Phrasal verbs are tough. Some are transitive, and some are intransitive. Some are separable, and some are inseparable. Some must be separated depending on their usage. In this post, I'm going to look at one of the most common mistakes that English learners make with separable transitive phrasal verbs.
First, let's clarify some definitions.
A transitive phrasal verb needs an object. For example, "try on" (which means to put clothing on your body to see if it fits or looks nice) cannot be used by itself. It needs an object. This means it is transitive. See the examples below:
"Try on this jacket!"
"Try this jacket on!"
As you can see, "try on" is also a separable phrasal verb. This means the object can be put at the end of the phrasal verb ("Try on this jacket"), or in the middle of the phrasal verb ("Try this jacket on"). You can use common and proper nouns, or noun phrases, as objects. Here are some other examples with other separable transitive phrasal verbs.
"I called up Mel." / "I called Mel up." (I called Mel.)
"She cleaned her closet out." / "She cleaned out her closet." (She emptied her closet to clean it well.)
"We had to put off the meeting." / "We had to put the meeting off." (We had to postpone the meeting.)
You can also use the object pronouns me, you, him, her, it, them, and us as objects in the middle of separable phrasal verbs!
However, there is one thing you must never do. Never put an object pronoun at the end of a transitive phrasal verb.
Using the examples above, let's replace the nouns and noun phrases with object pronouns to see what I mean. Green means the sentence is correct, and red means it is incorrect.
"I called up Mel." / "I called Mel up."
"I called her up."
"I called up her."
"She cleaned her closet out." / "She cleaned out her closet."
"She cleaned it out."
"She cleaned out it."
"We had to put off the meeting." / "We had to put the meeting off."
"We had to put it off."
"We had to put off it."
To emphasize this rule, let's look at all the possibilities with an example that uses the separable transitive phrasal verb "check out," which means to look at or direct your attention towards something in the cases below:
"Check out my new phone."
"Check my new phone out."
"Check it out."
"Check out it."
This is a hard rule, and its usage is consistent in spoken English by native speakers. It is not a mistake that native speakers casually accept, whether formally or informally. For instance, while many native speakers mix up using "who" and "whom" because they don't know the rule (which means it's okay for English learners to mix up those two words too!), "Check out it" sounds and feels wrong to a native English speaker. So avoid this mistake and get comfortable saying "Check it out," "Put it on," "Call her up," etc. You can do it!
Now that you know this rule, let's practice! What are the other two correct possibilities for these sentences?
1. "Try on this hat."
2. "Check out these reviews."
3. "Let's call up David."
4. "I need to clean out my garage."
5. "Could we call off the meeting?"
Write your answers in the comments! And if you enjoyed this article and want to learn MORE about phrasal verbs, check out my book 100 Practical English Phrasal Verbs.
It gives you a detailed overview of phrasal verb types, including more information on separable, inseparable, transitive, and intransitive phrasal verbs, and over 900 example sentences with only high-frequency phrasal verbs. It's language you can use!
Until next time, I wish you success in your studies!