30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are formed by linking one verb to another word (typically a preposition or an adverb). The result is a new expression that has a different meaning from the original verb.

They are very frequently used in English in both speaking and writing. According to the “Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English,” phrasal verbs occur:

  • 1900 times per million words in fiction
  • 1800 times per million words in conversation
  • 1400 times per million words in newspapers
  • 800 times per million words in academic writing

You will be doing academic writing for the TOEFL, so you can expect to see and use plenty of these handy verbs.

You may have heard that phrasal verbs are more informal, but this is not true for all of them. Not all phrasal verbs are created equal. Actually, like all words or expressions, they can be informalformal or neutral.

Informal phrasal verbs are mainly used with people we know very well like close friends. Formal phrasal verbs can be used in situations that are more official, academic or professional. Neutral phrasal verbs can be used safely in almost all contexts.

How Phrasal Verbs Can Help You on the TOEFL Exam

Because phrasal verbs are used quite frequently in conversational English, understanding them will help you a lot on the listening and speaking sections of the TOEFL exam in which you listen to people talking to each other.

Most conversations on the TOEFL exam in both speaking and listening sections are between students discussing campus related topics. These conversations are generally neutral towards informal, so you may hear quite a few phrasal verbs.

You may want to use neutral to formal phrasal verbs in writing in both the independent and the integrated task and probably in speaking as well. You should avoid very informal ones as the general tone of the TOEFL exam is academic. That is why the phrasal verbs in the list we have here are suitable for both neutral and formal English.

A Few Rules for Using Phrasal Verbs Correctly

When you decide to use phrasal verbs in speaking or in writing, make sure you use them correctly.

Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable, depending on whether you can use other words between the verb and the particle. With separable phrasal verbs you can use other words between the verb and the particle, while with inseparable phrasal verbs you cannot insert other words between them.


Look the word up! (look up is a separable phrasal verb)

You should look into the matter. (look into is an inseparable phrasal verb)

Phrasal verbs can also be transitive or intransitive, depending on whether you can use an object with them. Transitive verbs take an object, while intransitive verbs cannot.


I made that story up. (story is the object of the phrasal verb made up)

My car broke down. (broke down is intransitive, it cannot take an object)

In the case of transitive verbs with really long objects, we can move the object between the verb and the particle if we replace the object with a shorter word. This is called shifting.


She made up a very funny story. (a very funny story is a long object)

She made a very funny story up. (correct, but the object is too long to comfortably place it between the verb and the particle)

She made it up. (we replace the object, a very funny story, with it and we can move it between the verb and the particle)

Now that you know these important rules, you can start learning some phrasal verbs!

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

The following list contains 30 phrasal verbs that can be used as either neutral or formal words, so you can confidently use them in academic contexts like the TOEFL exam.

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam
30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

1. Account for

Meaning: To explain the reason for

Type: Inseparable

Example: Increased pollution may account for climate change.

2. Adhere to

Meaning: Obey

Type: Inseparable

Example: You must adhere to the terms of the contract.

3. Allude to

Meaning: Mention in an indirect way

Type: Inseparable

Example: She kept alluding to our agreement, but she didn’t want to reveal it.

4. Bring on

Meaning: To cause something bad to happen, especially illness

Type: Separable

Example: His heart condition was brought on by his diet.

5. Bring up

Meaning: To start discussing a subject

Type: Separable

Example: She brought the matter up very late so they didn’t have time to discuss it properly.

6. Come about

Meaning: To happen, especially by chance

Type: Inseparable

Example: Increased unemployment has come about through automated production.

7. Cut back

Meaning: To reduce

Type: Inseparable

Example: They are cutting back expenses.

8. Do without

Meaning: To succeed in living or working without

Type: Inseparable

Example: We can do without help from you.

9. Embark on

Meaning: To start a new project or activity, usually one that will be difficult or take time

Type: Inseparable

Example: After graduating from university, she embarked on a career in banking.

10. Follow through

Meaning: To continue doing something until it has been completed

Type: Inseparable

Example: You will need to follow through with some reading if you want to master the subject.

11. Frown upon

Meaning: To not approve of something

Type: Inseparable

Example: Failure to attend classes is frowned upon.

12. Get across

Meaning: To make people understand something

Type: Separable

Example: The teacher managed to get across how important it was to attend lectures. 

13. Get around

Meaning: To be heard by a lot of people

Type: Inseparable

Example: News of his promotion got around very fast.

14. Get at

Meaning: To try to suggest something without saying it directly

Type: Inseparable

Example: What are you getting at? Was my presentation too long?

15. Get back

Meaning: To start doing something again after not doing it for a period of time.

Type: Inseparable.

Example: Let’s get back to discussing how this happened.

16. Look forward to

Meaning: To feel happy about something that is going to happen

Type: Inseparable

Example: I’m looking forward to meeting you later.

17. Look into

Meaning: To try to discover facts about something

Type: Inseparable

Example: After several customers complained about late deliveries, they decided to look into the matter.

18. Make of

Meaning: To understand someone or something in a certain way

Type: Inseparable

Example: What do you make of the teacher’s decision to shorten this course?

19. Map out

Meaning: To plan in detail how something will happen

Type: Separable

Example: Her career was mapped out for her when she decided to take that job.

20. Meet up

Meaning: To come together with someone

Type: Inseparable

Example: Let’s meet up and discuss how we are going to go about this project.

21. Narrow down

Meaning: To reduce the number of possibilities

Type: Separable

Example: The detectives narrowed down the list of suspects to just two.

22. Put forward

Meaning: To suggest an idea, opinion so that it can be discussed

Type: Separable

Example: The proposals were put forward last week, but the committee didn’t have time to discuss them.

23. Put off

Meaning: To delay doing something especially when you don’t want to do it

Type: Separable

Example: Are you putting off writing that essay because you can’t concentrate right now?

24. Resort to

Meaning: To do something unpleasant in order to solve a problem

Type: Inseparable

Example: We must resort to legal action of they don’t offer compensation.

25. Rule out

Meaning: To stop considering something as a possibility

Type: Separable

Example: The CEO said that yearly bonuses can be ruled out in light of the financial crisis.

26. Run by

Meaning: To tell someone your ideas so they can give you their opinion

Type: Separable

Example: I have a few ideas for tomorrow’s meeting. Can I run them byyou?

27. Talk out of

Meaning: To persuade someone not to do something

Type: Separable

Example: Her parents talked her out of living in a rented flat.

28. Think over

Meaning: To consider a problem carefully

Type: Separable

Example: You should think it over before handing in your resignation.

29. Turn out

Meaning: To develop in a particular way

Type: Inseparable

Example: The presentation turned out well, considering how little you prepared for it.

30. Verge on

Meaning: To almost be in a particular state

Type: Inseparable

Example: His speech was so good, it was verging on genius.


Understanding and using phrasal verbs are great ways of making your English sound more natural and native-like.

Once you start using them on the TOEFL exam as well, you’ll start feeling more confident about your language level!