Separable and Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

“Alright! Let’s check it out, guys!”

“Check out? Like you’re leaving a hotel?”

Absolutely not, Max-E mates. Check out is one of the phrasal verbs in English. Let’s get to know more about phrasal verbs.

A phrasal verb is a verb combined with a preposition or adverb (or both) that means something different from each of the words that make up the verb. They are very common in English, especially in more informal contexts. The word combination often changes the meaning of the verb.


I called Jen to see how she was. (call = to telephone)
They’ve called off the meeting. (call off = to cancel)

This is the form. Please can you fill it in?
Why are you bringing that argument up now?
Police are looking into connections between the two crimes.
We need to come up with a solution.

In terms of word order, there are two main types of phrasal verbs: separable and inseparable

Separable Phrasal Verbs

With separable phrasal verbs, the verb and particle can be apart or together. Consider the following example, using the phrasal verb take back:

I need to take back the shirt I lent you. (Correct)

Where’s that shirt I lent you? I need to take it back. (Correct)

You can insert other words into the middle of a separable phrasal verb.

They’ve called the meeting off.
They’ve called off the meeting.

However, separable phrasal verbs must be separated when you use a pronoun. 

The meeting? They’ve called it off.

Inseparable Phrasal Verbs

Inseparable phrasal verbs can be transitive (i.e., they can take a direct object), but you can’t insert that direct object into the middle of the phrasal verb. In other words, they can’t be separated, thus their name. Consider the following examples:

Who looks after the baby when you’re at work?

Even when there is a pronoun, the verb and particle remain together.

Who looks after her when you’re at work?

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