Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

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2009

red wine, chef, drink

Phrasal verbs are the spice of language. If you’d like to make a delicious meal, you must use them. How much do you know about phrasal verbs? Let’s see!

 

WHAT’S A PHRASAL VERB?

Phrasal verbs are multi-part verbs, that is to say, they are always made up of two (or more) words.

VERB + PARTICLE(S) (particles are small words, prepositions or adverbs: up, down, in , away, to, back etc.)

The meaning of a phrasal verb is often very different from the meaning of the verb without the particle. Here’s an example:

 

TAKE

carry something from one place to another/ hold in your hands or arms

  • Can you take the kids to school tomorrow?
  • Can I take the baby? (so that I can hold her in my arms)

[Tweet “TAKE AFTER – resemble one of your parents”]

TAKE AFTER

resemble one of your parents

  • I don’t take after my father at all. He’s tall, he’s got fair hair, but I’m short and have got dark hair.

 

As you can see ‘take after’ means something totally unrelated to ‘take’.

 

DOES THE PARTICLE ALWAYS COME DIRECTLY AFTER THE VERB?

No, not always. But sometimes it has to.

I know it’s not fair, but the fact is that some phrasal verbs are separable (words can stand between the verb and the particle) while others are inseparable (you can’t insert any word between the verb and the particle).

This may sound a bit too technical, so it’s best to look at some examples.

 

SEPARABLE PHRASAL VERBS

 

CLEAN UP

tidy

  • You can’t go out until you clean up this mess. (clean up: not separated)
  • You can’t go out until you clean this mess up. (clean… up: separated)

 

Both of the above sentences are correct- it doesn’t matter whether you insert ‘the mess’ between ‘clean’ and ‘up’. You can do it either way.

[Tweet “TURN DOWN – reduce”]

TURN DOWN

reduce

  • Can you turn down the heating, please? It’s boiling in here. (turn down: not separated)
  • Can you turn the heating down, please? It’s boiling in here. (turn… down: separated)

 

Again, both sentences are correct. You may separate ‘turn’ from ‘down’ if you want or just leave them attached.

Some more examples for you:

 

PUT ON

dress yourself in something

  • Mum, I don’t want to put on this dress. It’s hideous.
  • Mum, I don’t want to put this dress on. It’s hideous.

 

THROW AWAY

get rid of something you don’t want anymore

  • Don’t throw away those batteries. I’ll use them in my science project.
  • Don’t throw those batteries away. I’ll use them in my science project.

[Tweet “CALL OFF – cancel”]

CALL OFF

cancel

  • Mr Brown has called off the meeting, again.
  • Mr Brown has called the meeting off, again.

 

As I’ve said, these sentences are correct either way. However, when you use pronouns (him, her, it, us etc.) the verb and the particle must be separated:

  • Mum, I don’t want to put it on. It’s hideous.
  • Don’t throw them away. I’ll use them in my science project.
  • Mr Brown has called it off, again.

 

Recommended for you:

 

INSEPARABLE PHRASAL VERBS

 

TAKE AFTER

resemble one of your parents

  • I think you take after your father. (correct)
  • I think you take your father after. (not correct)

[Tweet “COME ACROSS – find by chance”]

COME ACROSS

find by chance

  • I’ve come across an interesting blog post on phrasal verbs. (correct)
  • I’ve come an interesting blog post across on phrasal verbs. (incorrect)

 

GET OVER

recover, return to your usual happiness

  • How am I going to get over losing Maddie? (correct)
  • How am I going to get losing Maddie over? (not correct)

[Tweet “CALL ON – visit”]

CALL ON

visit

  • We should call on your parents. We haven’t seen them for a while. (correct)
  • We should call your parents on. We haven’t seen them for a while. (incorrect)

 

The word order remains the same even when using pronouns:

  • How am I going to get over it?
  • We should call on them. We haven’t seen them for a while.

 

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A PHRASAL VERB IS SEPARABLE OR NOT?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell. You must look it up in a dictionary and see some example sentences. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to the correct forms if you spend enough time learning English. Once you’re familiar with them, you’ll spot incorrect word orders immediately.

 

START NOW

Why not start to familiarise yourself with the most common phrasal verbs right now? Here are some fantastic articles that will help you with that:

 

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