Separable Transitive Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are integral parts of English language dynamics, offering both variety and versatility. Phrasal verbs typically consist of a verb and one or two particles (a preposition or an adverb or both combined). As the name suggests, Separable Transitive Phrasal Verbs are a type of phrasal verb that has a direct object, and the particle(s) can be separated from the main verb. This tutorial will guide you through the intricacies of separable transitive phrasal verbs.

Understanding Separable Transitive Phrasal Verbs

A Separable Transitive Phrasal Verb comprises a verb, a particle, and a direct object. The 'separable' aspect of these phrasal verbs means that the verb and the particle(s) do not necessarily have to stay attached. You can break them apart, thereby inserting other components of the sentence, such as the direct object, in between. For example, the phrasal verb 'take off' in the sentence 'He took his coat off' has been separated by the object 'his coat'.

Examples of Separable Transitive Phrasal Verbs:

  • Turn on (to activate, as in a device) – "Could you turn on the light?" or "Could you turn the light on?"
  • Put off (to postpone) – "I always put off doing my homework.", or "I always put my homework off."
  • Pick up (to lift from the ground or to collect someone) – "Can you pick up that book for me?", or "Can you pick that book up for me?"

Possibilities for Separation

While it is often possible to place the direct object either before or after the particle in separable transitive phrasal verbs, it's essential to know where it's appropriate. Here are some rules:

Rule 1: Pronoun Placement

If the direct object is a pronoun (like 'it', 'her', 'them', etc.), it must be located between the verb and the particle. For example, 'Turn it on' not 'Turn on it'.

Rule 2: Single Word Objects

If the direct object consists only of one word, it can go either place, provided it’s not a pronoun. For example, "Could you turn on the light?" or "Could you turn the light on?" Both are correct.

Rule 3: Complex Objects

If the direct object is longer or more complex (more than just one word), it usually goes after the particle. For example, "I put off going to the dentist." not "I put going to the dentist off."

Rule 4: Clarity and Emphasis

Sometimes, placement of the direct object can be chosen for emphasis or clarity. If the writer or speaker wants to emphasize the action rather than the object, the object will usually come before the particle: "Can you pick the book up?" Here, the action of picking up is emphasized.

Practices for Understanding and Learning

Learning separable transitive phrasal verbs requires practice. Here are a few recommended exercises:

Exercise 1: Read and Write

Reading English newspapers or books will expose you to different uses of phrasal verbs in context. Write down the phrasal verbs that you find and make a note of how the verbs and particles are used in sentences.

Exercise 2: Transform Statements

Take simple sentences and try to transform them using a phrasal verb. For instance, "She cancelled the meeting" can be rewritten as "She called off the meeting."

Exercise 3: Practice with Pronouns

Practising specifically with pronouns will help you get comfortable with Rule 1. Try to write sentences with phrasal verbs and pronoun objects.


Understanding and using separable transitive phrasal verbs effectively can add versatility to your English communication skills. Practice regularly, paying heed to the crucial rules of object placement in relation to the verb and particle. Happy learning!

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