Suggestions for learning phrasal verbs with abstract meanings

Many phrasal verbs have abstract meanings. I'm going to explain this using phrasal verbs formed from the verb 'look'.

An example of a phrasal verb with a concrete meaning is 'look for' (buscar).Here are some examples of phrasal verbs with abstract meanings with the verb 'look':

look forward to: await with excitement/ long for (tener muchas ganas de)

look back (on): reflect on/ reminisce about (recordar)

look up to: admire/ respect/ regard highly (admirar)

look down on: disdain/ regard with contempt (despreciar)

look after: take care of/ care for (cuidar de)

These meanings are more abstract and less related to the physical action of looking. Synonyms are a good way of understanding and learning the meaning of these abstract phrasal verbs. Sometimes these can be cognates(similar words in different languages), which will help you remember their meanings eg. 'admire' and 'admirar' are cognates.

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A real context such as an article or song will help you understand and remember abstract phrasal verbs. For example, the song 'Don't look back in anger' may help you recall this phrasal verb. One useful tip is to write new phrasal verbs in a personalized example, which will help you recall them eg. I'm really looking forward to my holiday to London this summer.

Testing yourself using synonyms or translations is also a good way of memorizing phrasal verbs. Can you remember the phrasal verbs for the following...?

  • admire
  • despreciar
  • cuidar de
  • reflect on
  • tener muchas ganas de

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So, remember although abstract meanings are less transparent, there are effective ways of learning them using synonyms, cognates, real contexts and self-testing. But you'll only get the hang of using them if youmake an effort to use them in your English classes!

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