Prepositional Verb and Phrasal Verb – Difference

A prepositional verb is a combination of a verb and a prepositione.g., laugh at, look at, listen to, agree with, apologize for, worry about, search for, etc.

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a preposition or an adverb or both. e.g., bring up, give up, pass away, look after, look down on, etc.

There are three main differences in prepositional verb and phrasal verb, as follows:

  Difference 1. Meaning of the original verb

A phrasal verb has a meaning that is different from the original meaning of the verb.

Read the following examples with the meaning for each phrasal verb given in front of the sentence.

  • The patient passed away.                     (pass away: to die).
  • He was brought up by his aunt.            (bring up: to raise a child).
  • He is trying to give up smoking.            (give up: to quit).
  • She turned down his proposal.             (turn down: to reject).
  • Our car broke down on the highway.    (break down: stop functioning).
  • She is looking after her children.          (look after: to take care of).

On the other hand, a prepositional verb has a meaning which is similar to the meaning of its original verb. See the following examples.

  • They were laughing at the joker.
  • She is listening to music.
  • The students were looking at the whiteboard.
  • They complained about the problem.
  • He apologized for his mistake.
  • She was worried about her exam.
  • He was blamed for stealing money.

  Difference 2. Separable and Non-separable Nature

Most phrasal verbs are separable. Its verb and preposition can be separated to be used at different places within a sentence. They can be used in a joined-form as well as in a separated-form.
  • The people requested to cut down the prices.
  • The people requested to cut the prices down.
  • She turned down his proposal.
  • She turned his proposal down.

On the other hand, most prepositional verbs are non-separable. Its verb and preposition cannot be separated to be used at different places within a sentence. They generally remain together.

  • The kids are laughing at joker.
  • She is listening to music.
  • He was waiting for his friend.
  • She is suffering from a high fever.
  • She belongs to a rich family.

  Difference 3. Place and Requirement of an object for the verb

All prepositional verbs require an object in the sentence. Without an object, the sentence having a prepositional phrase cannot express a complete meaning. The object generally comes right after the preposition of a prepositional verb in a sentence.

  • Someone was knocking at the door.
  • He is waiting for a bus.
  • I was looking at the car.
  • He was searching for a job.
  • The dog is barking at a stranger.
  • I agree with you.
  • Everyone must comply with the laws of the country.

On the other hand, some phrasal verbs do not require an object, and some of them require an object to express a complete meaning. See the following examples of phrasal verbs which do not require an object.

  • The patient passed away. (no object).
  • When do you get up?       (no object).
  • The thief ran away.            (no object).
  • The kid is growing up.      (no object).

Some phrasal verbs require an object in a sentence. For them, the place of the object can be changed in the sentence. See the following examples where the red words are phrasal verb and blue word is the object.

  • He is trying to cut down his expenses.
  • He is trying to cut his expenses down.
  • She turned down his request.
  • She turned his request down.
  • He switched on the fan.
  • He switched the fan on.

A phrasal verb, that requires an object, is called a transitive phrasal verb. A phrasal verb, that does not require an object, is called an intransitive phrasal verb. Since all prepositional verbs require an object, all of them are transitive.


Common Examples of Prepositional and Phrasal Verbs

Examples of frequently used prepositional verbs: listen to, look at, suffer from, apologize for, worry about, wait for, complain about, compare with, provide with, believe in, remind of, consist of, belong to, beg for, approve of, charge with, comply with, contribute to, insist on, hope for, prepare for, punish for, respond to, search for, etc.

Some examples of commonly used phrasal verbs (along with their meanings) are as follows:

  • Bring up (to raise a child).
  • Look after (to take care of).
  • Break down (stop functioning).
  • Break into (to enter some place forcibly).
  • Put off (to postpone).
  • Put out (to extinguish fire).
  • Put on (to wear something)
  • Pass away (to die).
  • Pass out (to faint).
  • Pay for (be punished for something).
  • Run away (to escape or leave a place).
  • Run out (to be short of something).
  • Show off (to behave in a boastful manner).
  • Take off (begin to fly).
  • Turn down (to reject or refuse).
  • Get up (to get out of bed or wake up from sleep).
  • Look down on (to think you are better than someone).