Want Free English Lessons

Separable & Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

This week I’m going to continue explaining in a bit more detail what phrasal verbs are. Last week I wrote about “What are phrasal verbs?” Click HERE to read the article.

As I mentioned last week, a phrasal verb can be separable or inseparable. I know, I know, it gets confusing a bit but I’ll try to keep things simple.

Remember that a phrasal verb is composed of a verb and a preposition. For example: Pick up (pick=verb / up=preposition)

Separable means you can separate the verb and preposition.

For example: I need to pick my wife up from work. In this example, the verb and the preposition can be separated.

Separable phrasal verbs can mostly be used in both ways though.

Example: Take your shoes off in my house. / Take off your shoes in my house.

In the example above, take off, which means to remove, can be used in both ways. The verb and preposition can be separated or not. The object, in the example above “your shoes”, can be between the verb and preposition or after the phrasal verb.  

However, depending on the meaning of the phrasal verb, it may only be separable or inseparable. For example: The plane takes off at 9pm. In this example, take off, means to leave and is inseparable meaning that we cannot separate the verb and preposition. The object must come after.

So let’s look at this in a simpler way.

  • Some phrasal verbs are separable, and others are inseparable.
  • Inseparable phrasal verbs must take the object at the end, after the preposition. (Example: I get on really well with my boss.)
  • Separable phrasal verbs can take the object in the middle, between the verb and the preposition, or at the end, just like inseparable phrasal verbs. (Example: You need the put your clothes away. / You need to put away your clothes.)
  • When we use a pronoun with separable phrasal verbs, the pronoun must come in the middle, between the verb and the preposition. (Example: You need to put them away. / NOT: You need to put away them.)

If you have any questions about separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, ask your questions at the bottom of this page. I will be happy to help.