In the early 1970’s, Motown Records released the Marvin Gaye song “What’s Going On.” The song asks for a peaceful solution to social problems.
“What’s Going On” is very famous in the United States. It appears in fourth place on “Rolling Stone” magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Here are a few of the lines from the song:
Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Today, we will show you how this famous song can teach you about English grammar. Specifically, it can show you how English speakers use phrasal verbs.
First, we begin with some definitions.
What are phrasal verbs?
Phrasal verbs have two or more words: verbs and particles. Particles are short words such as on, over and in.
Phrasal verbs have an idiomatic meaning. In other words, the verb and particle together mean something different than what the individual words suggest.
So, for example, the phrasal verb “find out” has the verb “find” and the particle “out.” However, the term “find out” means to discover.
English speakers use many phrasal verbs – perhaps thousands. Many of these verbs have two or more meanings.
Luckily, there is hope. You do not need to learn all of them.
Some phrasal verbs are fairly common. And, even when phrasal verbs have multiple meanings, English speakers often use one meaning more than the others.
Today, we will talk about three of the most common phrasal verbs. All of them have the verb go.
Mélodie Garnier and Norbert Schmitt are language experts. They created a list, called the PHaVE list, which they say ranks the most commonly used phrasal verbs. Among the 10 most frequently used phrasal verbs, three have the verb “go.” We will look at each one in turn.
#1 Go on
The most common, according to Garnier and Schmitt, is the phrasal verb “go on.”
“Go on” can have several meanings, but the most common one is “happen” or “take place.”
At the beginning of this report, you heard part of the Marvin Gaye song “What’s Going On.”
Now, you know that Gaye could have sung, “What’s happening” or “what is taking place.”
You might hear the words “go on” in the news or when two people are talking to each other. For example, you might hear someone talking about a debate going on in a political party.
#2 Go out
Another common phrasal verb is “go out.” It came in number 8 on Garnier and Schmitt’s PHaVE list. When English speakers use “go out,” they often mean to leave a place to go to a social event.
For example, American teenagers might make plans to “go out” on Friday night. They might make plans to go out for dinner, or go out to the movies.
Teenagers might also talk about what they did over the weekend. So a person might say “I went out with friends on Friday night.” This is the past tense form of “go out.”
#3 Go back
Our final phrasal verb for today is “go back.” The PhaVE list ranks this at number 5 on the list of most commonly used phrasal verbs.
When English speakers use “go back,” they almost always mean to return to a place, time, activity or a subject they talked about earlier.
Here is an example from the American film, “Happy Gilmore.” In the movie, people try to make the villain, Shooter McGavin, lose a golf game by distracting him.
Here is what he says: “Go back to your shanties!”renderExternalContent("https://www.youtube.com/embed/x9xAdjYag7A?&&&fs=1&enablejsapi=1")
Here, Shooter McGavin is telling others to return to their homes. Shanty is a term for a small, poorly built shelter. McGavin believes that all the people who are at the golf match are poor and should not be there. Now you can understand why he is the villain in the film!
Learning and using phrasal verbs can be difficult, but you can do it.
Try studying small numbers of phrasal verbs. Keep note of the different meanings, and try using them in different sentences.
But after all of your hard work, be sure to go out and have fun!
I'm Ashley Thompson.
And I’m John Russell.
John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
picket – n. a person or group of people who are standing or marching near a place to protest something
brutality – n. cruel, harsh, and usually violent treatment of another person
rank – v. to place (someone or something) in a particular position among a group of people or things that are being judged
villain – n. someone who does bad things in a story or movie
distract – v. to direct one’s attention to a different object or in a different direction
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