Separable and
Inseparable Phrasal Verbs


A woman telling another woman a secret

Maggie tells Edna a secret, but Edna doesn't believe her.
She thinks it's not true.

Edna says, "Oh, that's not true! You made that crazy story up!"
Or, she can say, "That's not true! You just made up that crazy story!"

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In English, there are lots of actions that we can only express using phrasal verbs. These are verbs with a preposition or adverb that have a special meaning.

These verbs are very important in English, and you must do lots of practice and review to learn them and how to use them correctly.

The best way to learn phrasal verbs is to study them in small groups and also to write your own examples. When you see these verbs in context, they will make more sense!


Phrasal Verbs with Objects

Many phrasal verbs are transitive, meaning that they take an object. There are special rules for using transitive phrasal verbs! Let's look at them now.

The first important thing to remember is that some phrasal verbs are separable (the verb and the preposition can be separated, putting the object in the middle), while others are inseparable (the object must come at the end because the verb and the preposition must stay together).

"Run into" is an example for an inseparable verb.

"Run into" means to meet someone by chance when you were not expecting to.

Correct: I always run into Molly at the mall.

Incorrect: I always run Molly into at the mall.

Incorrect: I always run Molly at the mall into.

A person with lots of groceries in bags

As you see, we cannot separate the words in this phrasal verb. This is why we call it an inseparable phrasal verb.



Some phrasal verbs can be separated when we used them with objects. This means that we have a choice. We can put the object between the verb and the preposition, or we can put the object at the end, just like we do for inseparable phrasal verbs.

"Write down" is an example for a separable verb.

"Write down" means to make a note some information on paper.

We can separate this phrasal verb if we want! Look at the examples below to see how this construction works.

Correct: His students write down everything he says.

Correct: His students write everything he says down.

A student writing

As you see, we can separate the words in this phrasal verb. This is why we call it a separable phrasal verb.



We will study five common phrasal verbs of each kind. Understand and practice these verbs, their meaning, and how to use them before you go on to other phrasal verbs.

There's no rush! There are lots of phrasal verbs in English, and it's best to practice them gradually.

Now, let's get to it!
A happy teacher


Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs cannot be separated. This means that when we want to use an object, it must always come after the complete phrasal verb.

This is true when we use a noun (Ellen, the car, our friends, Germany) or a pronoun (him, them, us.) The object must always come after the complete phrasal verb.


1. Get on/off

The phrasal verbs get on/off talk about entering or exiting a mode of transportation. These phrasal verbs work for boats, airplanes, trains, bicycles, and motorcycles. (If we are talking about a car, we use get in/out.)

Examples:
  • Everyone must get on the plane and fasten their seatbelts before we can take off.

  • Get off that motorcycle if you don't have a helmet! It's dangerous to ride without one.

  • I had to run to get on the train, but I made it!

  • It was hard for him to get off the boat, because he was feeling a little sick when they reached the dock!
A large ship


2. Run into

This phrasal verb means to meet someone by chance when you were not expecting to. The object (who we met) must always come at the end!

Examples:
  • This is such a big city! I'm always amazed when I run into someone I know on the street.

  • Melanie said she ran into Mrs. Dawson last week. Do you remember her? Our fifth grade English teacher!

  • I hope I run into Dr. Borelli at the conference. It would be really interesting to talk about his latest research.
A woman talking to a happy man


3. Look after

This phrasal verb means to take care of. We often use it when we are talking about taking care of children or animals. We don't use it for objects or projects.

The people or pets we are taking care of must come at the end of the phrasal verb.

Examples:
  • Could you please look after my cat while I'm vacation? She's really no trouble.

  • Karen loves looking after her nephew in the afternoon while his father is at work.

  • Lisa and Matthew are going to look after the kids this weekend. They're going to have lots of fun!

Two adults with three happy children


4. Run out of

We use this phrasal verb when we had something, but we have used it all, and now it is all gone.

Remember that the item we no longer have must go at the very end of this phrasal verb because it is inseparable.

Examples:
  • Oh no, it looks like we've run out of yogurt. What will I have for breakfast now?

  • We had to wait a whole hour with the new client until my boss finally arrived. It was terrible! Eventually I ran out of polite things to ask him.

  • Chet was having a lovely afternoon drive until he ran out of gas!
A happy man driving his car


5. Put up with

This phrasal verb means to endure a person or situation that we don't like. We have to accept the person or situation although we don't enjoy it.

