Research Article

Weighing up the Effect of Contextual Cues in Learning English Phrasal Verbs: Is Context the Answer to Avoidance?


  • Sultan Alhatmi Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia


Research on English phrasal verbs indicates that these lexical units are problematic and hence difficult to deal with by EFL learners. Thus, one common strategy learners use when encountering phrasal verbs is avoidance: i.e. simply to avoid decoding them in spoken or written content as well as avoid using them in their own speech or writing. This study examines whether contextual cues, i.e. written or spoken context surrounding phrasal verbs, could be of any help to EFL learners in dealing with such lexical units both in receptive and productive tasks. A total of 60 English majors at King Abdulaziz University sat at two separate testing sessions in which they were tested on their recognition as well as recall of  30 preselected unknown English phrasal verbs. Using a between-groups design, the subjects were randomly allocated to three intact groups based on the amount of phrasal verb contextual cues they were exposed to during the first testing session: no contextual cues (control group), sentential-level cues (treatment group 1), and paragraph-level cues (treatment group 2). A receptive multiple-choice test on the target phrasal verbs was conducted during the first session followed by a productive fill-in-the-blank cloze test on the second session. The results of one-way between-groups ANOVA indicate that the paragraph-level cues group outperformed both the no contextual cues group as well as the sentential-level cues one on the receptive measure. However, none of the three groups exhibited any significant differences in their performance on the productive measure. These findings emphasize the role of contextual cues in decoding English phrasal verbs in the receptive mode (i.e. during listening or reading tasks) but call for exploring alternative routes to contextual cues in aiding EFL learners’ use of these lexical units in the productive mode (i.e. during speech or writing tasks).

Article information


Journal of English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics

Volume (Issue)

5 (3)





How to Cite

Alhatmi, S. (2023). Weighing up the Effect of Contextual Cues in Learning English Phrasal Verbs: Is Context the Answer to Avoidance?. Journal of English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 5(3), 01–14.



Phrasal verbs, contextual cues, receptive knowledge, productive knowledge