Let's assume you're translating a sentence. You can translate everything in English but sometimes there are idioms and phrasal verbs that you can use to make your sentnce more clear and compact. e.g., for this sentence:

I want to seperate it into pieces.

You can use "break up". i.e.,

I want to break it up.

But the point is that finding such phrasal verbs is difficult. I mean you don't know if such phrasal verb exist or how to search to find such phrasal verb. You non-native, How do you know that if such phrasal verb exist? How do you find them?

For example, I use https://www.thefreedictionary.com/break to find the meaning of phrasal verbs but it appears that we cannot use it in reverse direction as I said. Do you use any specific dictionary?

  • If you're not fluent with both languages, any real translation is going to be problematic—especially as the sentences get more complicated. Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:00

3 Answers 3


This is obviously where experience and knowledge starts to really help!

One practical way that even native speakers are advised to use to get that knowledge is a decent thesaurus, and then under synonyms or antonyms there should be some useful alternatives - including phrasal verbs.

Here is thesaurus.com I have put in 'separate' already. Notice the tabs where you can look through the various meanings of 'separate'.

Finally, be aware that phrasal verbs are only the best option when they are the best option, just using them because they are phrasal verbs is not always best. It is as always with vocabulary case dependent!


You're so right that translation is far more than simply substituting words. To translate well from one language to another you need to have a reasonable idiomatic understanding of both. My favourite example of how you can't translate with a bilingual dictionary alone is that if you were asked to translate the German term "schraube and mutter" into English that way you would get "screw and mother", which means nothing at all in English. A dictionary is not enough - to convey the meaning of the original you need to know that is what Germans call a nut and bolt.

My suggestion would be to use a good online thesaurus. They don't just offer synonymous words, but phrases too.

Thesaurus.com associates "Break up" with words like dismantle, disassemble, or disperse, so if you had looked up any of these words you would have been brought to this idiomatic phrase "break up".

Interestingly, not all senses of "break up" are synonymous with "separate". This word can sometimes mean to break apart just two things, and not always break things down into many pieces. This website helps by offering various tabs with different senses of the word or phrase you searched for.

  • Google translate gives "bolt and nut". Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:48

Native speakers looking for this kind of thing use a thesaurus (wikipedia), most often one descended from Roget's 1805 work.

An online version of that gives


10 Irrelation: Adj. disrelated, disconnected, dissociated, detached, removed, separated, separate, segregate, apart, independent, independent.

15 Difference: Vb. separate, sever, severalize, segregate, divide -- distinct, distinguished, separate, widely apart.

44 Disjunction: Vb. separate, divide, part, dispart, divorce, detach, remove -- part, separate, split up, split out, break up, break it up, leave, take leave, quit, go away, go separate ways, part company -- separate, distinct, discrete.

A non-native speaker might also want a dictionary of phrasal verbs -- many are available -- to understand the sense of the phrases. Native speakers reading such dictionaries are always surprised at how many meanings there are, and that usually we know every single one.

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