Again, the person or situation we find annoying or difficult must come after the preposition in this inseparable phrasal verb.

Examples:
  • I am so tired of putting up with my roommate's sister! She comes over every afternoon and plays loud music!

  • Sometimes we have to put up with difficult situations at work, but it's important not to get too stressed.

  • Alfred smokes outside so that his co-workers don't have to put up with the smell of his cigarettes.
An ashamed man smoking

Separable Phrasal Verbs

Some phrasal verbs can be separated when we used them with objects. This means that we have a choice. We can put the object between the verb and the preposition, or we can put the object at the end, just like we do for inseparable phrasal verbs.

However, there is one important thing to remember! If we want to use a pronoun (like him, her, them, us, or it), we must separate the phrasal verb.

For example:

Correct:
This is very important information. Please write it down.

Incorrect: This is very important information. Please write down it.

It's also important to remember that if the object is quite long, we usually do not separate the phrasal verb.

It is not grammatically incorrect to separate the phrasal verbs in these cases, but it is much clearer for the listener if we do not separate the phrasal verb.

For example:

Clear: Can I use the car? I need to pick up a friend of mine from summer camp at the airport.

Confusing: Can I use the car? I need to pick a friend of mine from summer camp up at the airport.



Let's look at some examples with five common separable phrasal verbs.


1. Write down

This phrasal verb means to make a note of something with a pen and paper, for example. We do not use it for typing or for a general meaning of writing, such as writing a book. We use it when we are making a note of some information on paper.

We can separate this phrasal verb if we want! Look at the examples below to see how this construction works.

Examples:
  • Dr. Watson is an excellent professor. Her students write down everything she says.

  • Yolanda hasn't got any paper, but she needs to write the number down.

  • Olivia has so many ideas! She wants to write them all down before she forgets them!
A woman writing lots of notes


2. Pick up

This phrasal verb means to go and get someone in your car. It can also mean to lift something up with your hands.

In either case, the object can come in the middle of the phrasal verb or at the end.

Examples:
  • Be careful with the puppy! You can pick her up, but she gets scared very easily.

  • Gerald, could you pick up Cynthia after her ballet lesson? I have to work late.

  • Ron is driving to the airport. He's going to pick his daughter up at 8pm. He's excited to finally see her again!
A happy man driving a car


3. Put on

This phrasal verb is used for clothing. Once we have put something on, we are now wearing it.

Since this verb is separable, the piece of clothing we are putting on can come in the middle of the verb or at the end.

Examples:
  • It's terribly cold out! Please put your coat on before you go out.

  • Charlotte is such a clown! She put on a ridiculous red hat to go to the party. Everyone thought it was very funny.

  • Henry was in such a rush before work this morning that he left without putting his jacket on!
A running man carrying his jacket


4. Turn down

This phrasal verb means to refuse an offer.

The object of this phrasal verb can be the offer itself or the person who has made the offer to us.

Examples:
  • My supervisor told me they want to give me a promotion, but I think I'm going to turn the new job down. I'm just too busy with my kids to accept more work right now.

  • Ursula won a free trip to the coast, but she turned it down because her sister is getting married the same weekend.

  • Doug proposed to Claire! He sure hopes she won't turn him down.
A man proposing marriage to a woman


5. Make up

This phrasal verb means to invent a story or an excuse. We use it when someone has invented a story that is not true.

The story or excuse can come in the middle of the verb or at the end since this phrasal verb is separable.

Examples:
  • The children in my afternoon class make up the most wonderful stories when we have story time! They are very creative.

  • I just can't stand Wanda! She always has some excuse for arriving late, but I think she makes them up

  • Talking to Susan is so much fun. Maybe she makes up half her stories, but they're entertaining anyway.
Two women talking at a cafe

These were some examples of common separable and inseparable phrasal verbs. Take a few minutes to make your own examples with each of them to help you remember their meanings and uses.


Keep in mind:

  • Some phrasal verbs are separable, and others are inseparable.

  • Inseparable phrasal verbs must take the object at the end, after the preposition.

  • 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,

  • When we use a pronoun with separable phrasal verbs, the pronoun must come in the middle, between the verb and the preposition.

Keep practicing with these important phrasal verbs and be sure to visit the other pages in this section. Practice makes perfect!

English Phrasal Verbs Main Page

Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal-Prepositional Verbs

Common Phrasal Verbs

A happy boy at a typewriter


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