Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Phrasal verbs or the Set oxymoron

The hardest part of learning English involves phrasal verbs, the combination of a verb and preposition, because any sense of logic or order is completely lacking.  Therefore, the only way to learn them is abuse them as Ziva in NCIS would do. A nice example of this randomness is the word set, which means fixed or placed, among other meanings, but whose sheet variety of meanings when combined with preposition is quite unsettling to non-native speaker.

It can take minutes or hours to set up a machine, meaning to get it ready, but a writer may set down his/her thoughts, that is record them while baseball pitcher may set down the other side in order, getting all three batters out.  Many younger people set out on a journey, trying to reach a goal, but unfortunately become set in their ways when they become older, not willing to make changes. For that matter, if you set off an alarm, you actually cause it operate.  Setting your alarm forward causes you to wake up earlier, which could be a set back to your sleep.  Curiously, before eating a family meal, someone has to set the table, getting out the tableware, but to set a bar has nothing to do with alcohol, instead referring to establishing a new challenge.

So, the only effective way for a foreigner to learn phrasal verbs is to listen for them, try them and reset their meanings after someone corrects (and laughs at) you.  That is how children do it. 

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