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What’s the difference between a phrasal verb and a prepositional verb? When we use a prepositional verb, we are using the preposition in its normal, literal sense (e.g. ‘I am looking up at the ceiling‘; ‘the dog jumped over the wall’; ‘he put the coffee on the table’; etc).

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When we use a phrasal verb, the preposition assumes an idiomatic sense that has no connection with its normal meaning. Consider the phrasal verb ‘look up’: it can mean to extract information from a list or book (e.g. ‘I’ll look up the right phone number on Google’). There’s no way we can delineate this meaning from the verb ‘look’ plus ‘up’ – it has to be committed to memory.
(Another difference between phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs is that the former can be separated, whilst the latter cannot. So we can say ‘I’ll look the information up on Google’, but not ‘I’ll look at the ceiling up’.)
Let’s focus on using ‘make’ in phrasal verbs. Below are examples of phrasal verbs including ‘make’:

– make for
– make of
– make off with
– make out
– make up
– make up for

There are more examples, but we’ll focus on the ones shown above in this blog. Let’s start with ‘make’.
If we ‘make for’a place, it means we move towards it. For example:’When the film finished, the audience made for the exit.’ Another meaning of this phrasal verb is to contribute to or cause a result, e.g. the friends’ argument made for a tense occasion. Don’t confuse these phrasal verbs with their prepositional counterpart: when somebody creates something for a particular person or purpose, we can say ‘She made this cake for you’. However, as stated, this last example is not a phrasal verb, as the preposition ‘for’ is not used in an idiomatic sense.
If you wish to ask somebody their opinion on a particular subject, you can say: ‘What do you make of it?’ (‘It’ being the subject or thing under discussion.) For example:
Maria has left her husband for a much younger man. What do you make of that?
I saw the new ‘Alien’ film last week. What did you make of it? (i.e. what did you think of it?)


To ‘make off with’ something (or somebody) means to run away with it (or them), either because the thing is being stolen or the person is being abducted. for example:
The thieves made off with 250,000 Euros from the bank.

‘To make out’ has different meanings. If you are trying to see or hear someone, you say that you’re trying to make out what they’re doing (or saying). This meaning can often be deployed in a negative sense, e.g. She couldn’t make out what the teacher was saying; We couldn’t make out the band from so far away in the arena.
It means to be unable to correctly interpret visual or audio stimuli.

We can use ‘make out’ for the action of writing a cheque, too: e.g. ‘Please make it (the cheque) out to Mr John Smith.’

There is another meaning of this phrasal verb, including another preposition – ‘with’. This phrasal verb – predominantly used in American English – refers to passionate kissing. If you ‘make out with’ someone, you kiss them in a romantic way (the British would be more likely to say ‘snog’ someone, which admittedly sounds more coarse!).

Then there’s ‘make up’.
. The first meaning of ‘make up’ relates to maquillage – facial cosmetics. Used in this way, ‘make-up’ is more commonly used as a noun with a hyphen, rather than a phrasal verb. We can say ‘the lady made her face up’ – but it sounds very strange. We would normally say something like ‘the lady put make-up on her face’.
. A second meaning of ‘make up’ is to construct or be constituted of different parts, e.g. the class was made up of three men and four women. Note the important preposition, ‘of’.
. A third meaning is to fabricate, or imagine. When we write a fantasy story, we are ‘making it up’ (if something is ‘made-up’, it is not real; imaginary, untrue. Note that ‘made-up’ is an adjective). Another example:
After the police investigated the attack, the boy admitted that he had made the whole thing up.
An important point to note there is that some phrasal verbs are separable, whereas others are not. This difference is evident even within different meanings of the same phrasal verb. For example, the third meaning (above) is separable. We can say ‘make up a story’ or ‘make a story up’.
. However there is a fourth (very common) use of ‘make up’: to reconcile after an argument. This meaning of ‘make up’ is not separable, and can incorporate the preposition ‘with’ if followed by an object:

John made up with Helen the following day.
If there’s no object, ‘with’ is not necessary: Have they made up yet?

So to ‘make up with’ someone means to put your disagreement behind you. To ‘make up for something, however, means to atone for a slight – whether real or perceived. In other words, you’ve done something wrong, and need to say sorry. You can do this through a kind action: e.g. Lee forgot his wife’s birthday. He made up for it by taking her on a cruise around the Caribbean.
See how you manage using phrasal verbs including ‘make’ by taking our blog test.
J. Crowley

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