Many phrasal verbs make the language more aurally pleasent for example:

"Hear me out!".The verb "hear" means "listen" but it doesnt sound well if you say "Hear me" , it sounds a bit off.

A)How to know which adverb to use for any verb in such cases?

Many other phrasal verbs assosciate the meaning of the phrasal verb word by word :

"Wake up!" Wake means to be awake.When we get off the bed (since that is where someone is when ur sleeping)we move from a laying position to a straight position so our height perceived by others is increased->up.

"Turn up the radio!"We are turning a rotary switch to change the loudness of the radio and up because we make the sound coming from the radio louder.

So we can assosciate verbs with objects and how we act on that object with the adverb.

B)So is the meaning of a phrasal verb not something which can should learnt by heart but something which has logical foundations?

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    I think it's potentially misleading to say phrasal verbs (and other idiomatic usages) make the language more aurally pleasant. The reason we find such usages "pleasant" (more accurately, the reason we find non-idiomatic alternatives unpleasant) is precisely because they're idiomatically established. Idiomatic usages sound natural because they're what we're used to hearing and using, not because they're "designed" to be "nice". But as a non-native speaker, all you can do is learn the meanings by heart - "idiomatic" means the meaning can't be "worked out". Oct 7, 2023 at 10:54
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    No - that's not a helpful way to look at it. Idiomatic usages come into existence and survive because they're useful (at conveying meaning, providing everyone agrees on that meaning), not because they "sound good". Oct 7, 2023 at 10:58
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    That's a pointless question. Obviously there will be "idiomatic" usages I'm not familiar with, so they won't sound at all good to me. Note that many phrasal verb originate as slang usages, which often implies the speakers don't want to be understood by mainstream speakers (if they're using cant, "private" language). But useful expressions often leak out from their original environment, precisely because they're useful. Oct 7, 2023 at 11:02
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    But you'll probably have to find your own "patterns". They're inherently subjective / interpretative, and in many cases if you focus of one particular "template" you may end up making some expressions clearer, but making other expressions incomprehensible. Oct 7, 2023 at 11:15
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    Cerise, Hear me out has the specific meaning 'allow me to finish what I have to say without interrupting'. Hear me sounds archaic to me - nowadays we would say Listen to me! in the sense Pay attention! Oct 7, 2023 at 11:24

2 Answers 2


'Wake up' and 'turn up' are certainly have "logical foundations". Consider what "turn the radio" would possibly mean without the adverb of direction - would it mean rotate the radio itself? And, if you understood that it idiomatically meant turn the volume knob, should you make it louder or quieter? Turn up obviously means to raise the volume.

With 'wake up' you can usually use the verb to wake in its place (eg "he woke at 9am" or "he won't wake until 9am*"), but the verb alone is transitive - ie you can wake someone else - so 'wake up' is a logical way of saying an individual woke without wondering who they woke.

There is consistency between many phrasal verbs that contain an adverb of direction. Your first example of "hear out" (which, incidentally, means more than simply 'listen' - rather, "finish listening to me", or "allow me to finish") is consistent with other phrases such as to "see [something] out" (to allow to conclude) and to "last out" (to survive something to the end). So, learning some could certainly help in understanding others. Further, phrasal verbs in 'up' and 'out' often have a perfective or intensifying sense (eat up, use up, wear out, figure out etc). 'Wake up' also means to wake completely and is sometimes said to people who may be awake but are still partially sleepy.

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    Likewise, phrasal verbs in up and out often have a perfective or intensifying sense. Eat up, use up, wear out, figure out. Compare the meanings of I tore the paper and I tore up the paper, and similarly, He has a giving heart and His heart gave out. Or The ice broke and The ice broke up. There are other such tendencies, but in general learning phrasal verbs is essentially an act of memorizing dozens, or hundreds, of arbitrary collocations. Oct 7, 2023 at 11:46
  • @PaulTanenbaum thanks Paul, that was a helpful comment, exactly what comments are meant to be for. I've added some of it it into my answer.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 7, 2023 at 11:51

While you can easily understand the origin of some phrasal verbs just by looking at them, like how it makes perfect sense that take something off would mean "remove clothing or accessories from a body", it doesn't work the other way -- there's no possible system that predicts that "take something off" would necessarily have that meaning.

So, to your questions:

A) The meaning of phrasal verbs is entirely arbitrary, and it's logically impossible to predict it.

B) Phrasal verbs can only be learned through regular exposure and use, just like every other word or phrase in the language. There is no logical system to help you to learn them.

If you know the meaning of "up" or "through", you may be able to guess at the meanings of some phrasal verbs, but never with confidence.

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    Consider that "take off" means something completely different in the contexts of clothes and rockets.
    – Barmar
    Oct 7, 2023 at 21:00
  • And if something takes off, “the TV show eventually took off" it means it was a success. You can also take off two weeks, and you can "take someone off" (mimic) I find the latter harder to figure out its meaning
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 7, 2023 at 21:24

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