Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Introduction to Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Intransitive phrasal verbs are unique constructions that are integral to English sentence structure. Comprised of a verb and a preposition or adverb, these unique collocations do not require the use of a direct object to convey a complete thought.

Understanding Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Before diving deeper, one should understand the basic definition of a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb is a combination of words (a verb + a preposition or verb +adverb), which, when used together, usually take on a different meaning to that of the original verb. An intransitive phrasal verb, however, does not take a direct object. This means that the verb is not done to something or someone. In other words, you cannot directly affect an object by applying an intransitive phrasal verb.

For example, let's consider the phrasal verb 'wake up.' If you say "I wake up at 6 a.m.," it makes perfect sense without needing to mention what or who is being woken up. Conversely, the transitive version, “I wake my sister up at 6 a.m.," directs the action to a specific object, 'my sister'. In the first sentence, 'wake up' is an intransitive phrasal verb and in the second, it is transitive.

Recognizing Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Recognizing intransitive phrasal verbs can be tricky, but generally, if a phrasal verb doesn’t have a direct object—a noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb—it’s intransitive. Here are a few more examples:

  • She grew up in Canada. (The verb 'grew up' does not affect an object.)
  • We went out for dinner last night. ('Went out' doesn't need a direct object to make sense.)
  • I usually wake up early. (The phrasal verb 'wake up' does not involve an object.)
  • She broke down when she heard the news. ('Broke down' doesn't require a direct object.)

Common Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Understanding and identifying intransitive phrasal verbs becomes easier when you become familiar with them through regular use. Here's a list of some commonly-used intransitive phrasal verbs along with their meanings:

  • Get up – Rise from bed
  • Go on – Continue
  • Set off – Begin a journey
  • Show up – Arrive
  • Pass out – Faint or lose consciousness
  • Log on – Start using a computer or internet service

How to Use Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Just like any other part of grammar, one must follow some rules while using intransitive phrasal verbs. Here are some guidelines you can follow:

  • Remember, you cannot separate intransitive phrasal verbs with additional words or objects, since they do not take a direct object. For example, you cannot say, "I woke the alarm up." It should be "I woke up to the alarm."
  • Intransitive phrasal verbs can follow pronouns or nouns, but they don't directly affect them. So while "I ran the race out," is incorrect, "I ran out after the race," is grammatically acceptable.
  • Intransitive phrasal verbs can’t be the cause of an action on something else. If your sentence has a word that’s directly affected by the verb, then it’s not an intransitive phrasal verb.

Distinguishing Between Transitive and Intransitive

In some cases, you might notice that the same phrasal verb could be both transitive and intransitive. The difference lies in how it's used in the sentence. For example, 'turn up' can mean to increase the volume (which is transitive) or to arrive (which is intransitive). Therefore, it's also essential to consider the context.


Knowing how to identify and correctly use intransitive phrasal verbs is an important skill in mastering English grammar. Practice pairing verbs with appropriate prepositions or adverbs to create easily understandable and fluent sentences. Remember, context is key, and don’t be disheartened if you find them tricky initially – with regular practice, it becomes intuitive.

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