Sibia Proofreading Blog

Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Dona Le - Friday, January 29, 2010

Certain verbs are idiomatically attached to particular prepositions or adverbs to form a verb expression with a new meaning. Examples of phrasal verbs include: catch on, look after, hear of, set up, and calm down.

Among these phrasal verbs, some are separable, meaning that the verb does not have to be followed by its attached preposition immediately. The meaning of the sentence remains clear, whether or not the verb and its attached preposition or adverb are next to one another.

+ Common Separable Phrasal Verbs

write down, add up, turn down, check out, write out, point out, try on, call off, leave out, switch off

+ Examples of separable phrasal verbs are below:

1a. The professor instructed us to write down the information.

1b. The professor instructed us to write the information down.

2a. The couple is attempting to work out their problems with a marriage counselor.

2b. The couple is attempting to work their problems out with a marriage counselor.

On the other hand, some phrasal verbs are inseparable, so the verb must be directly followed by its preposition or adverb. Otherwise, the meaning of the phrasal verb will be lost, as evidenced by the following examples of incorrect sentences.

+ Common Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

disagree with, tell on, get on, get off, settle on, talk over, look after, care for, hear from, run against

+ Examples of the correct and incorrect usage of inseparable phrasal verbs are as follows:

            1a. (correct) The child will tell on the bully so that the teacher punishes him for his behavior.

            1b. (incorrect) The child will tell the bully on so that the teacher punishes him for his behavior.

            2a. (correct) I came down with a severe cold and was therefore unable to attend the function.

            2b. (incorrect) I came with a severe cold down and was therefore unable to attend the function.

It can often be difficult for writers, particularly those whose first language is not English, to determine whether a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable. To ensure that your writing remains flawless, send in (a separable verb!) your document to Sibia Proofreading today!

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