What about phrasal verbs like sit down or go up as when you say, "the man goes up the mountain" or the imperative "Sit down", I wouldn't consider this phrasals as metaphors neither I would say you have to use the figurative sense in order to interpret their meaning.

I do understand that some of their meanings might be completely idiomatic but what about this more easy-to-understand meanings?

Should they be left out from the definition? by the way, are phrasal verbs always informal?

  • "Some actors go up in their lines" uses a phrasal. "The man goes up the mountain" does not. Test: does the verb do something different with "goes down the mountain"? No, they both mean proceed or travel. Sep 14 at 19:27
  • The man//goes//up the mountain, a prepositional phrase. Your second paragraph is hard to understand. [Should they be left out, not shall they etc.] No, phrasal verbs are not always informal. Where did you get that idea?
    – Lambie
    Sep 14 at 19:45
  • Define "phrasal vberb". Or if that's too difficult, here's the one Google just gave me... phrasal verb - an idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element, typically either an adverb, as in break down, or a preposition, for example see to, or a combination of both, such as look down on. Sep 14 at 23:22
  • ...and I think by definition, an "idiomatic phrase" is any combination of verb plus some other element which has a widely-recognized meaning that can't be deduced simply by considering the meanings of the separate components. Sep 14 at 23:27
  • So by my lights, sit down is a verb followed by an optional preposition (Is the word "down" ever necessary? Does it add to or change the meaning at all?). Whereas idiomatic look down on (to be contemptuous of) or Pipe down! (instruction to be quiet) can't be understood by "deconstruction", so they are idiomatic phrasal verbs. Not everyone uses the same classifications, though, obviously. Sep 15 at 0:08

1 Answer 1


What is the definition of "phrasal verb"? From wiktionary:

(linguistics) A two-word verb, consisting of a verb and a "small" adverb or particle, that has an idiomatic meaning not easily predictable from the individual parts. In 'The police told the driver to pull over', 'pull over' is a phrasal verb.

  • Must phrasal verbs be idiomatic?

By definition (according to that definition), they are "idiomatic".

  • Must phrasal verbs be so idiomatic, that the meaning can't be directly deciphered word-for-word, and you have to specially learn them?

Here is a list of 100 phrasal verbs: https://thefluentlife.com/content/100-most-common-phrasal-verbs-list-meaning/ . A few of them are not too difficult. "run into" "pick up" "pick out" "move out" , and more.

It seems the nature of phrasal verbs is that they jointly (the verb and the particle together) form a unit of meaning which is on par with a "word".

give up -> aufgeben (German for give up). "aufgeben" is one word. It has a meaning that's not necessarily what you guess from "auf" + "geben".

Consider the situation of a standard word.

"communication" -> "co(m)" means "with". "muni" goes back to proto-indo-european *mey- (“to exchange, swap”). So "communication" means to "exchange with others". But you couldn't necessarily guess the meaning of the whole word from the individual parts. You have to learn it. Likewise, you have to learn the meaning of "aufgeben", it can't be deduced. And also with "give up".

Should they be left out from the definition?

The criterion is not whether they are easy to understand, but rather if they function grammatically as phrasal verbs. If the meaning is literally identical to the meanings of the constituent parts though, perhaps it's something else. "the man goes up the mountain" -> a verb + a prepositional phrase. Not a phrasal verb.

are phrasal verbs always informal?

English is a hybrid of Proto-German, French, and Latin. The French and Latin versions of words and phrases are often seen as more sophisticated. The German versions of words and phrases are more common, basic, and informal. From this perspective, phrasal verbs are conversational and informal.

  • English is not a hybrid of German and French. English's origin is Latin and Proto German and there are words derived from French, most of which are Latin.
    – Lambie
    Sep 15 at 13:40
  • @Lambie , sure it was an over-simplification. "English is a West Germanic language", "English is of Germanic origin" (from wikipedia). Then, invaded in 1066 by the Normans.
    – Sam
    Sep 15 at 13:56

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