According to Macmillan Dictionary*, a phrasal verb is "a combination of words that is used like a verb and consists of a verb and an adverb or preposition".
There are, however, lots and lots of phrasal verbs - much to my students' despair! They often ask me how to learn them all and are disappointed when I tell them there's no secret. Just like with irregular verbs, it's better to learn a few every day than try to memorise a whole list in one go. It's also important to learn them in context, and to know whether they are transitive or intransitive, as well as whether they are separable or inseparable. I'll explain more about this in my next post!
We use a lot of phrasal verbs in everyday use: see how many of the ones in this short story you recognise...
His alarm went off at 7am, but he was so tired that he switched it off and slept until 9am. When he finally got up, he switched on the radio to hear the news. His housemate asked him to turn it down because he was studying. Before leaving, he finished his English homework. He had to look up lots of new words in the dictionary, and wrote them all down in his vocabulary book (like a good student!) It was raining outside, so he put his coat on and started walking to the bus stop. He had to wait there for a long time as one of the buses had broken down. When he finally arrived at work, he took his coat off and sat down at his desk. He had lots of paperwork to sort out, and he was glad when it was time for lunch. It had stopped raining by then, so he ate his lunch in the park. On his way home at the end of the day, he ran into an old school friend, and he spent the evening catching up with her in the pub.
*remember you can use this, or other monolingual English dictionaries, to look up words you're unsure of!
a transitive verb = a verb that is used with a direct object
an intransitive verb = a verb with no direct objectto go off = to start making a noise
to switch sth off = to make something stop working, using a switch to get up = to get out of bed after sleeping
to switch sth on = to make something start working, using a switch
to turn sth down = to reduce the sound
to look sth up = to try to find information about sth, for example in a dictionary
to write sth down = to write something on a piece of paper
to put sth on = to start wearing something
to break down = to stop working
to take sth off = to remove a piece of clothing
to sit down = to sit
to sort sth out = to organise
to run into sb = to meet sb when you are not expecting to
to catch up with = to talk to someone you haven't seen for a long time and find out what they've been doing
NOTE: There are other meanings to many of the phrasal verbs above - see how many you can find in a dictionary!