Transitive vs. intransitive phrasal verbs

What do transitive and intransitive mean?

Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive:

transitive phrasal verbs have a direct object*;
intransitive phrasal verbs do not have a direct object.

*An object is a word or part of a sentence that is affected by the action of a verb.

Examples of transitive phrasal verbs with their objects:

  • give up (finish, stop a habit): 
    He gave up smoking two years ago.
    (give up = phrasal verb, object = ‘smoking’)
  • put off (postpone, move to a later time): 
    We’ve put off the meeting for a week.
    (put off = phrasal verb, object = ‘the meeting’)
  • set up (organise, configure): 
    I’ve set up a filter in my email inbox.
    (set up = phrasal verb, object = ‘my email’)

Both transitive AND intransitive

Some phrasal verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, as we can see here with the verb look up:

  • look up (‘get better, improve’) = intransitive:
    After a horrible year last year things are starting to look up.

The verb look up with the above meaning is intransitive, so it has no object.

When look up means ‘look for a word’ it is transitive – words is its object:

  • look up (‘look in the dictionary for a word’) = transitive:
    I often look up words in the dictionary.

For more examples, see our article Understanding transitive and intransitive verbs.


  1. Juan Pimentel - July 25, 2017, 4:20 am Reply

    I read in an old book that “intrasitive” two-word verbs were those which are inseparable (“get up”, “getting into”) whereas “transitive two-word verbs were those which are separable (“turn on”, for example: He turn the light on.

  2. Juan Pimentel - July 25, 2017, 4:21 am Reply

    Sorry: He turned the light on

    • Anonymous - February 14, 2018, 1:16 pm Reply

      Hi Juan. When the preposition cannot be separated, it is an “prepositional verb”. The particle can’t move.

  3. sachith bandara - December 28, 2017, 12:58 pm Reply

    this is a good example and a good guide for both students and teachers thanks all

  4. Anonymous - February 20, 2018, 2:40 am Reply

    I don’t think “Give up” is a transtive phrasal verb .-.

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