Word order in phrasal verbs

Word order in phrasal verbs

Do you know how to put words in the right order when using phrasal verbs? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we order words in phrasal verbs.

Every morning I write down all the things I need to do.
I came down with a fever but I've got over it now.
She brought two issues up at the meeting.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar C1: Word order in phrasal verbs: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Phrasal verbs are made of a verb plus one or two particles.

My cat wakes me up every morning.
The noise is terrible. I can't put up with it any longer.

The particles modify the meaning of the verb, sometimes just slightly (e.g. wake up is very similar in meaning to wake), but sometimes more greatly.

I brought my children. (bring = transport to the place where you are)
I brought my children up. (bring up = educate or raise)

I can't tell Tim and his brother. (tell = say something to)
I can't tell Tim and his brother apart. (tell apart = be able to differentiate between two things/people)

In terms of word order, there are two types of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable. 

Separable phrasal verbs

Separable phrasal verbs are transitive (= they take a direct object). The object is underlined below. You can put the object between the verb and particle, separating them:

She took the rubbish out.

Or you can keep the verb and particle together, and put the object after the particle:

She took out the rubbish.

Both ways have the same meaning. However, when the object is a pronoun (e.g. me, you, it), only the separated form can be used. The pronoun must go between the verb and particle.

She took it out.
She took out it.

Even though the separated and unseparated forms are both grammatically correct (except when pronouns are used), in certain contexts, one form or the other may be preferred.

Separation is preferred in spoken English if the speaker stresses the particle with their voice.

Take that rubbish OUT
(Take OUT that rubbish! is also possible, but less preferred.)

Don't turn the volume UP, turn it DOWN!
(Don't turn UP the volume is also possible, but less preferred.)

On the other hand, keeping the verb and particle together is preferred if the object is long (e.g. more than four or five words) or structurally complex. 

It's my job to sort out any kind of problem occurring in our company's computer systems.
She took out all the rubbish from the party.

(The separated versions, e.g. It's my job to sort any kind of problem occurring in our company's computer systems out, are also possible, but less preferred.)

Non-separable phrasal verbs

Some phrasal verbs cannot be separated at all. For some verbs, this is because they are intransitive (= they cannot take a direct object).

My job isn't very well paid but it gives me enough to get by.
I grew up in London.

Other non-separable phrasal verbs can take an object. If they have a preposition as a particle, the phrasal verb is always non-separable because the object must follow the preposition.

I came up with a great idea.
I came up a great idea with.

This is also true when using a pronoun.

I've got a great idea! I came up with it just now.
I've got a great idea! I came up it with just now.

However, the direct object may appear earlier in the sentence.

I want to tell you about a great idea that I came up with.
You're a great role model for your younger brother. He's lucky to have you to look up to.

 

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar C1: Word order in phrasal verbs: 2

Language level

Average: 4.2 (44 votes)
Profile picture for user eris_thunderbird

Submitted by eris_thunderbird on Tue, 02/04/2024 - 16:22

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In Grammar C1: Word order in phrasal verbs: 1, Number 2, there's the sentence with the words "Take", "right now!", "the dog" and "out." It shows that "Take the dog out right now!" is the correct answer, but I assume "Take out the dog right now!" also makes sense. Although the meanings differentiate, the sentence structure is correct, is it not?

Hello eris_thunderbird,

Yes, both are possible. Take out is a separable multi-word verb so a noun object can be between the verb and the particle or after the particle, while a pronoun object must be between:

  • Take the dog out [OK]
  • Take out the dog [OK]
  • Take it out [OK]
  • *Take out it* [NOT OK]

There is no difference as far as meaning goes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Waseem Majid on Fri, 26/01/2024 - 16:22

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Your courses are expensive.

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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 17/06/2023 - 15:02

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Hello User_1,

One little fact that can help a little bit is to learn to distinguish between transitive and intransitive verbs, which is discussed under the Verb patterns heading on our Clause structure and verb patterns page. Basically, a transitive verb has a direct object (e.g. 'I picked up the book' -- 'the book' is the direct object) and an intransitive verb does not (e.g. 'Lisa never showed up at the party' -- 'showed up' doesn't have an object; 'at the party' is an adverbial prepositional phrase, not a noun).

So here's the rule: intransitive phrasal verbs don't have an object and are therefore inseparable. It's not really a rule, it's more just something to remember when you're writing. I hope you're not too disappointed!

I wish that there were some sort of golden rule -- or even a more useful general rule -- that I could give you and my students to help with this, but I'm afraid I still haven't found one.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Thanks Kirk for your help.
I’ll focus on the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, and by practice, I hope to become familiar with them.

Submitted by User_1 on Sat, 17/06/2023 - 14:43

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Hello,
As for separable and non-separable phrasal verbs.
While on reading it is easier to recognize separable and non-separable phrasal verbs, for writing is hard.
Unless the use of phrasal verbs is ordinary, to know if they are separable or not, you need to look them up in the dictionary.
Do you have any suggestions about that?
Thanks for your help.