover!", "some pullovers", "a big white pullover", "one pullover", "ten pullovers", etc.

In "pull it over the head" and "pull over to the side of the road", on the other
hand, "pull" is a verb, and "over" is a preposition with an object in the first case, and an objectless prepositional phrase in the second. "Pull" has all the characteristics of a verb:

"pull", 3rd person singular "pulls", past tense and ’’past participle’’ "pulled", ing-form "pulling", actor form "puller", to-infinitive "to pull", etc.

"Over" has the characteristics of its type of word, such as, being a preposition, it is normally followed by its object and shows a positional/ functional relationship between two things. In "pull it over the head", "over" shows the relationship between it and the head, while in "pull over to the side of the road", the relationship shown is that between the vehicle (and the driver) and the final position of the car at the side of the road.

With regard to "up" - it isn't idiomatic in either of the example sentences above. In “brush up his French” – it is the verb “brush” that is being used idiomatically. The “up” is used with its literal meaning.

“Up” has the meaning of being “at a higher level, in a physical and/or abstract sense”. “Brushing up his French” shows that he wants his French to be at a higher state of improvement.

The physical sense of “up” extends easily into showing higher abstract positions such as being at the head of an organisation, at the beginning of a line, successful completion, and so on:

“He came up to the head of the line.”

“Keep up, lads! We don’t want any stragglers!”

“We have to get up at 7.00 every morning.”

“They got up a story about the event that deflected public gaze away from the government.” (A story was produced (developed) in order to be seen by all interested – or even uninterested – parties.)

“Keep your eye on the pitcher. He’s up to something.” (it is obvious that the (baseball) pitcher is producing (developing) a desired outcome (for him, at least!), with the implication that what he is doing is illicit or furtive.)

“Are you sure Carrie’s up to the job?” (the question asks for clarification that her abilities can produce/develop a successful outcome)

“Chris skimmed through the headlines up to p.4.” (the end-point is a limit to reach – or in this case reached – successfully)

“One wonders what type of person could have looked up to Mussolini.” (we put [people respect “up” at a higher plane)

“He put her up on a pedestal.” (his respect for her was like that for a goddess – she is superior to his inferiority)

“As the applicant has not come up to our exacting standards, we have to decline her application.” (our standards to be respected and are at a high level. They are superior and the candidate is therefore inferior.)

“Jenny looked the flight details up on the website.” (her research was successful.)

“Could you speak up please? I couldn’t quite catch what you said.” (the voice needs to be at a higher – or stronger - rate of decibels)

“Sit up straight! Don’t slouch down in the chairs like that!” (a higher position as opposed to a lower position is more satisfactory and therefore more respectable or appropriate.)

“He gave up his sword.” (the mental imagery of this sentence is that he is ‘down’, i.e. vanquished, and he has to offer up the token of his equality or superiority, that is to say, his sword. By doing this he puts himself at a inferior level to his enemy, thereby acknowledging their superiority.)

“Eat up, kids. It’s almost play-time.” (“eat up” focuses on finishing the meal in a good way. It doesn’t mean the same as the simple command “Eat!”)

“She had her hair done up for the Prom.” (her hair was completely set in a fashion that was satisfactory for her.)

“I’ll chop the tree down and you chop it up.” (the tree is to be put in a lower position, and then ‘you’ have to completely finish the work.)

Nelson Bank
<phrasal verb being used in a CONTEXT>

I don't think this is 100% correct. OK, maybe 70%.
The activity of analyzing the parts of the expression could be the most useful in understanding, and being able to use, the expression, not necessarily reaching an unambiguous definition, but more kneading the parts and examples for, say, a pre-agreed-upon amount of time (6 minutes?).

What can I say? You ran a marathon for me (of course in the bargain for other members as well--happy also because one of my comments prompted it!). I needed your seven to eight lengthy neat elaborations to understand a simple concept of language--relationships between words strung together in unison to create meaning. I know this and have applied it while listening or reading but failed in the case of verb + particle combinations as I was looking them as discrete expressions.

Thanks, thanks, thanks...
Rod Mitchell likes this

Teaching a "phrasal verb" simply from context is good - but not always enough, no - but this is potentially true for any word or combination of words (etc.).

If we trust ONLY to contextual use to teach any complex items like "phrasals", "the present perfect", the to + infinitive vs the bare infinitive vs the ing-form ad infinitum almost, we have to give plenty of examples of the use in context - lots and lots often. And over around 4 or 5 years (about the amount of time we take to learn the bulk of our first language), plus additional learning after that (just like we do in our first language).

As many of us don't have that time (not being babies learning to talk, or people who have gone to live permanently in another country), but being students at school or college, or in evening classes, etc., the "short cut" that Nelson mentions is the most effective in getting understanding across - the short amount of time necessary - 6 minutes or whatever, though with get, look, the present perfect, the to + infinitive (etc.) and verbs like that it can take a bit longer (say 15 minutes?).

And the expectation that "upwards cyclical teaching-learning" is very important in language learning and teaching covering the same material at a higher level and through that expanding out and in to other related aspects.

In other words, we really should expect at least 4 or 5 years of effective learning. So we don't have to feel that we need to build Rome in a day. Really effective learners can get to a “superior” (using the US term) – “proficient” (using the UK term) level in 2 years – though that is relatively rare.

The 6 minutes kills two birds with one stone - gives an understanding of the individual items in a way that makes it easier for the students to both manipulate and understand them in other contexts as well as being a "short cut" to the present lesson, whatever it might be.
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

You're welcome, KR.