How to Pronounce Phrasal Verbs in English with Stress and Linking

I can’t believe I’m going to talk about phrasal verbs!

While I’m not going to teach you the 10 most common phrasal verbs in English, or anything like that, I am going to explain how to pronounce phrasal verbs like a native English speaker.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about the stress patterns that you need to get right in order to be understood when using phrasal verbs.

We’re also going to discuss how to link them together so that they flow and don’t sound choppy.


What is a phrasal verb?

First things first, what is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a combination of words (in other words, a phrase) containing a verb and a particle, which is a little short word that looks like a preposition.

Phrasal verbs are usually two or sometimes three words long.

Phrasal verbs you may be familiar with include wake up, get up, turn on, put away, look up to, do over, give back, turn down, run into, just to name a few.

Phrasal verbs are incredibly common in American English, and using them correctly can help you sound more like a native English speaker.

In fact, we often prefer phrasal verbs over their longer synonyms that have Latin roots.

Although they’re called phrasal verbs, most of them can function as both a noun and a verb, and sometimes even as an adjective.


How to Pronounce Phrasal Verbs: Stress and Linking

It’s important that you understand the difference because the stress on the phrasal verb will vary depending on the part of speech.

If you want to use phrasal verbs correctly and be understood when you’ve made the effort to use a phrasal verb, you want to make sure that you’re stressing the right word.

When the phrasal verb is describing an action, the stress will be on the particle, or the second word.

This means that the particle will be longer, louder and higher in pitch.

This stress pattern is how we distinguish that the phrasal verb is being used as a verb. The particle will be the most obvious word.

The stress on the particle helps you understand that it’s a phrasal verb, because prepositions aren’t usually stressed.

On the other hand, when the phrasal verb is in noun or adjective form, the stress will be on the first word.

That’s how we indicate which part of speech we’re using.

To pronounce phrasal verbs like a native English speaker, you need to make sure you’re correctly stressing the right word based on the part of speech you’re using.

To sound even more like a native speaker, you want to link the phrasal verbs together.

Before we go into more depth about linking, let’s look at some examples so that you can hear exactly what’s going on with stress and linking in these phrasal verbs.

We’ll talk about how linking works at the end of this article.

If you find linking a little bit challenging, don’t worry. The stress is much more important than linking the words together.

You can work on linking later on in your accent reduction journey. So let’s take a look at the examples!


Turn Off

Let’s get started with “turn off”: Turn off the light before you leave.

As you can hear in this example in the video, I’m stressing the particle: turn OFF.

Turn OFF the LIGHT before you LEAVE.

By stressing “off,” I’m making it clear that the phrasal verb is being used to describe an action.

Now let’s turn it into a noun: His behavior is such a turn off.

As you can hear, I’m stressing “turn” because it’s being used as a noun: TURNoff.

His beHAvior is SUCH a TURNoff.

You can really hear the difference between “turn OFF” and “TURN off.”

And in order to sound natural throughout the sentence, you want to make sure you’re stressing the right part of the phrasal verb, depending on the context.


Take Out

Let’s look at another example: take out. I went to the library to take out some books.

As you can hear, I’m stressing “out”: take OUT.

I WENT to the LIbrary to take OUT some BOOKS.

This indicates that I’m using the phrasal verb to describe an action.

Now let’s turn it into a noun form: Let’s get takeout for dinner tonight.

Can you hear the difference between the verb and noun forms?

In verb form, it’s “take OUT”; in noun form, it’s “TAKE out.”

Let’s GET TAKEout for DINner toNIGHT.


Hang Out

Here’s another example: hang out. Let’s hang out this weekend.

As you can hear, I’m stressing “out”: hang OUT.

Let’s hang OUT this WEEKend.

Stressing “out” makes it really clear that I’m suggesting an action.

Let’s turn it around and make it a noun form: In college, that was our favorite hangout.

As you can hear, in noun form, I’m stressing the verb: HANGout.

In COLlege, THAT was our FAVorite HANGout.

It’s important to understand that when phrasal verbs appear in noun form, they’re compound nouns.

Compound nouns are either combined into one word or they’re separated by a dash.

When you’re reading a text out loud, that makes it easy to understand which word is a verb and which word is a noun.


Log In

Here’s another example: log in. You need to log in to your account.

As you can hear, I’m stressing the particle “in” and that is indicating that this is an action verb: log IN.

You NEED to log IN to your acCOUNT.

Let’s turn it around: I forgot my login for this website.

When we’re using the phrasal verb in noun form, you can hear I’m stressing “log.”

I forGOT my LOGin for this WEBsite.

As you can hear in this example, it’s very clear from the context, or the words that appear around the phrasal verb, whether it’s a verb form or a noun form.


Work Out

Next, we have “work out”: Are you going to work out after work?

As you can hear, I’m stressing the word “out” and that’s making it clear that this is an action verb.

Are you GOing to work OUT after WORK?

