A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase made up of a verb and a particle, typically either an adverb, as in break down (cease to function), or a preposition, for example look into (investigate), or a combination of both, such as look forward to (await eagerly).
As mentioned in earlier posts, idioms should only be used with caution. Phrasal verbs, on the other hand, are almost unavoidable. They are an important part of everyday language and are also often used in more formal language instead of a more formal verb, even in business. For example put off (postpone) and call off (cancel) are standard expressions when it comes to arranging meetings.
In some cases the more formal verbs have become almost too formal and the phrasal verb has become the preferred choice. For example, if you were to offer to accommodate or house somebody, this might sound slightly stiff. To put someone up would sound much more natural, e.g. If you are ever in town I can put you up for a few days.
Another challenge for learners is that many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning, although the differences mostly become clear in context. e.g.
put down – criticize, lay a baby down to sleep, kill, pay a deposit, land (an aeroplane)
put off – postpone, cause someone to lose interest or enthusiasm, cause someone to feel dislike or distrust, distract someone
Of course, you can decide whether to put off or postpone the meeting, but understanding phrasal verbs will greatly enrich your language.
get up – get out of bed
show up – arrive
dress up – dress in smart or formal clothes
get dressed – put on one’s clothes
stiff – formal, cold