Help with phrasal verbs: break down, sign up, wash out, etc.

Hello everyone,
I’m Mario and spanish is my mother language . Maybe that’s why I don’t comprehend How English-native- speakers deal with phrasal verbs. I just repeat them by memory as a talking bird, but I don’t ‘‘feel’’ what I’m saying.
Do they just use those verbs by memorizing the meaning ? or is there any other explanation or way to create those vrbs according the preposition you use with them? What do you think?
I also need a list with the most commonn used , and their meaning.

Hi Mario,

If you go to this part of the site you will see in the index some stories I have written illustrating phrasal verbs.


Thanks a lot Alan, your writings are very helpful.Those ‘‘verbs’’ are really confusing and they are too many . Here in USA Native Speakers(NS) use Phrasal Verbs(PV) all the time. It drives me crazy. I can memorize the meaning of some PV and use them just according the meaning. But every day NS come with a new PV or, like you say, with another meaning for the same PV.
So, I wonder what is the language psicology of NS regarding PV. I would like ''to be in their shoes".
Sometimes I ask them about it and they don’t know. I don’t understand why ; I mean that I can explain what is behind everything about Spanish ( mymother language) English has some parts that are just non-sense issues to me.
What I would like to know is : may I assume the “meaning” ( or be close to the meaning) by following the prepositions that accompany the verbs in PV ? For instances: in my formula I could asssume that prepositions most of the times add the following meanings to the PV:
up = completeness, totally, involve yourself in something , or similars
down = to lower, relapse, falling, disappointment, to reduce, or similars
By= through, near to, locating you in any specific place, or similars

Could It be a way of understand PV?
I would like to hear different opinions about this issue

Hi Mario,

I understand your question, but I think you’re trying to create a ‘rule’ that will explain all uses, and that probably won’t work. I think you have to treat these a little like idioms, and just try to understand their individual meanings.

For example, I could destroy your theory by pointing out we also say ‘break up’, as in “Did you and Susie break up?” meaning to end a relationship. In this case, up doesn’t have the ‘completeness, totally, involving yourself in something’ sense that your attempt at a rule does.

Try and look at them from a more literal perspective.

To break down. If something breaks down, it stops. (Imagine something so broken that if falls down to the ground!)
To sign up=to add your name to a growing (i.e. getting bigger, increasing, going up) list.
To wash out=to wash all the stuff(dirt, etc.) INside OUTside, or to move something outside a space using (water) to move it.

In other words, concentrate of the preposition, and the location it seems to indicate.

If you’d like, perhaps you could post a few more phrasals, and attempt to ‘decipher’ them in that manner. Then we could offer comments to you whether you’re on the right track or not.

Hope that helps.