I think this phrasal verb is even more common in noun form: workout. We often describe our workouts. For example: I really enjoyed my workout today.

As you can hear, stressing the first word makes it really clear that this is in noun form.

I REALly enJOYED my WORKout toDAY.

As you can hear from this example, the context makes it really clear which part of speech we’re using. We don’t usually use a verb after “my.”


Break Up

Next, let’s talk about “break up” or “breakup.” Once again, this one is equally common in both versions.

I heard they broke up last month.

As you can hear, I’m conjugating that word “break” into the past tense version “broke,” but I’m still stressing the particle “up.”

I HEARD they broke UP LAST MONTH.

Naturally, you can use phrasal verbs in all different tenses, and this example shows you that the particle will still be stressed.

It doesn’t matter what tense the verb is in!

It may seem a little easier to identify phrasal verbs in past tense forms because you can clearly hear that the particle is stressed and it sounds different from the noun version.

Here’s an example of “breakup” being used as a noun: He’s been sad since his breakup last year.

In this example, “break” is being stressed.

He’s been SAD since his BREAKup LAST YEAR.

Can you hear the difference when it’s being used as a verb or a noun?


Check In

Moving on, let’s look at “check in”: Remember to check in online.

As you can hear, I’m stressing “in” because it’s being used as a verb.

ReMEMber to check IN onLINE.

Now let’s turn it into an adjective: Let’s ask at the check-in counter.

As you can hear, in this example, we’re stressing “check.”

Let’s ASK at the CHECK-in COUNTer.

This distinguishes the part of speech and makes it really clear which word we’re using.


Set Up

Let’s take a look at “set up”: We have to set up the equipment.

As you can hear in the verb version of this phrasal verb, I am stressing “up.”

We HAVE to set UP the eQUIPment.

It makes it really clear that this is an action.

On the other hand, the noun version will sound like this: I like this setup; it’s really cool.

As you can hear, in this case, we’re stressing “set.”

I LIKE this SETup; it’s REALly COOL.


Take Off

Here’s another one: take off. We’re waiting for the plane to take off.

As you can hear, we’re stressing the word “off,” the particle.

We’re WAITing for the PLANE to take OFF.

You probably are familiar with this in noun version as well: Prepare for takeoff and turn off your phones.

Can you hear that bonus example inside that sentence? In this case, I’m using “takeoff” in noun form, and “turn off” in verb form.

PrePARE for TAKEoff, and turn OFF your PHONES.

Correctly stressing these phrasal verbs makes it extra clear which word I’m using and what it’s supposed to mean.


Move In

Last, let’s look at the phrasal verb “move in.” My new roommate is going to move in this weekend.

As you can hear, I’m stressing “in.”

My NEW ROOMmate is GOing to move IN this WEEKend.

Let’s turn it into an adjective: When’s your move-in date for your new apartment?

As you can hear, changing the stress to “move” makes it an adjective form.

WHEN’S your MOVE-in DATE for your NEW aPARTment?


Stress and Linking When Pronouncing Phrasal Verbs

Now that we’ve had a chance to look at all these examples, I want you to think about what you heard going on between the two words.

Consider this an introduction to linking and connected speech.

I often emphasize that it’s much more important to focus on stress before you worry about linking and connected speech.

Linking happens as a result of stress, and if you can get stress correct, linking will start to happen naturally as you continue along your accent reduction journey.

If linking seems a little too challenging at first, focus on the stress.

The stress will help make it easy to understand you, whereas the linking will simply help you sound more like a native speaker by reducing the choppiness in your speech.

But it’s something that will come naturally over time the more you speak English.

Focusing on stress is absolutely essential to being understood by native English speakers. So I encourage you to focus most of your attention there.


How to Link Phrasal Verbs Together with Connected Speech

As you heard in many of the examples, when we link words together, the last consonant sound will link or join or blend with the vowel sound that follows it.

Instead of pronouncing the phrasal verb “turn on” with a separation between the two words, we connect the two words, and it becomes “turnon.”

In verb form, turn on will sound like “turNON.”

The “n” will join to the vowel sound that follows it, and that syllable will become really clear and easy to hear because of the stress: turNON.

You can hear that “turn” becomes reduced and a little more shortened, because it’s not the stressed syllable of this phrasal verb.

On the other hand, “non” becomes really clear because the vowel sound should be the clearest and easiest to understand.

Because of linking, the “n” sound is going to be more dominant than the “tur” part of that phrasal verb: turNON.

Can you hear how those words blend together in order to sound like just one word?


Practicing Linking with Phrasal Verbs

As you get started practicing linking, it’s helpful to start with phrasal verbs because they’re so common in speech.

You can hear this linking in the examples I gave earlier. For example, “turn off” sounds like “turNOFF.”

In addition, you may notice a characteristic of American English happening as we link these words together.

In an example like “get up,” which has the “t” sound, the “t” sound will link to the following syllable.

Because it’s now between two vowel sounds, it will turn into a flap “t,” the sound you hear in the word “water.”

