Pronunciation and phrasal verbs
This article describes the various ways in which the Macmillan Phrasal Verbs Plus dictionary deals with pronunciation and stress. It also explains some simple rules that will help you to pronounce phrasal verbs confidently when they form part of a sentence.
This dictionary shows the pronunciation and stress pattern
of each 'base' verb using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).
In most cases, a single pronunciation is given, and this can be used in all varieties of English. But where a verb is pronounced differently in British and American English, both pronunciations are shown, with the British version first and the American version second:
When a verb ends with the letter 'r', the usual pronunciation rules apply: in British English the 'r' is not normally pronounced, unless it is followed by a vowel sound. So the 'r' in hanker is pronounced in the phrasal verb hanker after / hækr ft / but not in the phrasal verb hanker for / hækf/. In American English, the 'r' is always pronounced.
The stress pattern for each individual phrasal verb is
shown using the symbol / /
to show primary stress and the symbol /
/ to show secondary stress. For example:
The main pronunciation question with phrasal verbs concerns the placement and distribution of stress on the verb, the particle and the other words in the sentence. Here are some guidelines to help you.
Stress patterns: two main types
With a few exceptions, phrasal verbs have either one stress:
Phrasal verbs with one stress have the main stress on the verb, and no stress on the particle:
Phrasal verbs with two stresses have the primary stress on the particle and a secondary stress on the verb:
Sometimes the same phrasal verb can have different stresses depending on its meaning. The dictionary treats these cases as separate phrasal verbs:
The single stress is on the first word, which is the verb. The second word, which is the particle, has no stress:
In the majority of phrasal verbs of this type, the particle is a preposition like at, for, from, of, or to. These particles often have both a strong form, such as:
It is usually the weak form that
is used in phrasal verbs with one stress. However, if the particle comes
at the end of a phrase, the strong form would be used, though still unstressed:
The speaker might also choose to stress the particle in
order to convey a particular meaning, for example an emphasis, or contrast,
or correction. In this case the speaker is following the normal rules
of stress placement in discourse.
These phrasal verbs have both a primary and a secondary
stress. The primary stress is on the second word, the particle. The secondary
stress is on the first word, the verb. The majority of phrasal verbs are
These phrasal verbs are 'separable': that is, the verb and the particle can be separated, with the object of the verb coming between them. Separable phrasal verbs can be used in three possible ways, and this affects where the stress falls. The dictionary tells you which of these three ways you can use for a particular phrasal verb.
When the object of a separable phrasal verb is a pronoun,
it must come between the verb and the particle:
In this case, the stress will usually be on the noun rather
than on the particle:
If the noun is important for the speaker's meaning, then
it will be stressed and the stress on the particle may be lost:
Some phrasal verbs have an extra preposition after the particle. These are stressed in the same way as phrasal verbs with two stresses, so the verb carries a secondary stress and the first particle carries the main stress. The third word is unstressed:
However, if the word following the preposition is a noun,
the speaker might choose to stress it, and then the particle could either
reduce or retain its stress, without significant difference in meaning:
The term citation form refers to the pronunciation and stress pattern that is shown in a dictionary entry. This information is accurate when the phrasal verb is spoken in isolation, and even when a phrasal verb is used in context, it is still likely to follow the stress pattern of its citation form. But it is also possible that in connected speech the speaker may choose to place the stress differently in order to convey a particular meaning. In such cases the normal rules of stress shift apply.
It is common in English for nouns and adjectives to be formed from verbs. For example:
The same is true for phrasal verbs, and Macmillan Phrasal Verbs Plus includes many nouns and adjectives that are formed from phrasal verbs. These are shown at the end of a phrasal verb entry. For example, the entry for the verb black out also shows the related noun blackout.
The majority of phrasal verbs are stressed on their second word (the particle), but nouns formed from those verbs usually have the stress on the first part of the word:
Even when the word order is reversed, and the second word in the verb becomes the first in the noun, the noun still has the stress on the first syllable:
This pattern follows the general rule for pairs of two-syllable nouns and verbs in English, which is that the verb is usually stressed on the second syllable while the noun is usually stressed on the first. For example:
For adjectives formed from phrasal verbs, the rules are
less straightforward. Some adjectives are stressed on the second element,
especially those where the verb is in its past participle form. When these
adjectives come at the end of a phrase, their stress pattern usually follows
the 'citation form':
However, when the adjective comes before a noun or noun
phrase, then the noun is usually stressed, and the two words of the adjective
may be equally but less stressed:
Other adjectives have the stress on the first element,
especially those where the verb is in its present participle form:
However, if the adjective comes at the end of a sentence
or phrase, the speaker may put the stress on the second element. This
allows the speaker to leave a longer space between the two stresses: