Phrasal Verbs: The Verbal Richness of The English Language

The verbal richness of the English language is very particular with the variety of phrasal verbs. With the addition of a preposition or an adverb, the meaning of a verb can change dramatically. This brings to the English language a wealth of vocabulary that can make the job of translators and English language teachers a little harder.

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

A phrasal verb is a verb that when combined with other words (a preposition or an adverb), takes on a different or more enriched meaning.

Many phrasal verbs are widely used such as give up, look after, take down, break down, tear up.

Why Are Phrasal Verbs Difficult?

For non-native English speakers, phrasal verbs can pose a particular set of difficulties. Being so widely used, we are constantly bombarded with phrasal verbs but various challenges arise.

Distinguishing Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs need the two words to work together to make the different meaning but in sentences, verbs are often followed by propositions or adverbs. For example, you can say “Anne is coming with Frank”. Here come with is not a phrasal verb. However, if you say, “Developing new skills, comes with the job” come+with is a phrasal verb.

The Same Phrasal Verb Can Have Different Meanings

The phrasal verb come+with can have two different meanings. One can be to involve, or to be the result of something and the other can be to happen or exist at the same time as something else.

Similar Phrasal Verbs Can Have Similar Meanings

Give Up and Give In are a good example. Both rooted in the verb to give, give in means accepting you cannot win and give up means stop doing something you are trying hard to do. This can be extremely hard for non-natives to understand since the meanings are so close and the root verb is the same. In translating, where getting the correct meaning can make all the difference, this can be a real obstacle.

Tone and Nuance Can Be Affected When Translating Phrasal Verbs

It can be difficult to translate phrasal vers because they can confer a specific meaning to a verb. This won’t be possible to convey in most languages because they don’t contain the verbal richness of the English language. Moreover, phrasal verbs are considered informal English. A piece of text in English without phrasal verbs will read like a technical manual, such is its wide use.

For example, to fall apart means to desintegrate but if you translate fall apart as desintegrate, it will gain a much more serious tone. Therefore, it’s important translators choose well how to translate phrasal verbs.

How Translators and Non-Natives Can Get Better At Phrasal Verbs

Translators and non-natives need to familiarise themselves with phrasal verbs. They can do this by immersing themselves in the language as much as possible and by acquiring a dictionary of phrasal verbs. Although most dictionaries go into detail with phrasal verbs, a specific dictionary will provide you with good support. The more you enrich your vocabulary, the better equipped you will be to deal with phrasal verbs.