The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

English: Teaching English as a Second Language: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Michael Schwartz

Second Advisor

Ettien Koffi

Third Advisor

Ramon Serrano

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


All too often, English second language learners come across phrasal verbs and find themselves missing the point. They find themselves in need to look up these phrases in order to understand the intended meaning. Learners usually recognize the meaning of the verb; however, the action suggested by the verb does not go along with the associated object or the surrounding context. Simply, what they read does not make sense. A particle that looks like a preposition is attached to the verb and affects the meaning of the whole sentence. This change in meaning leads to misinterpretation and causes communication failure. Phrasal verbs (PVs) are too many to master and sometimes one PV has multiple meanings (e.g., make up). Some studies described PVs as “a recurring nightmare” to English language learners (ELLs) (Littlemore & Low, 2006), and in other studies mentioned that PVs “do not enjoy a good reputation” (Rudzka-Ostyn, 2003). The natural reaction toward difficult language constructions is avoidance.

This study concerns itself with the avoidance attitude of Arabic ELLs toward English phrasal verbs (EPVs). Earlier empirical studies attributed the avoidance of using EPVs only to the syntactic differences between L1 and L2 (Dagut & Laufer, 1985; Laufer & Eliasson, 1993). Other studies ascribed the avoidance behavior to the semantic difficulty of EPVs (Hulstijn & Marchena (1989). However, recent studies speculate that there are more factors for the behavior other than the L1 L2 differences and the polysemous nature of English PVs (Liao & Fukuya, 2004). This study validated the avoidance behavior among Arabic learners. It also looked into three salient factors that have direct effects on the avoidance behavior of English phrasal verbs: the proficiency level of the learners, the length of stay in L2 environment, and the type of phrasal verbs. A total of 18 Arabic informants, equally divided into two groups (intermediate and advanced), participated in an experimental test to investigate the Arabic ELLs’ avoidance attitude and the reasons behind it. It was hypothesized that the performances of the two groups were different through measuring the means and proportions of the two groups.

The results proved the alternative hypothesis (H1) and rejected the null hypothesis (H0). That is, the means of the two groups were not equal. The intermediate group avoided more PVs than the advanced group. The results also showed effects of the variables on the avoidance behavior. 1) The advanced group selected and used more PVs in the experimental test than the intermediate group. 2) The longer the period a learner stay in an English speaking environment, the more PVs are learned. 3) PVs that bear idiomatic meaning are avoided more than PVs that carry idiomatic meaning are avoided more than the ones that carry literal meaning. The study also overviewed the concept of phrasal verb in Arabic and English in its folds and viewed the stance of grammarians about PVs in the two languages. Three approaches of teaching EPVs were presented as an attempt to find ways that allow ELLs perceive and produce phrasal verbs naturally the way native speakers do.