Settle down. Time for phrasal verbs

In my circles of friends and acquaintances, I have yet to meet anyone who learned about phrasal verbs before they got into college—and sometimes not even then, because they didn’t take the right courses.

“Settle down” is one such verb. “Down” is an adverb. We know that. But is it really working like an adverb when it’s connected in this way to “settle?” That’s the kind of question that (in my day, anyway) made the English teacher’s head explode and resulted in nothing approaching an answer.

I will suggest that you know a shitload of phrasal verbs already, but aren’t aware that’s what they are. The three forms are: verb + adverb, verb + preposition, and verb + adverb + preposition.

(Please don’t tell me you don’t know what a preposition is. I’ll head you off. The quick answer is, it’s anything you can do to or with a box. Both “to” and “with” are prepositions: words that indicate relationship. In, on, to, across, from, with, between, along, under, over, and so on. In the box. On the box. Between the boxes. Along the box. Under the box.)

I strongly suggest you get a copy of a phrasal verb dictionary. Mine is Longman’s, which I got for (I think) about $5US from Better World Books.

Why should you know what a phrasal verb is? For one thing, it will help you if you’re a writer or an editor. When you’re working out (THERE’S ONE NOW) the wording of a sentence, there are times when you won’t want to split the parts of a phrasal verb. With one like “decorate with,” you certainly can insert something between the two parts: We decorated the house with greens and lights for the holidays. With others, like the one I used in the title of this post, splitting the parts results in something very odd indeed. As with so many things in English grammar and syntax, if you are a native speaker your ear is your best guide.

Here’s a tiny list of phrasal verbs, just to show you how common they are.

  • associate with
  • bring sth to mind
  • come apart
  • draw back
  • eat through
  • fasten down
  • get home
  • hurry back
  • ice over
  • jerk off
  • keep left/right
  • lump together
  • mess around with
  • nail down
  • own up
  • pull out
  • reek of
  • set on (as in “set your sights on” and “set your teeth on edge”)
  • think on
  • upbraid for
  • wonder at
  • zero in on

If you recognize those as phrasal verbs already, fantastic! If not, don’t feel bad. You’re far from the only one without that clue, and now there’s a whole new category of verbs for you to learn!



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