Separable and Non-separable Phrasal Verbs

ALULA staff, Updated on August 02, 2023

  • A phrasal verb is a verb combined with a preposition or adverb that often takes on a new meaning.
  • Separable phrasal verbs allow the object to enter between the verb and the preposition/adverb.
  • In non-separable phrasal verbs, the main verb and its particle cannot be separated.
  • In some cases, whether the verb is separable or non-separable can change the meaning of the sentence.

Understanding Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are common in English language. They are made up of a verb and a preposition or adverb, and often take on entirely new meanings. For example, the verb "take" has a different meaning than the phrasal verb "take up."

Separable Phrasal Verbs

Separable phrasal verbs are those where the object can be placed either before or after the preposition or adverb. The object is the part of the sentence that is performed or affected by the action of the verb. In separable phrasal verbs, you can separate the verb and its particle (preposition or adverb) by inserting the object in the middle. This is often possible with verbs that take a direct object.


  • I have to turn off the radio.


    I have to turn the radio off.

  • She is going to pick up her friend at the airport.


    She is going to pick her friend up at the airport.

Non-Separable Phrasal Verbs

Non-separable phrasal verbs, on the other hand, do not allow the insertion of an object between the verb and its particle. The whole expression must be used together, without separation. Non-separable phrasal verbs are commonly used with verbs that do not take a direct object.


  • He is going to look after his younger brother.

    Not: He is going to look his younger brother after.

  • We ran into our neighbors at the market.

    Not: We ran our neighbors into at the market.

Changing meanings of Phrasal verbs

Interestingly, in some cases, whether the phrasal verb is separable or non-separable can influence the meaning of the sentence.


  • I called off the meeting. (I canceled the meeting.)

    I called the meeting off. (I ended the meeting.)

In conclusion, distinguishing between separable and non-separable phrasal verbs can significantly help ESL students in understanding and composing grammatically correct and semantically accurate sentences in English.

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