Instead of sounding like “get up,” it sounds like “geDUP,” like the “d” sound.

Here’s a similar example: “set up” sounds like “seDUP.”

You can also hear this in noun form: “setup” sounds like “SEDup.”

(For more explanation of how we pronounce the American flap “t,” check out the second tip in this video on how to sound more American.)

Even when we shift the stress, the linking still happens.

Here’s another example of linking: “move in” sounds like “moVIN.”

Be sure to link the words together; you don’t want to pause between them.

They should sound like one blended word. You can still hear the linking, no matter what part of speech it is.


Let’s Review How to Pronounce Phrasal Verbs

So let’s review what we talked about today.

  • We talked about how to stress phrasal verbs that are being used to describe actions by emphasizing the second word: give UP, turn OFF. You can hear the stress is on the particle.
  • When the phrasal verb is being used as a noun or an adjective, we stress the first word: SETup or WORKout.
  • Last but not least, you can hear that native speakers will naturally blend or link the words together, so they’ll sound like just one word: worKOUT, turNON. As you can hear, it becomes really clear that the last consonant links to the vowel sound that follows it.

Please note: when you have phrasal verbs that end in a consonant and begin in a consonant, or end in a vowel sound and begin with a vowel sound, there will be a slight change to how the words are linked.

(This concept is a little more advanced and we can talk about that in the future.)

And just to reiterate what I keep saying, it’s so much more important to get the stress correct than to worry too much about the linking when you’re not ready for it.

Just be aware that linking exists! When you’re more sensitive to how linking works, it’s much easier to understand native English speakers.


Your Turn

Now it’s your turn! Choose a phrasal verb or two that you use all the time.

In the comments below, use that phrasal verb in a sentence and indicate its part of speech, whether it’s a verb, a noun, or an adjective, by capitalizing that particular word. I’ll let you know how you did.

If you have any other questions about the pronunciation of phrasal verbs, let me know.

To start stressing words like a native English speaker, check out these resources:

Remember, correct stress helps you sound much more natural and makes it easy for native speakers to understand you!

7 thoughts on “How to Pronounce Phrasal Verbs in English with Stress and Linking”

  1. Dear Kim,
    I found your videos on Youtube when I was trying to teach myself on English pronunciation.
    Thank you for your great videos and articles. I find them extremely useful.

    I have one question. Could you please help me?
    When a phrasal verb is followed by an adverb, would it change the stress pattern?
    For example:
    (1)I woke up early.
    (2)Please set up slowly.
    (3)I am drawing up nicely.
    I may be wrong but I feel stress on a verb and not on a particle.
    Am I wrong?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words. I’m happy to hear you’re finding my videos and articles helpful! You have a good ear for noticing the different levels of stress. When it comes to stressing phrasal verbs being used as verbs, the first word/verb receives secondary stress, while the particle receives primary stress. As you noticed, in a thought group or a short sentence, the last content word will receive the most stress (this is also called the focus word).

      In your examples, the adverbs will receive the most stress, and you’ll rise to your highest pitch and then fall at the end. In spoken English, we also have a concept called “stress clash avoidance.” This is when we avoid stressing two words or syllables that are next to each other, even if both should be stressed. This is why you can hear the stress shift to the verb, even though the phrasal verb is in verb form. We’re avoiding a stress clash to help maintain the rhythm and melody of the language (and to help people understand).

      As you continue to tune your ear to stress, you’ll notice that the focus words of thought groups are the ones you hear stressed the most. The final tip in this video may help: https://englishwithkim.com/improve-american-accent-secrets/

      Reply
  2. Dear Kim,
    Thanks for such an interesting video, you have an incredible pronunciation and your tips are really good too! Im interested in improving my conversation skills as well as my pronunciation. Is there something you can do for me??

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, Alicia! I have quite a few resources on my website focusing on conversation skills: https://englishwithkim.com/communicate-connect-conversations/ Because stress and intonation are very much about clear communication, I try to include examples that might actually come from real conversations. At the same time, when I’m talking about communication skills, I often explain how to best say these questions or responses. Is there anything specific you are looking for?

      Reply
  3. Hi Kim! I have a couple of questions relating to the topic above. If we have a phrasal verb followed by two prepositions, e.g. A lot of kids look up to her. 1 – What do we stress here? the main verb and “to” to avoid clash stresses as you said before? 2 – is there a difference in the stress pattern when there is not a pronoun at the end but noun?

    Reply
    • Great questions! For phrasal verbs that include three words (two particles), you would stress the second word. In this case, it would be “look UP to.” To answer your second question, when a sentence ends in a pronoun, the final word is de-emphasized, but not reduced. In your example, “her” would be pronounced clearly, but the last content word of the sentence would actually be the particle “up.” If you add a name instead, that noun would be the last content word. For example, “A lot of kids look up to Oprah.” The name Oprah would be stressed on the first syllable.

      Reply

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