If you're learning English, phrasal verbs can be extremely confusing and challenging. So, what are they? Put simply, a phrasal verb is when a short word (like "at" or "up") comes after a verb and changes its meaning.

Probably it will make more sense to you if you see one in context.

What's the difference between these sentences?

  • Don't look at the sun.

  • Please look after my children this weekend.

"Look at" means literally look. In other words, your eyes are looking towards the sun.

The sun shining in the sky. Photo by Rajiv Bajaj on Unsplash

"Look after", though, means to make sure the children have food, water, are safe, etc. It doesn't mean "look"!

Children being looked after in a school cafeteria. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Learn how to use the word "look" in creative and useful ways!

Look Up

Many phrasal verbs mean the same thing as a single-word verb.

"Look up" is like this. There's one word that you might already know that means the same thing as "look up." Can you guess it from these sentences?

  • Before I can start writing this essay, I need to look up some facts about Napoleon.

  • Wikipedia is a great tool for looking things up without needing to go to a library.

  • I used to think that Tom Cruise was in that movie, but I looked it up and he wasn't.

A library. A great place to look things up. Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

That's right! Research is one word that means the same thing as look up.

If you don't know the meaning of a phrasal verb, try to think if there's a single word you do know that means the same thing.


Which of these sentences makes sense?

Look Up To

Just like "look" and "look up" don't mean the same thing, "look up" and "look up to" don't mean the same thing either.

What is one word that means the same thing as "look up to"?

  • I've always looked up to Martin Luther King Jr. because of his civil rights work.

  • Many people look up to Mother Teresa because she helped the poor.

  • If you're a soccer player, you probably look up to Lionel Messi.

A sports museum room with a large image of Lionel Messi on the wall. Several trophies are in glass displays. Photo by Tim Bernhard on Unsplash

Admire and respect are single words that mean the same thing as look up to.


Which of these sentences makes sense?

Other Phrasal Verbs with "Look"

There are dozens of phrasal verbs with "look" in English. It's impossible to learn all of them right away, but try to start recognizing what they look like.

Use this list of phrasal verbs and try to understand the following conversation:

  • Matt: Hey Jane, would you mind looking after my kids this Saturday evening? My partner and I will be going to a concert.

  • Jim: Oh, I'd love to. I'm surprised you wouldn't ask your sister, though. She's great with kids.

  • Matt: Well, my sister always looks down on me when I ask that kind of thing. She never needs help with her kids.

  • Jim: I understand. Thanks for asking me! I love your kids. I'm looking forward to this Saturday.

Happy children Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash


Why didn't Matt ask his sister for help?

Take Action

To really learn these phrasal verbs, you need to start using them in context. Start now!

You can start looking forward to being able to communicate clearly and easily with these phrasal verbs.

People communicating clearly and easily at a cafe. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash


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