Sunday, July 10, 2005

EFL - Phrasal Verbs

So far, even with a lot of leafing through coursebooks, resource books, Internet sites and nearby teaching brains I've yet to come up with anything of much worth for successfully helping learners out with phrasal verbs. It's an important part of everyday speech and shouldn't be left out of our teaching. Not one for giving up, I thought I'd try out some of my own ideas this coming month.

First a few resources:

Some ideas from OneStopEnglish.
Teaching phrasals with music from iTESLj.
On food-related phrasal verbs (knock it back, bolt it down, pig out) from iTESLj.
An interesting dialogue from ManyThings - you could use this in class.

LB: " ... TV programs, radio interviews and pop music are a wonderful source for phrasal verbs. I think one of the best ways of learning them is in everyday contexts. One good one is people's daily routine. We 'get up' in the morning, we 'put on' our clothes and 'take off' our clothes at the end of the day, we 'turn on' the coffee maker or the TV set... After we eat we 'clean up.' If we're concerned about our health, we go to the gym and we ... "
RS: "Work out."
LB: "There you go. Another wonderful context for phrasal verbs is traveling.
What does an airplane do?"
AA: "It 'takes off.' "
LB: "It 'takes off,' that's right. And lots of phrasal verbs connected with hotels. So when we get to the hotel we 'check in,' and you can save a lot of money if you ... "

Most sources advocate learning phrasal verbs as any other part of vocabulary, though an introduction to them could certainly help students recognise them when they turn up. Here's a short version:

"Phrasal verbs are (usually common) verbs followed by what is sometimes called a 'particle'. This 'particle' is either a preposition or an adverb, or possibly one of each. The most important thing is that learners should understand as many phrasal verbs as possible and be able to use them. Fluent English speakers use them all the time." (adapted from English in Valencia)

We use phrasal verbs in three ways:

1) to describe an action literally.
He went out of the room.
The neighbours have gone away on holiday.
Sit down and have some tea.
She walked past him without saying a word.

The majority of phrasal verbs are like this. The meaning is the combination of the two words. This shouldn't be too problematic.

2) to intensify or emphasise an action.
You're not going out until you've eaten up your dinner.
It's been pouring down with rain all day.
Don't fill it up completely! I only want a little.
He can add up easily but he can't subtract, multiply or divide.

This is less common. Sometimes the meaning is literal - the rain pours down - and sometimes it isn't - you eat up your dinner. However, the general meaning is the same as if you're using the verb alone (eat your dinner, pour with rain, etc).

3) as verbs with a special meaning.
I'll look after the children if you want to go out.
I've applied for hundreds of jobs, but they always turn me down.
I had plans to go to university, but they fell through.
Her daughter was run over while playing in the street.

These are the phrasals that are 'greater then the sum of their parts'. Knowing what the individual parts mean is of little help in deciphering these verbs. It's necessary to learn the meanings of each of this type of phrasal verb as a whole.

Furthermore, there are four types:
Type 1 - take no object:
The plane took off two hours late.
He left his wife and children and went away.
There was a horrible smell in the fridge because the chicken had gone off.
All right, I don't know. I give up.
Type 2 - object can go after the phrasal verb or between the two parts:
(If the object is very long it will probably sound better after the verb.)
I must put up those shelves this weekend.
I must put those shelves up this weekend.
He turned off the TV and went to bed.
He turned the TV off and went to bed.
If you use a pronoun, put it between the two words of the verb.
I must put them up this weekend.
(NOT I must put up them this weekend.)
He turned it off and went to bed.
(NOT He turned off it and went to bed.)
Type 3 - object (pronoun or not) must go after the verb:
My sister takes after my mother.
(NOT My sister takes my mother after.)
My sister takes after her.
(NOT My sister takes her after.)

I'm looking for my credit card. Have you seen it?
(NOT I'm looking my credit card for. Have you seen it?)
I'm looking for it. Have you seen it?
(NOT I'm looking it for. Have you seen it?)
Type 4 - like Type 3, but three words instead of two. Object goes after the verb:
I'm looking forward to the holidays.
I'm looking forward to them.

Do you get on with your neighbours?
Do you get on with them?

Get on with your work!
Get on with it!
I agree with the author: trying to memorise verb lists (by main verb [look up, look up to, look down, look down on, etc.] or according to the particle [let down, turn down, sit down, put down, etc.]) is a 3D job - difficult, dull and disheartening. It's better to learn them for different situations (eg. telephoning: put through, hold on, hang up, get through, cut off, speak up, etc.).

Even easier is to treat them as you treat any other vocabulary you learn. Don't think of them as a special subject that has to be learnt. They're only words! If you find a useful phrasal verb, learn it like you would learn the word for 'table' or 'ashtray' or anything else. But make sure you write down the structure. Even better would be to note down a couple of sentences using the verb so that you have a context to remember it in.
For practice, some web sites just don't hold with phrasals; some dish them out. Sadly, I haven't been able to get hold of any good sources yet.

There's a complete and easy-to-use Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs over at Cambridge Dictionaries. Recommended.

1 comment:

Jiri said...

I personally think that, as with any chunks in English, learners first have to be exposed to phrasal verbs on receptive level and come to understand that they have to treat them as single units. At first, it is esentially about raising their awareness of this particular feature of the language. Once this awareness is firmly established, learners need to be empowered with appropriate dictionary skills that would enable them to turn input into intake. Concordances seem to be particularly useful when it comes to highlighting the behaviour of phrasal verbs.