Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

An Introduction to Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs, an essential part of the English language, add depth and colors to our communication. A category of these phrasal verbs is the 'Three-Word Phrasal Verbs', which, as the name suggests, comprises three words: a verb, a particle, and a preposition. This tutorial aims to demystify these intriguing phrases and assist learners in understanding when and how to use them perfectly.

Definition of a Three-Word Phrasal Verb

A three-word phrasal verb is a verb combined with an adverb (also known as a particle) and a preposition. This combination essentially creates a new verb with a completely unique meaning. The whole phrase acts as a single verb and can't generally be understood by looking at the individual words alone.

For example, "look up to" is a three-word phrasal verb with the word "look" being the main verb, "up" as the particle, and "to" as the preposition. If we consider the literal meanings of these individual words, we might guess it has something to do with physically looking upwards. However, the phrase actually means to admire or respect someone.

Understanding The Structure

The structure of the three-word phrasal verb can often be confusing for learners. Here’s a simple breakdown of the structure:

  1. The Verb: The first word in the three-word phrasal verb is always a verb.
  2. The Particle: The particle, which can seem to be an adverb or a preposition, follows the verb and changes the verb’s meaning.
  3. The Preposition: Following the particle is the preposition, which helps link the verb and the object.

Types of Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

Three-word phrasal verbs can be categorized based on the particle and how they interact with the object of the sentence. These include inseparable, separable, and free combination three-word phrasal verbs.

Inseparable Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

Inseparable phrasal verbs, as the term suggests, cannot be separated by the object. The verb, particle, and proposition must stay together in the correct order.

Example: She always gets along with her colleagues.

Separable Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

These types allow the object to be placed in the middle or at the end of the phrase.

Example: He took up running for health reasons – or, alternatively – He took running up for health reasons.

Free Combination Three-Word Phrasal Verbs

These are the most flexible, allowing the object to be placed anywhere in the sentence.

Example: They put up with the noise. – or, alternatively – They put the noise up with.

Common Three-Word Phrasal Verbs with Examples

Now that we have understood the structure and types, let’s delve into some frequently used three-word phrasal verbs with examples for a better understanding.

  • Look forward to: to anticipate something with pleasure.

    Example: I look forward to seeing you at the party.

  • Put up with: to tolerate or accept.

    Example: She can't put up with rude behavior.

  • Catch up with: to reach the level of others who were more advanced.

    Example: I need to catch up with my studies.

  • Get away with: to do something wrong without being detected or punished.

    Example: He got away with cheating on the test.

  • Run out of: to have no more remaining.

    Example: We ran out of gas on our road trip.


Three-word phrasal verbs can be challenging for English learners, but understanding their structure and usage is essential for efficient communication. The key to mastering them is practice and exposure. Try incorporating these phrases into your daily conversation and take note of the context in which they are used in your reading materials. With time and effort, you'll familiarize yourself with their nuances and become more confident using them.

Leave a Reply