Separable and Non-Separable Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs, a key element in English grammar, are integral to both written and oral communication. A phrasal verb combines a verb with a preposition or an adverb, or both. These combinations fundamentally change the meaning of the verb. One key feature of phrasal verbs that often proves challenging for English language learners is their classification into separable and non-separable categories.

This tutorial provides an in-depth look at these two types of phrasal verbs: separable and non-separable. We will decipher the rules for their use, provide examples, and give you strategies to identify and correctly use them in your own communication.

Introduction to Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb consists of a verb and a preposition or an adverb. Their meaning is usually entirely different from the meanings of the individual words that make them up. Phrasal verbs often relate to actions and are very common in spoken English.

For example:

  • "Look after" means "to care for."
  • "Give up" means "to quit."
  • Phrasal verbs are often used in a number of ways, with slightly different implications.


  • "She looked after the child." Here, "looked after" implies caring or tending for the child.
  • "I gave up smoking." In this sentence, "gave up" means quitting or stopping a habit.
  • Understanding Separable and Non-Separable Phrasal Verbs

    Phrasal verbs can be either separable or non-separable, which means that in some cases, you can separate the verb and the preposition or adverb, while in others you cannot.

    Separable Phrasal Verbs

    With separable phrasal verbs, the objects may come between the verb and the preposition or adverb. The object can be a noun or a pronoun.


  • She turned off the TV.
  • In the above example, the noun “TV” separates the verb "turned” and the adverb “off.”

    Rules for using Separable Phrasal Verbs

    1. If the object is a noun, it can usually go either in the middle of the phrasalverb, or after it. Example: "I am looking for my keys" or "I am looking my keys for."

    2. If the object is a pronoun (it, this, that etc.), it must go in the middle of the verb and the preposition/adverb. Example: "I am looking for it."


  • I turned it off. (Correct)
  • I turned off it. (Incorrect)
  • Non-Separable Phrasal Verbs

    With non-separable phrasal verbs, the verb and the preposition/adverb cannot be separated – the object must come after the preposition/adverb.


  • He looks after his younger brother.
  • In the example, the verb "looks" and the preposition "after" are not separated by the object "his younger brother".

    Rules for using Non-Separable Phrasal Verbs

    1. The verb and the preposition/adverb of non-separable phrasal verbs must not be separated by the object. Example: "She ran into an old friend."

    2. It doesn't matter if the object is a noun or a pronoun, it should come after the verb and the preposition/adverb. Example: "She ran into him."


  • She looks after the baby. (Correct)
  • She looks the baby after. (Incorrect)
  • Conclusion

    Understanding how separable and non-separable phrasal verbs function can greatly improve your grasp of English grammar, and can refine both your spoken and written English. Practicing through identification and use in writing and conversation is the best way to master separable and non-separable phrasal verbs.

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